Warren Gatland says that naming a much-changed Wales XV to face Italy in the Six Nations is all part of the process to prepare for the Rugby World Cup.
Wales won 24-19 in France last week, but Gatland has made 10 changes to his starting line-up as they head to Rome on Saturday.
While some decisions were influenced by injuries, Gatland insists he had always earmarked a relatively gentle start to the Six Nations as an opportunity to get to grips with his squad.
The World Cup takes place in Japan, starting in September, and Gatland hopes he will this week gain a greater understanding of the depth of his group.
“Very much a part of these first two weeks was trying to replicate what’s going to happen in Japan later in the year,” Gatland told the Welsh Rugby Union’s official website.
“That’s been tough, but it put us into a good situation with those experiences of dealing with a squad of 31 and dealing with injuries. We’ve made a number of changes but, looking back on the week, it’s been really good for us.
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“Justin Tipuric picked up a sort of back spasm injury, so he wasn’t considered for this week. Then Corey Hill had a gash on his knee last week. He could have been available for selection, but we’ve decided to rest him.
“So we’ve gone through these scenarios in terms of squad selection and what would happen in Japan. It’s been great for us to be able to have that opportunity to replicate what’s going to happen later in the year.
“There’s some experience and there’s some opportunities for players to put their hand up.”
One such player who has been handed an opportunity is Jonathan Davies, who will captain the side, with Gatland comparing the 30-year-old to Irish great Brian O’Driscoll.
“Some people say I need to pick a back to captain the team, but it’s the right person at the right time. [Davies] is great for the squad,” the coach said. “He’s a great person. When he plays well, the team tends to play well.
“His decision-making as an experienced player has really improved. He reminds me a little bit of Brian O’Driscoll getting a little bit older, even though Foxy’s not at the end of his career yet.
“He doesn’t make many mistakes, he’s excellent in defence and, when he carries, he carries strongly.
“He gets a great opportunity. He’s incredibly well respected and liked within the squad. I’m sure he’ll do a good job and do Wales proud.”
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