Wales head coach Warren Gatland has continued to build up the importance of Friday night’s opener against France after naming his 23 for the match on Wednesday.
Les Bleus host Gatland’s men at Paris’ Stade de France on Friday night to raise the curtain on one of the most highly-anticipated Championship’s ever, with Wales in line to be led out by totemic captain Alun Wyn Jones.
The other big news in Gatland’s team announcement is Gareth Anscombe’s continuation at fly-half, and the inclusion of Ross Moriarty at No.8 and Liam Williams at full-back.
In the build-up to the beginning of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations Gatland has commented several times on the importance of winning your first game if you have designs on the Championship.
Wales are clearly gearing up for a title challenge after an impressive 2018 that saw them finish second in the Championship, which they’ve followed up with a hot streak of nine wins on the trot.
Gatland commented: “It’s a challenge as a group of players, sometimes you put a run of games together and to a certain extent it takes a bit of pressure off players in terms of expectation – they can lose a game and not get criticised too much.
“But we put a bit of pressure on ourselves and a lot of expectation on ourselves to go out there and we know how important this game us.
“If we can win this opening game against France it could go a long way to us having a really good Six Nations.”
Wales are well into their second week in training camp now and with their squad announcement came several fitness boosts, let by Moriarty’s start at No.8.
The Dragons back row has been out of competitive action for seven weeks but his inclusion is welcome news for Wales fans, with Moriarty accompanied by Josh Navidi and Justin Tipuric in the back row.
There had also been concerns about the availability of British & Irish Lion Liam Williams, who starts at full-back, and scrum-half Gareth Davies, who will add valuable experience from the bench.
Gatland added: “The last week or so, trying to get everyone back and running has been a bit of a challenge but our medical staff and strength and conditioning team have done a fantastic job.
“We’ve got three or four who were not considered for this game, clearly they’ll be right in a couple of weeks but basically everyone’s up and running and is pretty much available for selection.
“It’s a big positive from where we were right at the beginning of the campaign.”
DEPTH OF EXPERIENCE
Aside from Wales’ excellent 2018 in terms of winning games of rugby, Gatland has developed impressive squad depth in his ranks and that’s evident in his 23 for the France clash.
Jones leads out the team on his 49th Championship appearance while Ken Owens will win his 61st cap for his country – Wales’ most capped hooker ever.
With the likes of George North and Jonathan Davies in the backline Gatland has plenty of experienced campaigners in his starting line-up, but with Dan Biggar and scrum-half Davies on the bench Wales have some impressive replacements to fire into the action.
“It’s hard because we’ve got some guys coming back and they’re disappointed at not being in the team and in the squad.
“It’s a challenge and there’s some disappointed players who’re not in the starting XV or even in the 23.
“It’s a nice position for us to be in but it’s not always nice to be delivering the message of disappointment.”