Wales tackle Les Bleus in Paris on February 1 during a campaign that also sees them meet reigning Six Nations champions Ireland and Eddie Jones’ England at the Principality Stadium.
And head coach Gatland is upbeat about his team’s prospects following a first clean sweep of autumn Test wins that stretched Wales’ unbeaten record to nine games.
“I think we’ve got a great chance of winning the Six Nations, if we win that opening game,” Gatland said, after naming a 39-man squad on Tuesday.
“That first game is going to be our toughest. We feel like we are in as good a position as anybody to do well.
“The whole thing about the Six Nations is momentum. If you can win your first couple of games, then you have a great chance of being in contention on the last weekend.
“This is competition time. The autumn was great, but it wasn’t about points. This is what we are going to experience in Japan (World Cup), so it’s about fronting up and winning games, playing some good rugby, but also thinking about tournament rugby.”
Wales have suffered a major blow, though, after Bath number eight Taulupe Faletau broke his arm for the second time this season.
Faletau is not among Gatland’s squad. He confirmed that he had originally selected a 40-player group, which included Faletau, before injury ruled him out.
Faletau returned to action for his club Bath against Heineken Champions Cup opponents Wasps on Saturday after 13 weeks out, only to break his right arm again.
Scarlets star Leigh Halfpenny, meanwhile, is involved. He has not played since suffering concussion during Wales’ victory over Australia on November 10.
Gatland added: “We will make an assessment when he (Halfpenny) comes in. We will see where he is at.
“He has been advised to continue training and stuff. If he’s right, he will be in contention, but if not, we will have to make some other plans.
“Seven or eight players are carrying knocks at the moment and may be available for the second match (against Italy). We will monitor these guys over the next few weeks, and hopefully they may be in contention for the first game, if not the second game.”
The Wales squad will report for duty next Monday, with players on the assessment list set to include Dan Biggar (knee), Rhys Patchell (hamstring), Adam Beard (neck) and Ross Moriarty (concussion).
“Biggar’s hopefully going to be okay,” Gatland said. “That’s why we’ve gone for the four 10s, with Rhys Patchell not being 100 per cent.
“We wanted to have two fit 10s for training in Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans. Dan has a medial injury, but he is a fast healer.”
Gatland’s Six Nations group includes Wasps flanker Thomas Young and Leicester back Jonah Holmes.
Young, who won caps against Tonga and Samoa in 2017, has been among the Premiership’s form players this term.
Holmes made his Test debut earlier this season, and he has continued to shine for his club Leicester, despite the Tigers’ inconsistent form.
Lock Alun-Wyn Jones captains a squad that features many of Gatland’s tried-and-tested players, including fit-again Cardiff Blues back-row forward Josh Navidi, who missed the autumn games through injury.
This season’s tournament is Gatland’s final Six Nations as Wales boss. He steps down after the World Cup later this year, bringing a 12-year tenure to an end.
Forwards: Rob Evans (Scarlets), Wyn Jones (Scarlets), Nicky Smith (Ospreys), Elliot Dee (Dragons), Ryan Elias (Scarlets), Ken Owens (Scarlets), Leon Brown (Dragons), Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs), Samson Lee (Scarlets), Dillon Lewis (Cardiff Blues), Jake Ball (Scarlets), Adam Beard (Ospreys), Seb Davies (Cardiff Blues), Cory Hill (Dragons), Alun-Wyn Jones (Ospreys/capt), Ross Moriarty (Dragons), Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues), Justin Tipuric (Ospreys), Josh Turnbull (Cardiff Blues), Aaron Wainwright (Dragons), Thomas Young (Wasps)
Backs: Aled Davies (Ospreys), Gareth Davies (Scarlets), Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues), Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints), Jarrod Evans (Cardiff Blues), Rhys Patchell (Scarlets), Jonathan Davies (Scarlets), Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets), Owen Watkin (Ospreys), Scott Williams (Ospreys), Josh Adams (Worcester Warriors), Hallam Amos (Dragons), Steffan Evans (Scarlets), Leigh Halfpenny (Scarlets), Jonah Holmes (Leicester Tigers), George North (Ospreys), Liam Williams (Saracens)
Leigh Halfpenny looks set to miss the start of Wales’ Six Nations campaign.
The Scarlets full-back has not played since suffering concussion during Wales’ victory over Australia on November 10.
Halfpenny has seen a specialist, and Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac reported on Tuesday that the player would not feature for “three to five weeks”.
Wales’ opening Six Nations game is against France in Paris in February 1, followed by an appointment with Italy in Rome eight days later.
Halfpenny, 30, went off late in the Australia match after being on the receiving end of a late challenge from Wallabies centre Samu Kerevi, who avoided any punishment.
He was selected to play for the Scarlets against Cardiff Blues 10 days ago, but was a late withdrawal after suffering headaches.
"There's a tremendous appetite for success throughout the squad and we are very keen to build on our autumn form."@AlunWynJones says Wales are building nicely for #RWC2019 as the clock ticks towards Japan in September 🏆 https://t.co/zJONRFQFD4 pic.twitter.com/zYEjgKdICR— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) 3 January 2019
And Pivac has now revealed the outcome of 80-times-capped Halfpenny’s further medical assessment.
“Leigh has seen the specialist and won’t be used for the next three to five weeks,” Pivac said.
“He will continue training and doing what he’s been doing, and then he will be reassessed. It will be somewhere between three to five weeks, but these things take time. That’s the time-frame we’re looking at.
“Leigh won’t play before that time, that will be the earliest. We will pass on the medical information to the Welsh Rugby Union.
“That will then be (Wales head coach) Warren’s (Gatland) call as to what he does, because the tournament runs for longer than that.
“He’s running, he’s training, and from time to time I think he’s been having bouts of (headaches). He’s as frustrated as anybody is, but his health and well-being comes first.
“Lots of players have come back from it (concussion) before. Justin Tipuric and Aaron Shingler have had spells out, and both those players have returned to the top of their game at some point. There’s no reason why that won’t happen with Leigh.”
Townsend took over in June last year with his remit to lead Scotland into the Rugby World Cup in the autumn of 2019, but he has now signed a new deal until 2021.
The former Glasgow Warriors head coach has won nine of his 14 matches in charge since building on Vern Cotter’s spell at the helm and finished third in his debut Six Nations campaign.
Townsend said in an interview with the Scottish Rugby Union: “It’s a huge privilege to coach the national team. It’s great I can continue that. I really enjoyed last season.
“There is a lot of work to do in the future but I am delighted I am going to be involved for another couple of years.”
BREAKING | Head Coach Gregor Townsend has extended his contract with the Scotland national team until 2021, together with extensions for his coaching staff of Matt Taylor and Mike Blair.— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) July 31, 2018
Read the full story ➡ https://t.co/AFJHzcx4KW pic.twitter.com/tViQffWMKp
Scotland are still seeking improved consistency but there have been some major results under Townsend, including two victories over Australia, Six Nations triumphs against England and France, and a 44-15 win in Argentina in their most recent game.
“It is a rollercoaster,” Townsend said. “There’s been some great highs. Being out here at the end of the game against England this year was fantastic – the atmosphere in the ground, the joy on the supporters’ faces, the players’ as well, the effort they put in, the satisfaction they got from winning.
“But also seeing the team perform well away from home in Australia in the first big game that we were in charge of, and most recently in Argentina, a terrific performance to win against a very good side.”
Two of Townsend’s assistants, Matt Taylor and Mike Blair, have also signed extended deals while Danny Wilson is set to join the coaching staff ahead of Dan McFarland’s move to Ulster, which is scheduled for January.
Townsend added: “There’s certainly a lot of improvement to be found – both from us as coaches and also our playing performances – but we’ve also seen some excellent displays over the past season, as well as a genuine desire from the players to give their best for their country.
"I'm miles & miles away from being the best coach I can be. I have to learn from my mistakes, learn from others & learn from the best"— Coach Logic (@coachlogic) July 31, 2018
Congratulations to Gregor Townsend on the new contract. A fantastic example to fellow Coaches for learning & successfully developing on the job. pic.twitter.com/24bC0LJnqE
“I’ve been really pleased with the way the squad has come together whenever we’ve been in camp. The players have built strong relationships with each other, trained with intensity and learned quickly after any setbacks we have faced.
“They have also been terrific ambassadors for their country on tours or whenever they have interacted with our supporters.”
SRU chief executive Mark Dodson hailed the development.
“I was convinced that Gregor was going to make an outstanding head coach for Scotland and we’re delighted to have secured his services for the next three years, at a very exciting time for Scottish Rugby,” Dodson said.
“It was also important to maintain the high level continuity created with the other world-class coaches within the national team set-up in Matt Taylor and Mike Blair and I’m very pleased they will continue to work alongside Gregor through to, and beyond, Rugby World Cup 2019.”