Warren Gatland has confirmed he will be taking his strongest Wales squad possible to face world champions South Africa in two Tests in the republic in June.
Wales are determined to build on their Grand Slam triumph in the RBS 6 Nations by testing themselves in the Springboks’ backyard.
It is a challenge that has been made much harder because both internationals are due to be played at altitude in Bloemfontein and Pretoria.
“Our next challenge is South Africa and we will try to take as strong a side as possible, given that we need to speak to one or two senior players about the condition of their body after a long season,” confirmed coach Gatland.
“As world champions I think South Africa deserve the respect of us taking the strongest squad.
“We have never won in South Africa and given that we are playing two Test matches on the high veldt and statistics suggest it is very hard to win in those conditions. Given that home advantage it’s going to be a huge challenge for us.
“It’s about testing ourselves and taking the next step against the best teams in the world and seeing how much we have progressed in the last three months.
“We think we have made significant improvement in terms of the confidence we have built up since the first game (in the Six Nations when Wales beat England at Twickenham).
“There is still a heap of work to do and I’m excited about going to South Africa and excited about what a difficult challenge that is. That’s what sport is about; it’s about testing yourself against the best.”
The squad, which Gatland will confirm over the next few weeks, will contain most of his Grand Slam players and a few others who have emerged for the Welsh regions in recent months.
“The players who played well during the Six Nations have got a foot in the door and we also have to consider the form of some of the players over the last few weeks as well,” added Gatland.
“We are essentially looking at a squad of 26 to 28, and with no real time difference it would be easy to fly a couple of players over if we do get injuries.
“I need to talk to some of the senior players like Martyn Williams and Ian Gough and just really assess how they are doing.
“The way Martyn is playing at the moment his form is outstanding. If we look after him well enough I think we could get him through to the World Cup (in 2011).
“To get him through to the World Cup it will mean careful management.
“Players can get to 34 or 35 and still make a huge contribution. I think you saw that in the 2003 World Cup and in last year’s tournament as well.”