RETURNING centre Jonathan Davies has made an impassioned plea to the Welsh rugby public to get behind the side for Saturday’s showdown against the All Blacks.
The Grand Slam champions have come in for a wave of criticism in the wake of disappointing defeats to Argentina and Samoa in the opening two rounds of the autumn series.
And head coach Warren Gatland has also revealed that certain players have been the target for personal abuse on social networking site Twitter.
Davies missed both the defeats because of a groin problem picked up in the Scarlets’ Heineken Cup opener in Clermont in early October, but has given the coaching team a welcome shot in the arm by returning to a side showing five changes from last weekend’s Samoan setback.
Wales are rank outsiders to topple a New Zealand team that Gatland has lauded as one of the greatest ever.
But Davies insists nobody is pressing the panic button and has called on Welsh fans to unite behind the national team ahead of Saturday’s Millennium Stadium sell-out.
“I just think it is important as a nation that we get behind the team and not try to shoot us down after two bad performances, especially after we won the Grand Slam not so long ago,” he said.
“It does frustrate me a bit. The national team is the pride of the nation, we have done some pretty good things in the last 12 months and that seems to have been forgotten pretty quickly.”
Asked about the Twitter criticism, Davies, who himself has more than 28,000 followers, added: “People are entitled to their opinion, but it is almost bullying at times.
“Just get behind the team because we are doing everything we can to make Wales proud, like we have done over the last 12 months.”
One player who has copped more flak than most is fellow Scarlet Rhys Priestland, a good friend of Davies.
“When Rhys plays well, Wales play well. He has come in for criticism, whether that is right or wrong I don’t know, but go back to the World Cup and Wales couldn’t play without him,” he added.
“Certainly everyone here has faith in him.
“The criticism does weigh you down eventually, but Rhys is a true professional, he is pretty laid back and he won’t care about people having a go at him.”
Davies’s return has been hailed by both defence coach Shaun Edwards and Gatland this week, with the New Zealander describing the Whitland product as ‘world-class’.
“I am delighted to be back, I’m good to go,” said the 24-year-old.
“The last two weeks have been hugely frustrating and obviously there is huge disappointment in the camp because we could have done so much more as team.
“But we have dusted ourselves off and are concentrating on what we need to do this weekend.
“New Zealand are a great team, but we have got to make sure we believe in ourselves and what we have achieved in the last 14 months.
“Hopefully, we will have a nation behind the team — we want that support.
“When the crowd get up at the Millennium Stadium it is great, the boys love it, but we have got to give them something to get them up.
“Welsh rugby has had a bad couple of weeks, but I don’t think we need to panic.”