Warren Gatland is happy for Wales to go into this season’s Six Nations Championship under the radar.
Wales are currently not mentioned in the same breath by pundits as countries like England, Ireland and Scotland, but Wales head coach Gatland said: “Long may that continue.”
England and Ireland have dominated the competition since Wales last won it in 2013, taking two titles each, with England targeting a tournament hat-trick this term.
Wales’ autumn campaign – victories over South Africa and Georgia, but defeats to New Zealand and Australia – suggests they have ground to make up on their European rivals, although with players like Sam Warburton, George North, Liam Williams, Ross Moriarty and Justin Tipuric to potentially reappear in the selection mix they should not be discounted.
“We will do a review with the coaches on Tuesday in terms of the (autumn) campaign, and then start thinking about the Six Nations and planning for that,” Gatland said.
“It is a competition, so you want to go out there and do your best. With where all the teams are, it’s going to be one of the closest Six Nations that we have had for a long time. A lot of people are talking up other teams, and long may that continue from our point of view.”
He added: “Given where we are in terms of the amount of injuries and the inexperience we put out (for the autumn Tests), I think we are in a good place at the moment.
“We have worked on the way we want to play and looked at some different combinations, so I am pleased where we are.
“We didn’t pick some players in the squad that we could have picked because we know where they are. It was about developing some depth for the future. We will hopefully get a few players back from injury to strengthen the squad up for the Six Nations.”
Wales ended their autumn series by claiming a third successive home victory over South Africa – but they made hard work of it.
New Zealand-born debutant Hadleigh Parkes, who only qualified for Wales on residency grounds just hours before kick-off, scored two first-half tries, while his midfield partner Scott Williams also touched down as the home side built an 18-point lead.
But the Springboks fought back to lead through touchdowns from Warrik Gelant, Handre Pollard and Jesse Kriel, before a 68th-minute Leigh Halfpenny penalty edged Wales home 24-22.
“I suppose there is a little bit of relief,” Gatland added.
“We started so well and looked comfortable, but the periods before and after half-time weren’t the best for us.
“I think we deserved the win and we are pleased with lots of things, especially given the injuries we’ve had and the young players we’ve blooded.”
Captain Alun Wyn Jones said: “It’s been an interesting autumn with two good halves against Australia and New Zealand, and then capping it off with the win here.
“We can’t get away from the fact we’ve lost two from four, but we are trying to change things and increase our attacking rugby. We had a purple patch from the first whistle, but then missed chances to drive that home.”