After a long season of toil for the northern hemisphere players, the holidays have now arrived after some intriguing summer tours.
Wales will be amongst the happiest of the tourists after they claimed three wins from three Tests including a first series win in Argentina since 1999.
Warren Gatland has made no secret of his squad experimentations and now, just over a year out from the Rugby World Cup, we take a look at what he’s learned this June.
CLIMBING THE RANKINGS
With Ireland claiming the 2018 Six Nations title it’s been a few years without silverware in the Championship for Wales but the summer tour seems to have confirmed their upward trajectory.
Gatland’s men finished fifth in the 2017 Championship, second this year and now their three June wins have propelled them up to third in the world rankings – behind only Ireland and world champions New Zealand.
Wales first helped themselves to a dramatic last-gasp 22-20 win over South Africa in Washington before defeating Argentina convincingly 23-10 and 30-12.
Gatland seems to be a master at getting his teams to peak for world cups and the summer tour, with many key players rested, indicate this is very much the case once again.
With the likes of Alun Wyn Jones, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar and Sam Warburton rested, it was clear right from the off that a key summer aim for Wales was to develop squad depth.
One area that has shown great leaps in this regard is in the back three where Josh Adams, last season’s joint top try scorer in the English Premiership, seems to have taken his chance.
An injury to Steff Evans opened up the door for Adams, who started both matches against Argentina and produced strong defensive displays whilst grabbing his maiden Wales try – a superb weaving effort – in the second game.
Hallam Amos started at full-back in both matches in Argentina, grabbing a try in the second, whilst George North moved up to third in Wales’ all-time tryscorer list with his 33rd five-pointer.
With Leigh Halfpenny, Liam Williams and Evans to come back in this autumn, competition is white hot in the back three.
A FASCINATING AUTUMN
Wales are due to play four autumn internationals in November, against Scotland, Australia, Tonga and South Africa and it will be fascinating to see where Gatland is at in his thinking.
The experienced head coach tried many new combinations in the successful 2018 Six Nations campaign and many more this summer, and seems to have developed squad depth all over the pitch.
Come the autumn though it will be less than 12 months until the start of the world cup and many would expect the strongest possible line-ups to be named, so will Gatland stick with his old campaigners or trust his young guns?
Faletau looks to be immovable at No.8 as does Alun Wyn Jones at lock, but back rows Ellis Jenkins and James Davies enjoyed incredibly impressive summers to put pressure on the likes of the returning Sam Warburton, Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric.
Rhys Patchell enjoyed plenty of game-time in the Championship this year and earned plenty more in June to show he’s a serious rival to Biggar, whilst 22-year-old lock Adam Beard also had a superb tour.
Centre Hadleigh Parkes increased his influence on the side, changing the game against South Africa as a substitute before catching the eye against Argentina.
One thing’s for sure, every Welsh player knows they must start the season on fire to earn a shirt in Gatland’s upcoming starting XVs.