By Paul Jones
Taulupe Faletau has been described as a ”fantastic servant” for Welsh rugby as he prepares to win his 100th cap for Wales against France on Saturday.
Wales coach Warren Gatland has lavished praised on Faletau who has kept his place for the final round of the Six Nations, in a team for Paris that shows six changes.
No.8 Faletau will reach his century mark having made his debut against the Barbarians in June 2011 and won his 50th cap against Fiji at the World Cup in 2015.
George North – also in the Wales starting line-up that faced the Barbarians when Faletau made his debut – partners Nick Tompkins in the Wales midfield this Saturday.
Louis Rees-Zammit makes his third start for Wales at full back. Rio Dyer and Josh Adams are selected on the wings.
Dan Biggar returns from injury at fly half. Rhys Webb, who made his first start in this year’s Championship against Italy, continues at scrum half.
There are two changes to the forward pack that started last weekend’s outing at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Alun Wyn Jones is named in the second row, while Aaron Wainwright will make his first appearance this Six Nations coming in at blindside flanker.
Congratulations to Taulupe Faletau who is in line to make his 100th appearance for Wales 👏#FRAvWAL pic.twitter.com/bwUmQWNw9w
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 16, 2023
Jac Morgan has been ruled out with an ankle injury picked up in training.
Dillon Lewis is in line to make his 50th senior international appearance for Wales from the bench.
Gatland said: “Toby has been a fantastic servant for Welsh rugby. Even though he’s reaching 100 caps he’s still pretty quiet, but he’s incredibly well respected by the players for what he’s achieved.
“I remember in the early years he was just a constant and he became absolutely world class in terms of his performances.
“There’s a lot of things that people don’t see in terms of his ability to read the game – he’ll run support lines that people don’t see.
“You see that when you’re going back through the videos and there have been times where he’s been on the end of a pass and scored tries. We saw that last week, Rhys Webb makes a break and Toby scores a try.
“Getting 100 caps is a great recognition for what he’s achieved in the game. It’s fantastic for him and his family and hopefully we can go out there and give him a really good performance and something for him to remember.”
💯 Taulupe Faletau reaches a century of Wales appearances, while Dan Biggar and Alun Wyn Jones return to the starting line-up.#GuinnessSixNations #FRAvWAL pic.twitter.com/jxWKsT4BRv
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) March 16, 2023
Among the Wales replacements Bradley Roberts and Gareth Thomas join Lewis in providing the front row cover.
Dafydd Jenkins and Tommy Reffell are the other forwards in the match day 23.
Leigh Halfpenny is named one of the Wales replacement backs, along with Tomos Williams and Owen Williams.
Gatland said: “Last weekend was really important for us getting a win in the Six Nations and building a bit of confidence. It was a step in the right direction but there’s still lots for us to work on.
“We’ve worked hard on a few things in terms of tidying some of the defensive lapses that we’ve made and getting some of those things right. We’re still working hard on our attack.
“I think France last weekend put in probably one of the best performances seen in a long, long time. They’re the number two team in the world. They bring a really physical approach to the way they play and they’ve tended to start well.
“So that’s the important thing. We’ve got to go out there and start well, make sure we’re in that arm wrestle with them and give ourselves that opportunity.
“They’re a team that kick the ball a lot, so we’ve also got to make sure that our backfield is right and we’ve got to be good in the air.”
France: Ramos; Penaud, Fickou, Danty, Dumortier; Ntamack, Dupont (capt); Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Flament, Taofifenua, Cros, Ollivon, Alldritt.
Replacements: Mauvaka, Wardi, Falatea, Chalureau, Macalou, Lucu, Moefana, Jaminet.
Wales: Rees-Zammit; Adams, North, Tompkins, Dyer; Biggar, Webb; W Jones, Owens (capt), Francis, Beard, AW Jones, Wainwright, Tipuric, Faletau.
Replacements: Roberts, Thomas, Lewis, D Jenkins, Reffell, T Williams, O Williams, Halfpenny.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistants: Andrew Brace (Ireland), Christophe Ridley (England)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)