CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — Warren Gatland is feeling bullish about Wales' chances in the Six Nations.
The squad he named on Tuesday included only one uncapped player - Scarlets scrumhalf Aled Davies, whom he said has a steep learning curve to get up to speed - and 31 of the Rugby World Cup squad which led South Africa in the quarterfinals until there were five minutes to go.
Only one player retired after the Cup, scrumhalf Mike Phillips, and Gatland has welcomed back center Jonathan Davies, who missed the Cup while injured, and recalled Cardiff flanker Josh Turnbull and winger Tom James.
Backs James Hook and Eli Walker, both injury replacements in the Cup, missed out, as did the still-injured Rhys Webb, Scott Williams, and Leigh Halfpenny. A squad of 37 was picked, with expectations of some unfit players such as Liam Williams recovering in time.
"Apart from a couple of the loosehead props, most of the squad should be around in 2019, so we are in a pretty healthy state in terms of experience and development," Gatland said.
"We are pretty excited about where we are at the moment. There's a lot of continuity (from the World Cup), and we go into this tournament with a lot of self-belief.
"We are confident, if we don't pick up too many injuries, and have some continuity from where we finished off at the World Cup, that we can do well."
In saying that, he also said first-up opponent Ireland was the title favorite, and nobody should listen to the Irish if they downplay their chances.
"The thing about the Irish is they would like to go in with people writing them off," Gatland said. "They have won the championship the last two years, so they have to go in as favorites, given the experience they have and knowing how to win, particularly under pressure.
"If we can get a victory there, it sets us up nicely for the home game against Scotland."
Wales gather from Monday, and face Ireland on Feb. 7 in Dublin.