Wales head to the World Cup more confident than ever of finally making an impression at the game's greatest showpiece.
In charge of a side portrayed for decades as awash with talent but lacking in discipline and motivation, New Zealand-born coach Warren Gatland has put his players through a rigorous training regime in an effort to prepare them for a first-round pool including defending champion South Africa and an imposing Samoa.
The squad trained in Spala, Poland, in July alongside Polish Olympic athletes and recovered from a narrow loss to England in August to record warm-up wins over both the English and Argentina.
But if star wing Shane Williams and mercurial flyhalf James Hook are to have any chance of showcasing their skills on the biggest stage, their teammates must first match the heavyweight muscle of their early opponents.
Wales opens against South Africa in Wellington on September 11.
"We can go in with a lot of confidence in our conditioning and physicality," lock Luke Charteris said. "In years gone by, we have always competed with the southern hemisphere teams but faded in last 20 minutes and we want to change that.
"The massive confidence boost with our conditioning is now we know we can compete with these teams over 80 minutes. We know it does not matter how well you play or how close you get, if you lose, you lose and you feel it."
Wales demonstrated that with second-half improvement in both its warm-ups against England. Wales trailed 7-20 at Twickenham before trimming the deficit to a final 23-19 and then outclassed England 19-9 in Cardiff despite long spells on their own line.
Bradley Davies and Alun Wyn Jones are likely to continue their partnership at the heart of the pack but the 6-foot-9 Charteris, who made his comeback from an elbow injury in June against the Barbarians, gives Wales options in the second row against the Springbok line-out of Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha.
Hooker Matthew Rees will be absent from the front row following neck surgery, leaving Sam Warburton to captain a side hoping to match their best ever World Cup performance of third place achieved in the inaugural 1987 tournament.
Gatland persuaded Martyn Williams to rescind his international retirement in 2008 and the pair won the Grand Slam together but Warburton's emergence as Wales' youngest skipper since 1970s legend Gareth Edwards means there was no place in the 30-man squad for the veteran openside.
"Luckily we get on really well," Williams said. "I've known Sam for a long time and we always knew how good a player he was going to be. He has been outstanding, particularly over the last 18 months."
With Rees missing, prop Gethin Jenkins is included despite not playing since January. After watching Group D rival Fiji lose 60-14 to New Zealand on July 22, back row forward Dan Lydiate knows the bulk could be just as important as against South Africa.
"Fiji were beaten, but they scored two tries and showed how physical they can be," Lydiate said. "They showed that there is no big gap at this level of rugby anymore. More and more it all comes down to what happens on the day and that is what is going to decide our group at the World Cup.
"The Samoans proved that by beating Australia, it's not a lesson we needed to learn as players, we learnt it a long time ago. But the expectations will be different, which may actually help us at World Cup time."
With a history of slipping up at the World Cup and two tournament losses to Samoa, Wales is on guard. It exited the first round in 1991 after losing at home to Western Samoa - as Samoa was then known - and in 1995 after losing to Ireland, and 2007 after losing to Fiji.
"It certainly comes as no surprise that they can turn over teams on their day," No. 8 Ryan Jones said of Samoa. "We know what to expect from them and similarly from Fiji and if there is any side that doesn't need to be told about the dangers of underestimating either of them, then its Wales."
But while Wales is intent on matching up physically with the big teams, there will still be plenty of flair on show via the versatile, always-aware Hook, speedy wing George North, Lions fullback Lee Byrne and rookie centre Scott Williams.
Scott Williams owes his place partly to a wrist injury to the unfortunate Gavin Henson - who at 29 still has never made a World Cup squad. Fullback Morgan Stoddart also missed out after breaking a leg in the warm-up loss to England.
"It wasn't long ago that I was watching Wales win a Grand Slam from the couch in my living room and now I'm playing alongside some of those same players" the 20-year-old Williams said. "It's unreal when you think about it like that."
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