Wales coach Warren Gatland says his players need to experience plenty of pain in the lead up to the final round of this year’s Six Nations.
Gatland’s men face Italy in Cardiff on Saturday knowing defeat could result in a Wooden Spoon just two years after a sensational Grand Slam.
Losses to England, France and Ireland and a last-gasp victory over Scotland in Round 2 haven’t impressed the Welsh public and now Gatland himself is demanding a big improvement for the visit of the Azzurri.
The New Zealander has admitted he will be pushing his stars harder than ever this week as Wales look to avoid a potential banana skin against an Italian side who beat the Scots earlier this month.
“The time has come when the players are going to go through some pain this week," said Gatland.
"They will go through some pain at training that they probably haven’t experienced before. I think we need to go through a bit of pain.
"For me, it is putting the players under a lot of pressure at training, and, if they make mistakes or errors, there will be a few punishments."
Gatland stressed that he and his fellow coaches were particularly frustrated not just with the result at Croke Park at the weekend but with the manner of the performance that led to the 27-12 defeat.
The former Ireland, London Wasps and Waikato boss admitted he is still struggling to come to terms with the nature of the loss and he hopes his own pain will be reflected in the attitude and performance of his players throughout this week.
"I’ve had a couple of bad days. I don’t take defeat too easily, or performances I don’t think are acceptable," added Gatland.
"I know the players have seen us as coaches going through some pain. We are desperately hurting, so if we are going to hurt this bad then so are they.
"The coaching staff are hurting, the players are hurting, and we’ve got to give a response and performance on Saturday that reflects how important this is to us.
"I think, for all of us, this week is about finishing the tournament on a positive note and playing some good rugby. It’s crucial."
While Wales travelled to Dublin without a number of frontline players, their fifth defeat in their last eight games has led critics to call for wholesale changes for the clash with Italy.
Dragons back row Dan Lydiate has been mooted as a possible inclusion in the back row, as has Cardiff Blues starlet Sam Warburton, while there have also been calls for Dan Biggar or James Hook to be given a shot at outside-half.
And Gatland, who could turn to previous injury victims and Lions Tests stars Mike Phillips and Gethin Jenkins this weekend, has suggested he will make changes to selection when he announces at lunchtime today.
"I think there will be a few changes. There are a few players coming back from injury, and I think we need to make a couple of changes.
"A bit of experience coming back into the side I think will be good – it gives a bit of confidence.
"I am pretty gutted and disappointed with our performance. We weren’t good enough on the day, and on reflection, we haven’t been quite hungry enough. That is disappointing.
"We need to make sure we finish this campaign on a real high."