Six Nations 2014: Warren Gatland backed to help Wales defend title
Last Updated: 31/01/14 2:32pm
Alex Payne looks ahead to this weekend's Six Nation fixtures
Jamie Roberts says the return of Warren Gatland to the Wales helm will boost the defending champions' chances of Six Nations success.
Gatland is back in charge of Wales after missing last season's tournament while he concentrated on British and Irish Lions business.
"He (Gatland) 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."
The Kiwi clinched a historic 2-1 victory over Australia but Racing Metro centre Roberts is confident he will be able to steer the Welsh to an unprecedented hat-trick of championship titles, starting against Italy at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Even in his absence last year, 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.
Gatland signed a new contract to stay with Wales until 2019 last month and Roberts, who has won all 53 of his caps during a Gatland coaching reign that begin in early 2008, said: "Warren is an honest man with the player.
"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."