Wales head coach Warren Gatland is thinking beyond the 2012 6 Nations.
The New Zealander, who is in the running to coach the Lions on their 2013 tour of Australia, is challenging his Welsh players to achieve bigger and better things all the way through to the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Wales have already secured the Triple Crown this season and are two wins away from celebrating what would be a second Grand Slam under Gatland’s stewardship.
But Gatland has been reminding his players that there is so much more to play for, including a three-Test summer series against the Lions’ next opponents, the Wallabies.
“There is plenty to look forward to for the 35 or so players who are going to be a part of this Welsh squad. We think they could be part of something special over the next two or three years,” said Gatland.
“There is a lot to aim at – the 6 Nations, a Test against the Barbarians, a three Test series in Australia and a game against the Brumbies.
“This is a tough team to get into now – that’s what we want. There are a lot of players who are saying to themselves "don’t give anyone else a chance". There is depth and competition.
“It is great for the players who get a chance to start, but they all know there are players breathing down their necks. It’s a nice place for coaches to be in, having a confident, hard-working squad.
“We have stressed to all the players that is not just about the 22 who get picked, it is how they react to being a part of the squad and being supportive to the others.
“We have a great work ethic within the team and I can’t emphasise enough just how professional these players are and the extras they do after training. They are a real credit to Wales and Welsh rugby.”
With three wins from three in the current RBS 6 nations, Gatland’s men have two home games to try to end their championship campaign on a high and to try to match the great sides of the Seventies in winning three Grand Slams in eight years.
“The 6 Nations is such a tough tournament to win. You get momentum and confidence from a couple of wins and, as we’ve seen this week, the players grow an extra arm and a leg when they win,” added Gatland.
“It isn’t just a game or a tournament, the 6 Nations is more than that. You have to cope with all the pressure and it is very enjoyable when you are winning, but you end up dodging bullets when you are losing.”
With the scalps of Ireland, Scotland and England already secured, Gatland is hoping the Millennium Stadium will be home sweet home over the next two weekends. A solid Italian job on Saturday would then pave the way for a championship shoot-out with France the following weekend.
“Italy has the least strength in depth of all the teams, but they are always strong up front and bring a lot of emotion to the game. Their tactical kicking is good and they put teams under pressure. We have got to be very much aware that we need to keep our patience,” said Gatland.
“They should have beaten England and they have been in every game up to half-time. If it is still close at half-time then we need to remember it is a game of 80 minutes. It is going to be a war of attrition in the first 20 minutes and we have to match their physicality and be accurate in our game.”