'Fresh legs' for Wales as Warren Gatland once again switches things up ahead of France

Taulupe Faletau is set to make his 100th appearance for Wales against France

Wales will be looking to end what has been a difficult Six Nations on a high as they face off against France in Paris this weekend.

Despite showing signs of improvement last Saturday against Italy, even the most optimistic Welsh fans will be concerned going into the final round, especially after the way the World Cup hosts demolished England.

Warren Gatland has made six more alterations to his side for this week, taking the total number of changes to the starting squad to 26 throughout this tournament.

He has opted for more experience, with British and Irish Lions Alun Wyn Jones, Dan Biggar and George North making their return while seasoned operators at Test level Nick Tompkins and Aaron Wainwright also come back in.

"We’re thinking we just wanted to get some fresh legs in. We’re happy with Joe (Hawkins) and Mason (Grady) in the games that they’ve played but they’re a bit banged up."

On Hawkins and Grady’s omissions from the 23, it could be interpreted that Gatland is concerned about how the youngsters would go against a smoking hot French attack, orchestrated by the scintillating Antoine Dupont, while Wales' backline was tested in Rome last weekend.

The head coach is sure that is not the case: "They (Hawkins and Grady) will have learnt a lot from last week’s experience [v Italy]. They’re building that combination. There’s some sore bodies in the squad after last weekend and it’s about giving some other players that opportunity and freshening up some of the guys in the squad."

Louis Rees-Zammit has been given the nod at full-back by Gatland having previously picked Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny in earlier matches. He is keen for the Gloucester man to get experience in that position.

“We want to see how he goes. There’s not a lot of depth in Wales so he gets a chance there. We expect a lot of kicking from France. They kicked the ball 42 times last week. He’s (Rees-Zammit) got a good boot on him. We know we’re going to be in a bit of a kick battle.

"There will be opportunities for us to shift the ball and give Rio (Dyer) and Josh Adams an opportunity to get their hands on the ball and create something."

Back to the forwards, and Wainwright has returned to the starting XV after a training injury to Jac Morgan. He’s a player that Gatland rates highly and he has the support of the head coach ahead of Saturday.

“We’ve been impressed with the way that he’s trained. He’s still a young man but he’s matured well. He’s got some size about him. He’s dynamic and explosive.

"The biggest work on is making sure he stays switched on for the whole 80 minutes and we know what he can do with the ball in hand. We’ve been pleased with the way he’s gone in this campaign."

The impressive Christ Tshiunza misses out this week, but Gatland sees a bright future for the Exeter forward who will start for the Chiefs in their Premiership Rugby Cup final on Sunday against London Irish: "The reasoning behind him not being here is that we didn’t pick him for Italy so he stayed behind (in the UK) and we felt that we weren’t going to involve him this week.

"Selection wasn’t until Monday so we would’ve flown him out on the Sunday and he would’ve had to fly back to Exeter on the Tuesday if he wasn’t involved. He’s got quite a lot going on at the moment with exams coming up and dissertations. We want to make sure we give him the opportunity to get those things right. He’s definitely one for the future."

Taulupe Faletau will achieve his 100th cap this weekend and he will be hoping to mark the occasion with a win: “It’s an unbelievable achievement," said Gatland. "He’s been an incredible servant to Wales. I remember the early days at the Dragons, he never missed a training session and was available every week.

"You look at his record, and how many times he started and played early in his career was incredibly impressive. He was unlucky when he went to Bath with the amount of injuries he did pick up. He was brilliant with the Lions as well.

"It’s a great accolade for him and his family. It’s something we need to celebrate and something he needs to enjoy. Hopefully the players go out there and perform and make it special for him."