All four Welsh regions – the Scarlets, the Ospreys, Cardiff and the Dragons – have reached the knockout stages of the Heineken Champions Cup and the European Challenge Cup.
The stand-out performance was the Ospreys’ last minute 27-26 victory over English champions Leicester Tigers at Welford Road to set up a trip to Saracens in last 16 of the Heineken Champions Cup.
Gatland has selected 14 Ospreys in his Six Nations squad for the opener against the No 1 ranked side in the world, Ireland, at the Principality Stadium on 4 February. The Scarlets, Cardiff and the Dragons have all reached the last 16 of the European Challenge Cup.
“Before the new year, if you have looked at the URC table, we had three teams towards the bottom with Cardiff 10th in the table. It wasn’t pretty reading but I have been impressed and encouraged by the last three weeks with the performances of our regions in Europe,” said Gatland.
“They have played some good rugby. The Scarlets have had some good performances and the Ospreys, in particular, won in Montpellier and then came out on top again in a tough game at home, which I thought was a proper game of rugby.
‘Then, they go up and beat Leicester in Welford Road. It means the players come in with a spring in their step, with some confidence, and a self-belief that they are capable of putting some consistently good performances together.
“It will make my job a little bit easier because it won’t be about building them up, but about getting together, putting some hard work in and being able to have a squad that compete against the top team in the world first up in the Six Nations.”
The returning Gatland last coached Wales in the Six Nations in 2019, winning the Grand Slam and became the first coach to win three Grand Slams in the Five or Six Nations era.
The New Zealander has picked some familiar faces and made Ken Owens captain of his country for the first time. He has also identified some new faces and some exciting talent for this championship campaign.
“It is really exciting. There is some genuine talent in Wales at the moment, something people from outside haven’t recognised,” said Gatland.
“As coaches we have spoken about some of the quality young players coming through. There are positions where there is not a huge amount of depth, but with smaller nations you always get that.
“We are pretty excited about and positive about this group of players we have selected. We are looking forward to the next couple of weeks and for us it’s abut creating something a little bit special in terms of having a good Six Nations.”