Wales’ head coach, Warren Gatland, has suggested that as many as eight players in his Six Nations squad of 31 could have played their final tournament. Just under half of Gatland’s starting line-up and replacements, set to face France, were aged 30 or over, and while the majority should still be involved in this year’s World Cup, Gatland is also considering longer-term planning. “You need to bring in some younger players and give them that time to develop,” he said. “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.”
In his selection for the France game, Gatland recalled three thirtysomethings – fly-half Dan Biggar, centre George North, and lock Alun Wyn Jones – who have a combined total of 375 caps between them. North replaces Mason Grady, with Joe Hawkins also dropping out, while Biggar is preferred to Owen Williams and Jones takes over from Dafydd Jenkins. As a further sign of the Welsh squad’s ageing, Taulupe Faletau will play his 100th cap, joining other Welsh centurions Jones, North, Biggar, Gethin Jenkins, Stephen Jones, Gareth Thomas and Martyn Williams.
Meanwhile, Gatland added his praise to the already resounding chorus from coaches and media that followed France’s stunning 53-10 victory over England last week, calling the match’s winning team “the number two team in the world, [who] bring a really physical approach to the way they play”. Elusive and exciting, however, as it may look for the French, Gatland emphasised the responsibility of his players to compete: “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.”