The missing fear factor has turned players soft

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Whatever new structure Wales put in place, we will never get near the top again until we replace the comfort zone with the fear factor.

Whatever new structure Wales put in place, we will never get near the top again until we replace the comfort zone with the fear factor.

By this I mean players, not the administrators. Indeed, if some of the fierce infighting going on in the corridors of power was transferred into the hearts and minds of the team itself, Welsh rugby would not be in such a weak state.

I am not saying that the present crop of players lack heart, but they are certainly short of the tough and uncompromising preparation necessary for a modern international squad.

I never thought I would hear myself saying that Welsh rugby is too soft, but it is, and the softness starts from the sugar daddies who own the clubs.

They have made massive investments and established a high wage structure, but have not demanded enough back from the players in terms of commitment and thorough professionalism.

The domestic situation in Welsh rugby has not helped, but the fact remains that we are badly underperforming and have not yet adapted to the rigours of professional life.

This is where England have stolen a march. They've also had their internal problems but they have solved them, and their players, their clubs and their union have firmly grasped the principles of professionalism.

There's no other reason for the huge gap. It is nonsense to point to the far greater number of players in England. That was always the case. I'm utterly convinced that we are still producing enough good young players to be a force again, and the record of our Under-21 teams and below proves this. But many of our brightest prospects don't develop because they disappear into a black hole where they get paid for sitting on the replacements' bench. At that age they should be working harder than ever to progress to the point where they deserve to earn a living from the game.

They get rewarded for being mediocre and make an early entry into a comfort zone that has taken the edge off the Welsh game.

Wales need to get back that old competitive spirit which meant that if you don't perform well enough there was someone eager to step into your place. A true professional is frightened of failure and the sad truth is that the fear factor has disappeared from Welsh rugby.

I hear stories of players at the top level being allowed time off for ridiculous excuses. It is a small point but it is typical of a totally wrong attitude by players and clubs and it harks back to the amateur days.

I can well remember the rude shock I had when I went to rugby league. They paid you well but they left you in no doubt that, from the moment pre-season training began, they owned you. At Widnes once, Paul Moriarty wanted time off to be best man at a pal's wedding and was told in no uncertain terms that his only duty was to be best man on the pitch.

That sort of discipline has yet to reach professional rugby in Wales. It has to be hard and unrelenting because that's what the game has become. It is not a question of training harder – sometimes I think they train too much – it is a question of personal attitude, of a burning desire to improve.

Can they improve in time for the Scottish match on Saturday? This could be an exciting match because both have a lot of pride to recover. Scotland have the edge up front but Wales possess the pace behind that could be the telling point.

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