Gatland predicts France clash could be last Six Nations game for up to eight Wales players
Warren Gatland has flagged the end of an era for Wales in Paris on Saturday with “up to eight” players potentially making their final Six Nations appearances.
Just under half of Gatland’s starting line-up and replacements to tackle France are aged 30 or over.
And while the overwhelming majority should have key roles to play at the World Cup later this year, long-term planning after that will continue at pace.
“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,” Wales head coach Gatland said, speaking at his squad’s training base in Nice.
“We’ve got to think about building for the World Cup this year, but also thinking about 2027 (World Cup). 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.
“The message to them who might be playing their last Six Nations game is enjoy the occasion and the moment. For a lot of them, it might be the last time they do that.”
Gatland has recalled three thirtysomethings with 375 caps between them – centre George North, fly-half Dan Biggar and lock Alun Wyn Jones – to face France.
North replaces Mason Grady, partnering Nick Tompkins in midfield, with Joe Hawkins also dropping out, while Biggar is preferred to Owen Williams and Jones takes over from Dafydd Jenkins.
Elsewhere, Louis Rees-Zammit replaces full-back Liam Williams, who suffered a shoulder injury during the 29-17 victory over Italy last weekend, and there is also a start for flanker Aaron Wainwright, with Jac Morgan sidelined due to an ankle injury suffered in training.
Number eight Taulupe Faletau will win his 100th cap, joining fellow Welsh centurions Jones, North, Biggar, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas and Martyn Williams.
Elsewhere, replacement prop Dillon Lewis is in line to reach 50 appearances, with full-back Leigh Halfpenny also among those players providing bench cover.
Assessing Faletau’s achievement, Gatland added: “He has been an incredible servant to Wales.
“I remember in the early years he was just a constant and he became absolutely world-class in terms of his performances.
“There are a lot of things that people don’t see in terms of his ability to read the game – he will run support lines that people don’t see.
“He has been brilliant for the Lions as well and it is a great accolade for him and his family.”
Gatland, meanwhile, lavished praise on France following their 53-10 demolition of England, which underlined the huge task facing Wales as they try to end an underwhelming Six Nations campaign on a high.
“I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time,” Gatland said.
“They are the number two team in the world, they bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they have tended to start well.
“We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we are in that arm-wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.
“They are a team that kick the ball a lot, so we’ve also got to make sure that our back-field is right and we have got to be good in the air.”
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