Warren Gatland pleased with Wales' strength in depth

 

Wales will go into Saturday's RBS 6 Nations clash against Italy with coach Warren Gatland relishing the competition for places throughout his title-chasing squad.

Gatland believes strength in depth has become a key element of Wales' success.

And that is exactly what he wants building towards this summer's three-Test Australia tour and the November international schedule highlighted by an appointment with world champions New Zealand.

"This is a tough team to get into now - and that is what we want," he said.

"There are a lot of players who are saying to themselves 'don't give anyone else a chance'. There is depth and competition.

"It is great for the players who get a chance to start, but they all know there are players breathing down their necks. It's a nice place for coaches to be in, having a confident, hard-working squad.

"We have a great work ethic within the team, and I can't emphasise enough just how professional these players are and the extras they do after training. They are a real credit to Wales and Welsh rugby.

"We have stressed to all the players that it is not just about the 22 who get picked on match-day, it is how they react to being a part of the squad and being supportive to the others.

"There is a lot to aim at - the Six Nations, a Test against the Barbarians, a three-Test series in Australia and a game against the Brumbies.

"There is plenty to look forward to for the 35-or-so players who are going to be a part of this Welsh squad. We think they could be part of something special over the next two or three years."

One of those Wales players who has made the most of his opportunity during the Six Nations campaign is Ospreys lock Ian Evans.

Wales' charge towards the Six Nations title and Grand Slam has seen individuals like Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Jonathan Davies and Mike Phillips rightly receive rave reviews.

But 6ft 8in Evans deserves to be mentioned in the same breath after proving himself as a towering model of consistency during victories over Ireland, Scotland and England.

Evans had three years away from the Test arena between 2008 and 2011 as he battled to overcome injury setbacks, returning against Australia last December after a combination of knee, ankle and chest problems laid him low.

"This is massive for me after those three years out of international rugby," he said.

"It was always a goal to wear the Wales jersey again, and I am chuffed to have achieved it.

"I have been given a chance in the Six Nations, and once you've got that responsibility you have to try to keep it for as long as you can."

PA

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