Rees welcomes competition
Captain Matthew Rees believes the emergence of young talents such as George North has given Wales some much-needed depth ahead of a punishing World Cup pool campaign.
Young Scarlets wing North was one of the bright points of an inconsistent season for Wales, scoring two tries on his Test debut against South Africa before touching down again against the Barbarians last month. Newport Gwent Dragons back-rower Toby Faletau made a big impact on his Test bow while Ospreys prop Ryan Bevington and Scarlets centre Scott Williams also made an impression.
Wales have also seen the young back-row pair of Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton turn in a series of excellent displays, notably during the Six Nations wins over Scotland, Italy and Ireland. And Rees told Press Association Sport: "It is great to have competition for places, it puts pressure on players and it means everyone knows that they cannot afford to turn in a poor performance."
He added: "Everyone must be at their best not just during games but at training as well.
"Toby Faletau was awesome against the Barbarians and George North has really taken his chance this year. We also have guys like Tavis Knoyle at scrum-half coming through. It's great to see, especially as we will need a strong squad to go to the World Cup."
The next step on the road to the game's global showpiece for Gatland's side involves two advanced training camps in Spala, Poland this month before they move on to warm-up Tests against England (twice) and Argentina in August.
Scarlets hooker Rees could win his 50th cap during that run of games, he currently has 47 Wales appearances to his name, although it is more likely he will do so during the World Cup.
But regardless of when the landmark is reached skipper, Rees will be glad to have proved a prediction of former team-mate and Wales captain Kingsley Jones to be correct.
"I am surprised at how quickly the games come around and how quickly you tot up the caps," he said. "I can remember training with Kingsley Jones at Pontypridd and he turned and said to me one day that I had the potential to reach 50 caps.
"It meant a lot to hear that from such an experienced player as Kingsley and I hope I can prove him right and reach my 50. It's a great achievement and one I will look back on fondly after my career."