Neil Jenkins believes Wales’ record-breaking level of experience is an important factor heading into Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland.
Wales return to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, albeit behind closed doors, for the first time in almost 12 months.
While the 74,500-capacity venue became Dragon’s Heart Hospital last year, treating coronavirus patients, Wales played their home games in Llanelli.
But they are now back at their familiar base, one that witnessed Six Nations titles and Grand Slam successes during the Warren Gatland coaching era.
It has proved a tough baptism for Gatland’s successor Wayne Pivac, with Wales winning just three of their 10 Tests last year, beating Italy twice and Georgia.
But Pivac has seen his plans bolstered by a number of experienced players returning to international action, and he has selected a Welsh record total of 874 caps in his starting line-up this weekend.
“It’s all on the line tomorrow and we need to rock up, do what we can and take the game to Ireland as best we can,” Wales assistant coach Jenkins said.
“There is a lot of experience all the way through. The boys have had ups and downs in their careers.
“They have been there and done it. They have obviously seen the lows, and they have certainly seen the highs.
“If something doesn’t go quite to plan, they seem to regroup and go again. They tend to do that pretty well.”
Wales experienced a poor Autumn Nations Cup campaign, replicating last year’s Six Nations finishing position of fifth.
And recent history is not on their side against Ireland, losing four successive Tests against them, including a 32-9 drubbing in Dublin three months ago.
“We have to be better, full stop. There is no doubting that,” Jenkins added.
“We were pretty disappointed in the autumn, and I felt we got better as the autumn progressed.
“I think I’ve seen a difference in the last two weeks since we’ve been in. Since we’ve come in this time, I think we are at a different level, if I am honest with you.
“It is a level that probably underlines that it’s a Six Nations tournament and we are at home against a very good side. There is possibly a Lions tour looming as well, so you can definitely see an edge in the players.
𝐓𝐄𝐀𝐌 𝐍𝐄𝐖𝐒: Wales side to face @IrishRugby in our 2021 #GuinnessSixNations opener this Sunday ☘️ ⠀⠀⏎ 𝘋𝘢𝘯 𝘓𝘺𝘥𝘪𝘢𝘵𝘦 𝘺𝘯 𝘥𝘦𝘤𝘩𝘳𝘢𝘶 𝘥𝘳𝘰𝘴 𝘎𝘺𝘮𝘳𝘶 𝘢𝘮 𝘺 𝘵𝘳𝘰 𝘤𝘺𝘯𝘵𝘢𝘧 𝘦𝘳𝘴 𝘮𝘪𝘴 𝘛𝘢𝘤𝘩𝘸𝘦𝘥𝘥 2018. ⠀⠀🏴 #HWFN pic.twitter.com/tdEONKsBQi
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) February 5, 2021
“Coming into the Six Nations, that speaks for itself because the history behind it is incredible. A lot of these boys have won it before and were involved two years ago (when Wales won the Grand Slam).
“I know they would love to win it again, and as we said two years ago, momentum is a huge thing in this tournament and winning your first game can put you on a good road.
“If you don’t win your first game, we go to Scotland the following week and it can be a tough road.”
Jenkins has been in and around the Wales camp for the best part of 30 years as player and coach, and he admits that nerves have never gone away.
“I am probably a fraction better now, but still pretty bad,” he said.
“I will be nervous. I always am. It’s a big game, a big Test match. I just want Wales to do well and I want Wales to win – that will never ever change from me.”