Wales, the Six Nations champions, gathered on Monday to pick over the wreckage of another European campaign by their regions, thankful that money is less of a factor in determining success on the international field.
Wales will not be represented in the knockout stages of either the Heineken Cup or the Amlin Challenge Cup, their regions managing five victories between them in 30 group matches in the two tournaments. But their grand slams in 2005, 2008 and last year were achieved against a backdrop of European failure.
The last 16 teams in the two European tournaments come from England, France or Ireland with the relatively impoverished Welsh and Scottish teams unrepresented, but the Wales forwards coach, Robin McBryde, believes that is no indicator of how the Six Nations will be played out.
"When you look at the size of the crowds the successful sides in Europe get compared to Wales and Scotland, we do fall behind," he said. "But the playing field is a lot more level in international rugby and we hope to take advantage of that, showing there are quality players in Wales and that when you get them together in the right frame of mind that we can be successful."
A bigger concern for Wales, who will be without their head coach, Warren Gatland, as he concentrates on the Lions tour to Australia, is their record since winning the grand slam last March. Their only victory in eight matches since then came against the Barbarians in June and they go into their opening Six Nations match against Ireland in Cardiff on a run of seven successive defeats.
"We have spoken to the players and Rob Howley [the interim head coach] has made it clear we are on the back of a run of games without a win," McBryde said. "We cannot be happy with it. We have to make sure all members of the squad feel that pain and hurt as much as the coaches. The desire to put that right has to be forefront in their minds.
"We are not looking any further than the Irish game, which is a big test to start. We have to take the hurt and pain we felt in the summer and autumn and come out fighting, showing we are better than that. This is a fresh page and regional form should not come into it. We are together, focused on getting a positive start to the Six Nations."
Wales's following three matches are away, starting with France, making a winning start imperative. Already without three second-rows, they will assess the fitness of Ian Evans and Ryan Jones next week, along with the hooker Richard Hibbard.
"Winning the first game is hugely important," Matthew Rees said. "We must learn from what happened in the autumn when we lost all four matches. There is a lot of competition for places, and hopefully that will bring the best out of the players. Rob Howley has huge respect from the players and the coaches. I thought he did a great job in the autumn, although results didn't go our way."
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