Rob Howley is delighted to see Wales duo back in fold
WELSH players must feel like they have been looking over their shoulders for an age.
But after their gritty victory in France ended an eight-match losing run, their trepidation this week is not borne from the pressures of a dip in form.
Instead, it is the return of two prominent figures which will have prompted a few members of the starting line-up to breathe a little heavier.
Grand Slam captain Sam Warburton and Alun Wyn Jones, the influential lock who was so integral to last year's success, have both recovered from injury and are back in the squad to face Italy on Saturday, albeit on the bench.
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Rob Howley opted to keep faith with the team which ground out victory in Paris.
But the interim head coach has warned those starting this weekend that their places are far from guaranteed for the rest of the tournament.
The likes of Justin Tipuric and Andrew Coombs have shone in the absence of Warburton and Jones, though their sparkle may be dimmed somewhat by the return of the latter pair.
"The one thing we're pleased about is our impact and strength from the bench in the last two games," said Howley.
"With Sam and Alun Wyn on the bench that is going to be important again.
"We've seen in games that the last 20 or 25 minutes are key, so their experience will be a priceless commodity.
"We wanted to wait and see how both of them were physically but they are fully fit and have taken an active part in training.
"International rugby is about 23 players and that impact off the bench is something you need in Italy." Warburton missed only one game with a knock to his shoulder, while Jones was sidelined for three months with a more severe injury to the same part of his body.
But the towering Ospreys lock proved last season what an impact he can make on his return to the side, as he made a swift recovery from a foot injury to start in the Triple Crown-clinching victory at Twickenham.
Jones and Warburton will doubtless be eager to make a similarly telling contribution if they feature from the bench against Italy, and Howley believes their return will put pressure on those currently in possession of the starting places.
"Strength in depth off your bench is crucial and will be on Saturday against a formidable pack who rely on their first phase a hell of a lot," he said.
"It's key for us to have that strength in depth and experience coming on. That's a challenge for some of those players that they come on in a game and make a really good impact.
"Sometimes, when you've started them, they don't have the sort of ability to have the impact from the start that they have off the bench.
"It's key for those players to challenge the starting XV by continually coming on, making that impact and stepping up to the mark."