Wales boss Warren Gatland relishing Springboks clash in Washington DC
Gatland is looking forward to meeting South Africa in an unfamiliar environment ahead of the 2019 World Cup.
Warren Gatland believes that Wales’ clash against South Africa in Washington DC next month will take players “out of their comfort zone”.
Wales head coach Gatland has named a 31-man squad for the Springboks encounter, which is followed by two Tests against Argentina in South America.
Gatland has appointed Dragons lock Cory Hill and Cardiff Blues flanker Ellis Jenkins as co-captains for the trip and rested a number of players who were involved in last summer’s British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
The sizeable contingent of absentees include Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau, Justin Tipuric, Ken Owens, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny and Liam Williams, although Gatland has only chosen one uncapped player in Cardiff Blues scrum-half Tomos Williams.
Wales will face South Africa at the 45,500-capacity RFK Stadium, and Gatland said: “It will be a unique experience.
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“I will be looking forward to having a different crowd and different atmosphere and being in a city we have not experienced before.
“It will be great for this group of players and take them out of their comfort zone, and we will experience that in Japan 2019 (World Cup). It is how we adapt and respond to that challenge.”
Wing George North and back-row forward Ross Moriarty are the only original 2017 Lions selections among Wales’ contingent that make the trip, as Gatland looks to further develop squad depth.
“We laid out a plan a long time ago about what we wanted to do and rest Lions players and a few others who have injuries,” Gatland added.
“We want to build depth and were pleased with how the players reacted when we made a number of changes for the match with Italy in the Six Nations this season.
“In the past, when we’ve made significant changes, we have tended to struggle and it has been tough for us.
“So it was pleasing to see that performance, particularly in the Six Nations, and it’s a great chance for this group of players to go out and make a statement. They can put some pressure on the coaches for selection in the future and on those players who aren’t travelling.”
And reflecting on his decision to appoint co-captains, Gatland said: “Cory has been the most improved player in Welsh rugby in the last 18 months.
“Since he has come into the squad he’s developed and taken on a real core role with his lineout calling and leadership. He has captained the Dragons as well, and we see this as part of his leadership development.
“Ellis has captained the Blues on a few occasions, and Wales Under-20s a few years ago. He has obviously got some strong leadership characteristics.
“It’s a great honour for them, and we are looking forward to seeing how they develop in a leadership role.”