Santa Fe (Argentina) (AFP) – Wales coach Warren Gatland was thrilled Sunday by the strength in depth within his squad after winning all three Tests on an end-of-season Americas tour.
After edging South Africa 22-20 in Washington, the Dragons outplayed Argentina 23-10 in San Juan and then 30-12 in Santa Fe on Saturday to complete a 2-0 series triumph.
Wales left many of their stars at home in order to blood fringe contenders and New Zealand-born Gatland gambled by altering his line-ups even as the team won.
He was desperate to create competition for places ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, where Wales are in Pool D with Australia, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay.
On current form, Australia and Wales would be expected to occupy the top two positions and qualify for the quarter-finals.
“A huge advantage bigger nations like New Zealand have is that when someone puts on a jersey they know there are five guys behind waiting if you mess up,” explained Gatland.
“Sometimes in smaller nations if you get comfortable, which can happen when you do not have much strength in depth, people can become complacent.
“The purpose of this tour was to avoid that situation and we have achieved the goals we set out to do. It is a nice position to be in.
“I have not seen a group this hungry for a long time. A lot of people were sceptical about the tour and wrote us off so we have achieved a great deal.”
Gatland, who was appointed Wales coach in 2007, was also delighted that the win in Santa Fe lifted the country to third in the world rankings behind New Zealand and Ireland.
They have overtaken South Africa, who occupied the position for a few hours after taking an unassailable 2-0 series lead over England by winning 23-12 in Bloemfontein.
“We have risen to third in the world, which is a huge bonus for us,” said the coach who took the British and Irish Lions to New Zealand last year and came away with a drawn series.
The only disappointment for Gatland in Santa Fe was the red-card for outstanding number eight Ross Moriarty for grabbing Argentine fly-half Nicolas Sanchez around the neck.
“Ross reacted after being hit in the back. It was a bit disappointing and I am not sure it was a red card, but you have to accept the decision,” said Gatland.
Meanwhile, Argentina coach Daniel Hourcade has announced that he will step down after a one-off Test against Scotland in Resistencia next Saturday.
He exceeded expectations by guiding the Pumas to fourth place in the 2015 Rugby World Cup in England.
Since then, however, Argentina have lost 21 of 27 Tests, and two of the victories came against Six Nations Championship minnows Italy.
“We (with his assistants) think that the message is no longer getting through to the team, we’ve reached the end of a cycle,” Hourcade told the Argentine Rugby Union (UAR) website.