Italy face the defending Grand Slam champions in the opening fixture of the tournament on February 1.
Gatland called time on his 12-year tenure with Wales after the World Cup, leading to a new era under Wayne Pivac.
But, Smith, who will take charge of Italy for the first time following his appointment last November, expects Wales will be determined to bounce back from their World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa.
“There will be bumps in the road (for Wales), but I don’t think it is ever easy to play them at the Millennium Stadium,” said Smith.
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“It is true that there is change, but we also have change, and after their performance in the semi-final it is going to be a proud team running out there for the first game of the Six Nations.
“We expect them to be as tough as ever.”
Former South Africa international Smith replaced Conor O’Shea, who oversaw three successive Six Nations’ losing whitewashes during his time in charge.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 22, 2020
Italy’s last victory in the tournament was a 22-19 away win over Scotland in 2015.
“We want to find our DNA and play to our strengths,” added Smith, who made nine appearances for the Springboks between 1996 and 1999.
“There has been a lot of good work done through the Conor O’Shea era that we can just bounce on.
“For us to aim to beat sides like Scotland would be a misinterpretation of what we are trying to do. We want to be at our best as quickly as possible.”
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