Wales boss Wayne Pivac has described Alun Wyn Jones as “an inspiration” as his captain prepares to equal the world Test match appearance record.
The 35-year-old lock plays his 148th game for Wales and the British and Irish Lions on Saturday, matching the mark set by New Zealand’s World Cup-winning skipper Richie McCaw when he leads out his country against France in Paris.
Jones’ international career began in the South American rugby outpost of Puerto Madryn 14 years ago.
Since then, he has been part of Six Nations title successes, Grand Slams and World Cup semi-finals, in addition to nine Lions Tests across three different tours.
“He will tell me off if I speak too much about him,” Pivac said, after naming the starting line-up to face Les Bleus.
“That’s the nature of the beast. He just wants to get on with the game.
“He’s looking forward to this Test match like it was his first Test match. He is just that sort of character.
“He has been leading by example during the week, as you would expect. He has had plenty of good words and encouragement to say to the young guys and he just brings that wealth of experience, which is invaluable.
“He’s the first guy to say if his form is not good enough, he shouldn’t be selected, and I can assure you at training he is doing everything that he has been doing for a number of years now.
“It’s great for the young guys to see him lead like that, and he is an inspiration to all the players.”
Wales’ first match for seven months sees a return for centre Jonathan Davies, who has not played Test rugby since suffering a knee injury during the World Cup last year, while Pivac has named uncapped Gloucester wing Louis Rees-Zammit and Ospreys hooker Sam Parry among the replacements.
The side is packed with experience, including a 96th cap for wing George North, while scrum-half Rhys Webb edges out Gareth Davies to make a first Wales start in almost three years, and Dan Biggar wears the number 10 shirt.
In the pack, hooker Ryan Elias takes over from shoulder injury victim Ken Owens, with Cory Hill partnering Jones in the second row and Aaron Wainwright starting at blindside flanker in tandem with back-row colleagues Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau.
Wainwright has come in for Ross Moriarty, who suffered an ankle injury during training on Wednesday, and uncapped Cardiff Blues flanker Shane Lewis-Hughes has been added to the Wales squad.
Pivac added: “Ross was down to start this Test match, but he picked up an injury in training yesterday and unfortunately won’t be right for the weekend.”
Rees-Zammit, meanwhile, has made a considerable impact at Gloucester, scoring 10 Premiership tries during the 2019-20 season and finishing second behind his team-mate Ollie Thorley on the league’s touchdown chart.
Assessing the 19-year-old, Pivac said: “He came in (earlier this year), and we had a good look at him. We didn’t think he was quite ready, we felt there were some parts of his game that he needed to work on to be able to play at Test level, which is a lot different from club rugby.
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“We know what he can do with the ball, and what he has got you can’t coach. He has got genuine gas, and we will get to see that on the international stage on the weekend.
“He has put the extra work in. We are talking about things like work-rate off the ball, making sure he is popping up on inside shoulders and doing the work a lot of the more experienced players do without thinking.
“He has worked hard at his game, his communication is a lot better, and we think he’s ready. We are looking forward to seeing him go on Saturday.”