British & Irish Lion Martyn Williams has called for the Wales players to be given more respect despite a disappointing 6 Nations Championship.
The Cardiff flanker believes there is too much negativity surrounding Welsh rugby which is damaging the national sport.
Williams revealed Wales had been determined to bring their international season to a close on a positive note against France and felt they had a ‘point to prove’ to the doom-mongers.
Sure enough, Wales produced the performance they craved at the Millennium Stadium and gave France a major scare until Florian Fritz scored just eight minutes from time.
France ran out 21-16 winners and celebrated by lifting the 6 Nations trophy, while Wales were left pondering the whys and wherefores of a topsy-turvy campaign marked by the sudden departure of head coach Mike Ruddock.
Wales finished with just one win and one draw from five games, they failed to score in the last quarter of any match and became the first side ever to drop a championship point at home to Italy.
Williams explained: ‘We had a point to prove as a group and as individuals. It has been a hell of a six weeks for us. We have given everything and I don’t think people have respected us for that.
‘You accept criticism, it is part of the game, but it is the negativity the squad can’t handle. It gets to you in the end, it drags the game down in Wales and we need to lift that negativity.
‘Although we didn’t have the result at the end, there are more positives than negatives to take from the France match.
‘The boys have given everything in this campaign and haven’t been backed by a lot of people. But we stuck tight and showed what we can do.’
Williams is already looking forward to the summer tour of Argentina which kicks off a 12-month build-up towards the 2007 World Cup.
And he believes when Wales are finally afforded some luck on the injury front they will once again threaten the best in the world, as they did under Ruddock
"We have a hell of a squad here and we can go a long way,’ said Williams.
"It’s been a difficult season. We beat Australia and came close against South Africa but we have had some poor performances, Fiji in Cardiff and Itay last week.
‘It’s a building process. We are missing 14 boys and the squad took a step forward.
‘Imagine if you get everyone fit, it will be one of the best squads for many a year.’
And that squad now features three potential Test scrum-halves in Dwayne Peel and Gareth Cooper whose respective injuries allowed Mike Phillips a rare start and he was outstanding.
Phillips is now determined to oust Peel and Cooper, both of whom were 2005 Lions.
‘I am glad I have proven myself and shown people what I can do,’ said Phillips.
‘I was disappointed with my last start against the All Blacks in November but I have been happy with my form for most of the season.
‘When you experience something like that game at the weekend, I want to be the first choice all the time.’