Gatland has eyes on World Cup prize

Warren Gatland sees Wales' three-Test tour to face South Africa and Argentina as crucial in their preparations for the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

After finishing second at the Six Nations, Wales face a one-off clash with the Springboks in the United States before coming up against the Pumas twice in June.

Gatland's side do not open their World Cup campaign in Japan until September next year, but the 54-year-old coach already has his eye on the prize and believes his squad can do "special things".

"We have laid out our ambition to go to Japan and to be successful in 2019 and this summer is another important step on that path," said the 54-year-old.

"We believe we have a squad that are capable of doing very special things. If you look at the age-profile of the squad and the international test experience we will have in 2019, we are excited about what we can do. 

"We have put together a structure that will provide the squad with the very best preparation and we are continuing to build really well.

"This summer, going to Washington to face the Springboks and then down to a hot bed of rugby for two tests in Argentina will be a great experience for the squad, especially some of the younger players.

"Last autumn's series was about building our squad depth and providing opportunities for players to experience Test match rugby.

"We then moved into a tournament rugby phase in the Six Nations, which tested the squad in another way. This summer is about the players experiencing quality opposition, on the road - on tour, and continuing to develop.

"Some more experienced players - especially those who have played a lot of rugby in the past 12 months and didn't get a proper pre-season last year - will be given the summer off to allow them to get a decent block of rest in before a full pre-season this time around. Going into a Rugby World Cup year, that will be huge for them.

"For the players on tour it's a chance to build their experience, to grab the opportunity with both hands and when they get their hands on the jersey to not let it go."

Wales, who were beaten by South Africa in the 2015 World Cup quarter-finals, face Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Uruguay in Pool D at next year's tournament.

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