Gatland: Welsh success is down to superior fitness
WALES coach Warren Gatland has hailed finely-tuned fitness levels as a key factor behind his side's success.
Wales today climbed into the top five of world rugby before their twin assault on the Six Nations title and Grand Slam glory.
A dramatic 19-12 victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday not only clinched the Triple Crown for Gatland's squad, but also saw them make a move in the International Rugby Board world rankings.
Wales are fifth behind world champions New Zealand, Australia, France and South Africa after putting themselves two home wins away from the second unbeaten Six Nations campaign of Gatland's four-year reign.
The top four countries at the end of this year will be the seeded teams at the World Cup in England in 2015.
Much has been made of the Wales players' supreme fitness honed at punishing pre-World Cup and Six Nations training camps in Poland, and it continues to serve them well.
"We are pretty good conditioning-wise," Gatland said. "The fitter you get, your skills improve as well and your decision-making improves.
"I have prioritised fitness for the whole four years, and there have been times when the players have come into a Wales camp knowing they are not really in good enough shape to take on other teams.
"The significant turning point for us was the preparation for the World Cup, when we hammered home the conditioning and the fitness."
World Cup semi-finalists Wales will secure Six Nations silverware if they beat Italy and title rivals France in Cardiff next month, and Gatland believes their tense Twickenham win cannot be understated.
"It is a significant result," he added. "Perhaps in the past we would have capitulated (at Twickenham) or lacked self-belief, but there is an attitude now that the players back their conditioning and never give up. Our scramble defence on our line kept us in the game and our scrum was excellent."
Wales ended the England clash with eight players aged 23 or under on the pitch, including match-winner Scott Williams and skipper Sam Warburton, and Gatland is enthused about what the future might hold.
"We are going to be a good team," he added.
Meanwhile, Wales hooker Huw Bennett has confirmed he will play club rugby in France next season.
The Ospreys forward, who has 51 caps, will join Top-14 side Lyon.