LONDON • Warren Gatland is prepared for what he believes will be the most closely fought Rugby World Cup yet and called on the media to keep writing off Wales.
His team are in a group with the hosts, England, as well as Australia, the winners of the previous two tournaments primarily hosted in Britain.
Gatland has had to replace three players since announcing his 31-man list at the end of last month, including wing Eli Walker, who had only come into the squad for injured Leigh Halfpenny.
"I am a great believer in being positive and not dwelling on the disappointment of losing players," said the Wales coach, who is also without Rhys Webb, the influential scrum-half.
CRITICISM MAKES US STRONGER
If you write us off as much as possible, which seems to be happening... that's the best situation for a Wales team to be in.
WARREN GATLAND, Wales head coach
"I know we struggle sometimes with depth, but we feel confident that we have a squad to do a job.
"I believe this is going to be the closest World Cup. There are a number of teams who need a bit of luck to get through the pools, but everyone then has an opportunity.
"We did that in 2011 (when they reached the semi-finals) and we know how close we came to reaching the final. I think there are seven or eight teams who will fancy themselves if they make the last eight."
Gatland pointed to evidence that the Northern hemisphere teams have caught up with traditional rugby superpowers New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, who have won six of the seven World Cups.
"Just look back to the autumn," he said. "It was the best the Northern hemisphere had done against the Southern hemisphere nations for a number of years.
"And again towards the end of the Six Nations, we saw some expansive rugby played by four or five of those teams in the championship."
Wales open their campaign against Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday, two days after England and Fiji kick off the tournament at Twickenham.
Gatland and his squad will be watching the opener closely before their meetings with the pair in a five-day spell from Sept 26.
He will announce his side to play Uruguay today and is set to omit a number of his frontline players in readiness for the bigger battles to come. And by replacing Walker, a wing, with a wing-forward, Ross Moriarty, he is arming himself for the rest of the group.
Gatland does not share the opinion that the group will be decided on points difference.
"Everyone is talking about that, but our last game is against Australia so the other teams will know the permutations before we do. It is all about one game at a time and we just want to play well against Uruguay and win," he added.
"If you write us off as much as possible, which seems to be happening at the moment, that's the best situation for a Wales team to be in.
"Those things galvanise us and make us stronger, so continue to do it."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS