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Roberts hails "fantastic" Gatland

Warren Gatland has been hailed as "a fantastic coach" as he prepares to re-enter the RBS 6 Nations arena in pursuit of an unprecedented title hat-trick.

Gatland is back at the helm of reigning Six Nations champions Wales after missing last season's tournament while he concentrated on British and Irish Lions business.

And among all the enviable star quality at Wales' disposal - proven match-winners like Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Alex Cuthbert - Gatland's influence could prove the most significant on a Six Nations campaign that starts this weekend against Millennium Stadium visitors Italy.

Even in his absence, Wales won the 2013 showpiece, recovering from an opening day loss at home to Ireland by reeling off four successive victories that culminated with a record 30-3 demolition of England.

The target now is to achieve a ground-breaking trophy treble that would confirm Wales as European Test rugby's dominant force 18 months out from World Cup 2015.

"Warren is an honest man with the player," said Wales centre Jamie Roberts, who has won all 53 of his caps during a Gatland coaching reign that begin in early 2008.

"He will tell you if you have played well and if you have played terribly. That is consistent throughout the environment he has created, whether it be conditioning, skills, matches, post-match analysis.

"He has built a good strength in depth and he brings out the best in everyone. Having him for another four or five years (Gatland recently agreed a long-term contract extension) ensures that the machine and pathway keep developing.

"He is not afraid to give young players a chance, as he showed before the last World Cup with Toby (Faletau) and Sam (Warburton), and I sure he will do the same in the next 12 months and build towards the future.

"From a player's point of view it is great news he is staying because he is a fantastic coach."

Roberts' views are echoed by his Wales and Racing Metro team-mate Dan Lydiate, who starts on Saturday following a hectic week that saw his first child - daughter Lucy - born in Paris.

"Warren is quite consistent in that you know where you stand with him," Lydiate said.

"He is an honest guy who knows what works. The results of the last few years show that, so we don't need to change things all the time. You try and stick to your strengths and keep evolving by working on your weaknesses."

Wales should encounter few problems against an injury-hit Italian side on Saturday, one that arrives in Cardiff with a fly-half, two wings and an outside centre numbering just seven caps between them.

The Azzurri boast huge experience up-front, led by cap centurions Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni and Marco Bortolami, and although Wales will take nothing for granted, the form guide and head-to-heads suggest an emphatic success.

"We are a well-oiled machine, especially after the last two campaigns, and we know if we get all our big players fit and firing we are a very dangerous outfit," Roberts added.

"Italy are vastly-improved. It took us 60 or 70 minutes to crack them two years ago, and last year it hammered down with rain in Rome. It will be the same this weekend.

"We have been together for a long time and the players all know the game-plan. It is about modifying that again and producing the goods on Saturday.

"It's important we go out and play with confidence and believe that we are champions, which we are.

"We need to go out and express ourselves, whether that is running from behind our try-line when it's on to go. It is important we do that and embrace situations on the field and go on and express ourselves as players."

Roberts and company concluded preparations with a run-out under the Millennium Stadium's closed roof on Friday.

No decision has yet been announced on whether or not the roof will be shut for the game - that will depend on the Italians - but heavy rain and strong winds are forecast for Cardiff over the next 36 hours.

The Welsh Rugby Union have confirmed, via their official Twitter feed, that the stadium roof will be closed for Saturday's game.

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