France vs Wales: ‘Up to eight players’ prepare Six Nations-goodbye in Paris

Alun Wyn Jones’ future, Toby Faletau’s century of caps and Rhys Webb’s comeback are just some of the talking points alongside Warren Gatland’s bombshell warning to his team.

WALES face the unenviable task of containing a France team fresh off the back of a Twickenham demolition job – as Warren Gatland announces plans to bulldoze his own squad.

A number of senior players could be axed by the time next year’s championship rolls around as the 59-year-old looks to prepare for the next two World Cups.

“If I look at the squad, going through it, there are up to eight players in there who are potentially playing their last Six Nations game,” he said, speaking at Wales’ training base in Nice.

“We’ve got to think about building for the World Cup this year, but also thinking about 2027. You need to bring in some younger players and give them that time to develop.

“The ideal scenario is you want to go to a World Cup with a squad of mid to late 20s with 40 or 50 caps.

“That is some of the thinking behind the selection behind guys who have been great servants to Welsh rugby, but are probably involved in their last Six Nations game,” he added.

Wales last won at the Stade de France during the 2019 Six Nations by a score of 24-19.
Credit: Diane Dambreville (Flickr)

Barring a huge upset at Murrayfield or a Paris faux-pas, Wales look to have avoided the ignominy of the wooden spoon. They aim to build on Saturday’s victory in Rome by at least avoiding being levelled by France before Gatland gets his chance.

In his latest shake-up, the New Zealander has made six changes to the side which beat Italy and scored more points than in the previous three games combined.

Louis Rees-Zammit comes in for the injured Liam Williams at full-back while experience trumps youth as Nick Tompkins and George North replace Mason Grady and Joe Hawkins at centre. Dan Biggar also comes back into the fold as he takes Owen Williams’ place at fly-half.

The raft of changes is just one of many talking points surrounding Saturday’s game in Paris, aside from Gatland’s candid admission about the state of his squad.

A Six Nations swansong for Alun Wyn?

One of the older servants who could be making his final Six Nations appearance is Gatland’s sixth change, captain Alun Wyn Jones, who is replacing Dafydd Jenkins at lock.

The 37-year-old is not getting any younger while playing in his 17th championship and questions have been raised about his performance levels, especially following the game against England.

With 20-year-old Jenkins waiting in the wings, could Wales and world rugby’s most-capped player be forced to call it a day before February 2024?

Alun Wyn Jones holds the record for most Wales caps and has the trophies to show for it.
Credit: Alfie Reynolds

Centurion Faletau

Another milestone in this game is Taulupe Faletau winning his 100th cap.

The Tonga-born flanker made his debut over a decade ago and two Grand Slams and three Lions’ tours later, has proved to be a consistent performer for his adopted home nation. 

He will be hoping to add to last week’s try if he is to celebrate in style.

Can Rhys Webb kick-on?

Bringing the Ospreys scrum-half back in from not just the cold, but near frost-bite, for his first Six Nations start since 2017 is probably the best decision Gatland has made since his return to the hot-seat.

Webb was outstanding at the Stadio Olimpico and certainly proved a point as he earned assists for both Rio Dyer and Faletau’s tries, but at the age of 34, he could yet find himself on the chopping block as a new generation are blooded in.

Although France will prove a much tougher opponent than the Italians, Webb will be hoping for a solid showing as he aims to give his head coach some pre-World Cup food for thought. 

Credit: Alfie Reynolds

When it comes to this particular Six Nations fixture, Wales have lost the previous three clashes and many could be forgiven for thinking that Les Bleus won’t make it four.

Fabien Galthié’s men will be praying that England don’t repeat last week’s performance against Grand Slam hopefuls Ireland if his French side are to stand any chance of stealing an unlikely championship win.

Ones to watch: France

Antoine Dupont (Star man)

The French captain and Toulouse scrum-half was recently voted by fans as the best player in the world, while Wales assistant Alex King compared his ability to influence matches to that of Kiwi legend Dan Carter. His performance against England and ranking a tournament-second for assists, passes made and offloads shows how influential he is. 

Dupont and Ramos celebrate last weekend’s victory over England

Thomas Ramos (Points man)

Dupont’s club teammate. The full-back and fly-half has been the most prolific kicker at this year’s tournament and leads the charts with 68 points – more than double that of Finn Russell in second. His 23-point haul from last weekend’s demolition of England didn’t do that figure much harm either.

Thibaud Flament (In-form man)

The Stade Toulousain flanker was named the player of the round following last week’s masterclass where he picked up two tries in a colossal display as France inflicted England’s heaviest ever defeat at Twickenham – yes, The Cardiffian is milking this one.


France: 15. Thomas Ramos, 14. Damien Penaud, 13. Gael Fickou, 12. Jonathan Danty, 11. Ethan Dumortier, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont (capt), 1. Cyril Baille 2. Julien Marchand 3. Uini Atonio 4. Thibaud Flament 5. Romain Taofifenua 6. Francois Cros 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Sipili Falatea, 19. Bastien Chalureau, 20. Secou Macalou, 21. Maxime Lucu, 22. Yoram Moefana, 23. Melvyn Jaminet.

Wales: 15. Louis Rees-Zammit, 14. Josh Adams, 13. George North, 12. Nick Tompkins, 11. Rio Dyer, 10. Dan Biggar, 9. Rhys Webb, 1. Wyn Jones, 2. Ken Owens (capt), 3. Tomas Francis, 4. Adam Beard, 5. Alun Wyn Jones, 6. Aaron Wainwright, 7. Justin Tipuric, 8. Taulupe Faletau.

Replacements: 16. Bradley Roberts, 17. Gareth Thomas, 18. Dillon Lewis, 19. Dafydd Jenkins, 20. Tommy Reffell, 21. Tomos Williams, 22. Owen Williams, 23. Leigh Halfpenny.

Referee – Nic Berry (Aus)

  • The match at the Stade de France, Paris kicks off at 2.45pm on March 18 and will be shown free-to-air on ITV and S4C.