Wayne Pivac believes his Welsh side have grown enormously in this year’s Six Nations as they hunt for a third-place finish.
Depending on the results for Scotland and England at the weekend, Wales could take third place should they earn a bonus point win against Italy.
The woes of injury
The Welsh title defense did not last long this season after losing to England and France at the start of the competition.
They also went to the Six Nations without injured British and Irish Lions Alun Wyn Jones, Leigh Halfpenny, George North, Ken Owens, Josh Navidi, Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.
Navidi and Faletau are now back in the starting lineup, and Jones returns this weekend after more than four months out with shoulder problems to earn his 150th Wales cap.
“At the start of the competition we probably called it off because of absentees,” said Wales head coach Pivac.
“But certainly we grew throughout the competition, which was really, really nice.
“You have to remember that when you bring in players from all four regions and from the fifth region, which is the English Premiership, bringing it together takes a bit of time.
“History will show that, but also some of the big names we had to replace and the lack of form of some players who came into the competition meant it was always going to be a bit difficult.
“I don’t think we’ve gotten too far, and with a few other players coming back into the mix in the future for the summer tour (to South Africa), we’re in reasonable space.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction in terms of the experiences some players have, not only in terms of starting positions and on the bench, but also in leadership roles.
“We are building depth in a number of areas which is really important ahead of the World Cup next year.
“Obviously we want to win every test game when we go out on the pitch, and we weren’t happy with the first round (against Ireland), but we’ve been building steadily and there’s been a lot of positives. to come out of the last three matches.”
Jones, 36, will become the first player in rugby union history to play 150 Tests for his country when he runs out at the Principality Stadium.
And although fly-half Dan Biggar, who took over from Jones for the Six Nations and won his 100th cap on Saturday, retains the captaincy, Jones’ return is a huge boost for Pivac and his team.
Pivac added: “He had surgery and it was a success. Certainly, the surgeon is pleased with himself.
“We wouldn’t risk Al or any other player if they weren’t ready to go. These are the people who are experts in these areas that we turn to in these situations.
“You have to remember that before the injury Al was a captain, a starter and played very, very good rugby.
“His numbers speak for themselves in terms of the workload he puts through during a game.”
READ MORE: Alun Wyn Jones makes stunning comeback, Dan Biggar gears up for 100th cap