Wales won in the Six Nations for the first time this year with a streetwise and relatively assured 29-17 victory over Italy in Rome.
The win also marked Warren Gatland’s first triumph since returning to the post he originally left in 2019, while it also meant Wales are now likely to avoid the Wooden Spoon.
And the coach said ahead of the trip to face England destroyers France in Paris this weekend: “I think it will be massive. I saw that at times when we had fallen off a tackle or they’d made a break, I thought our scramble and how the boys got back and worked hard today for each other was one of the biggest highlights.
“The nice thing about the last two weeks is it has been the first time we’ve actually been able to concentrate on the rugby without other issues going on behind the scenes.
“There’s no doubt that’s made a difference to this group. We spoke before the game about being smart about how we wanted to play, but also being brave and taking those opportunities and moving the ball.
“I didn’t feel it was a game that we just had to win. I thought we deserved to win against an Italy team that is obviously improving. They’re the most athletic Italian side we’ve faced.”
Gatland added: “I was pleased to get the win. It’s nice to be sitting in the coaching box sort of going through the feeling that this game is going to go down to the wire. In fairness to the boys they scrambled well so I was pleased with the result.
“We weren’t quite as accurate in the second half as we were in the first because we didn’t have as much ball. I think we deserved to win the game, but there are still a number of things to work on.
“Defensively at times we were good. A number of players, and combinations, would have learned a lot from the experience.
“Joe Hawkins carried well in the midfield but we got caught a little bit defensively on a couple of occasions. It’s about just making some right decisions.
“There is a lot of growth with some of the youngsters in this team. They will learn from that and be better for it.”
On the return of Rhys Webb, who started for the fisrt time ijn six years abd gave a man-of-the-match performance: “I thought his contribution was excellent in his decision making, not trying to force things, not trying too hard. His decision making controlled the game and he kicked well.
“When that opportunity arose he went through the gap and picked out Faletau for the try. He made the right call and that was a great contribution by him.
“He has not played at this level for a while, so we were always thinking about when we would need to make a change in terms of his legs and stuff.”
Wales are staying overseas and training in Nice before travelling on to Paris.
And considering who might feature there, Gatland said: “Scott Baldwin has a pec injury which needs a scan which could potentially rule him out of next week. Liam Williams was a clavicle. Josh Adams had a slight knock to the knee. He carried on so he should be ok. It’s just a few guys banged up. And Dan Biggar will be fine.”
Skipper Ken Owens believes the break from being at home will be good for his team as they seek to build on their bonus-point victory over Italy in Rome.
Meanwhile, Wales skipper Ken Owens admits France will be a big challenge, but says: it’s a lot easier going there after a victory.”
“They (Italy) are a dangerous team. They’ve got a style of play everyone has bought into, they move the ball well, which is very dangerous but can also get them into trouble.
“We just kept coming off the line and putting them under pressure, which we did for the majority of the first-half.
“In the second-half, we gave them chances. We lost the gain-line on a couple of occasions and put ourselves under pressure.
“It’s been hard over the last seven weeks for many different reasons, with stuff on the field and stuff off the field.
“A new coach has come in, but we’ve stuck at it and kept working hard. We’ve got an opportunity to go to Nice this week and just concentrate on the game against France.
“We need to build and improve, we know that, but it’s easier to do that after a victory given the momentum and the confidence we’ve created.”