Neil Jenkins is confident that current pain can become long-term gain for Wales by the time they arrive at this year’s World Cup.
Two years after winning the Guinness Six Nations title and going within touching distance of a Grand Slam, Wales could end up with a first wooden spoon since 2003.
They face Italy in Rome on Saturday, when the losers are likely to finish bottom of this season’s championship.
Wales have lost three successive games since Warren Gatland returned as head coach, while his predecessor Wayne Pivac oversaw just three wins from his last 12 Tests at the helm.
Gatland’s men have five fixtures left before the World Cup – Italy and France away, followed by tournament warm-up appointments with England (twice) and South Africa – before a tricky competition opener against Fiji in Bordeaux on September 10.
With Eddie Jones-led Australia also in their pool, some pundits are already fearing the worst. It is 16 years since Wales failed to reach the World Cup knockout phase.
“I think the reality is we probably felt there was going to be some pain about us at this moment in time. We are certainly feeling that,” Wales assistant coach Jenkins said.
“I would like to think that by the time that comes around, we will be in good nick conditioning-wise and our game will have evolved an awful lot.
“I would like to think we will be going through the gears from now until then to give us a good chance at a World Cup.”
Wales’ immediate task centres on stopping a resurgent Italian side at Stadio Olimpico.
History suggests a Wales victory – they have won seven on the bounce in Rome – but current form indicates that Italy are fully capable of repeating Six Nations successes of 2003 and 2007 at Wales’ expense.
“We are playing a very, very good side and we need to be at full tilt, there is no doubting that, otherwise we could come unstuck,” Jenkins added.
“We need to play well, we need to be accurate, we need to be ready to rock on Saturday.
“I played against some Italian sides in the early 2000s with some fantastic players like Diego (Dominguez) and (Sergio) Parisse, but at this moment in time they have got an awful lot of talent in that team and they are not afraid to play from anywhere.
“I think they tend to make good decisions as well – it is not just based on throwing the ball about willy-nilly.
“The reality is we will have to be at our best on Saturday to win. There is no doubting that. We know how good Italy have been.”
Gatland is due to name his team on Thursday, with fly-half Dan Biggar and Leicester flanker Tommy Reffell among those in the frame for recalls.
“It takes an awful lot to win at this level, and we have given ourselves chances and opportunities in these games,” Jenkins said.
“You could argue we could have scored 20-plus points in maybe two of the games. There were clear-cut chances (against Ireland and Scotland) that we didn’t take, and we need to get better at that.”