Wales boss Warren Gatland says he has never “worried about external influences” after making 10 changes for Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash against Italy.
Gatland was criticised in some quarters after announcing a team showing 12 switches to face Italy in last season’s tournament.
Wales, though, won that game 38-14 – it launched their current 10-match unbeaten run – and the Azzurri have never triumphed in the fixture since Gatland took charge in 2008.
“I’ve never been a person who has worried about external influences,” head coach Gatland said.
“People can say, write or imply whatever they like. It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve been put into a role to make what we think are the best decisions.
“I thought we answered that criticism emphatically last year with the performance.
“It’s a challenge this year, making changes. Guys have got to go out there and prove themselves. We’ve left out some real experience and quality players.”
Wasps flanker Thomas Young will make his Six Nations debut on Saturday, although he has run out with Wales in the tournament before – as a nine-year-old mascot.
That was the occasion of his father Dai – the current Wasps rugby director and former Wales prop – winning his 50th cap in a 36-6 home defeat against Ireland 18 years ago.
Young and his brothers Lewis and Owen were mascots for the day, and he said: “We were mascot on his 50th game, so that’s one I do remember.
“But it’s one Dad wants to forget, as he was captain and we got a bit of a hammering. But running out was good for us as a family, and it was a proud moment for us all.
“That is the only time I’ve been out on the Millennium Stadium pitch, so it is something I won’t forget.”
Young has waited for his Six Nations chance – it is more than 18 months since his last Wales appearance on tour against Samoa – and he added: “I have got the opportunity, and I want to make sure I perform.
“It’s a massive opportunity, especially with the quality of back-rowers we have got. But hopefully, I can go out there and take the opportunity I’ve been given.
“I have been trying to be involved in the squad for the last 18 months-two years, and I just have to treat it as another game.
“My preparation won’t be any different to what it has been at club level. Obviously, it is going to be a step up and hopefully something I take in my stride, but I have to make sure I take the opportunity.”
Young’s parents will head to Rome for the game, while Gatland is also relishing the 26-year-old openside’s chance in a back-row area where Wales have an abundance of riches.
Gatland said: “For Thomas, we haven’t really spoken a lot about expectation for him, it’s just about him going out there, making an impression and enjoying himself.
“There is no doubt his form for Wasps has been very good. When you pick a squad, there are always two or three players considered to be unlucky to miss out.
“His name has been mentioned there in the past, but he gets an opportunity on the weekend.
“Sometimes, it’s unfortunate for players that there tends to be strength in depth in certain positions and you have to make tough decisions in selection.
“We picked Thomas because we wanted to assess where he was and give him that chance. Hopefully, he takes his opportunity with both hands on the weekend.”
- Press Association