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Six Nations opener in Paris will set the tone for title tilt: Gatland


By Andrew Bdock

Warren Gatland believes that Wales' Guinness Six Nations opener against France is potentially their toughest assignment of this season's tournament.

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Wales tackle Les Bleus in Paris on February 1 during a campaign that also sees them meet reigning Six Nations champions Ireland and Eddie Jones' England at the Principality Stadium.

And head coach Gatland is upbeat about his team's prospects following a first clean sweep of autumn Test wins that stretched Wales' unbeaten record to nine games.

"I think we've got a great chance of winning the Six Nations, if we win that opening game," Gatland said, after naming a 39-man squad.

"That first game is going to be our toughest. We feel like we are in as good a position as anybody to do well.

"The whole thing about the Six Nations is momentum. If you can win your first couple of games, then you have a great chance of being in contention on the last weekend.

"This is competition time. The autumn was great, but it wasn't about points.

"This is what we are going to experience in Japan (World Cup), so it's about fronting up and winning games, playing some good rugby, but also thinking about tournament rugby."

Wales have suffered a major blow, though, after Taulupe Faletau broke his arm for the second time this season.

Faletau is not among Gatland's squad. He confirmed that he had originally selected a 40-player group, which included Faletau, before injury ruled him out.

Faletau returned to action for his club Bath against Heineken Champions Cup opponents Wasps on Saturday after 13 weeks out, only to break his right arm again.

Scarlets star Leigh Halfpenny, meanwhile, is involved. He has not played since suffering concussion during Wales' victory over Australia on November 10.

Gatland added: "We will make an assessment when he (Halfpenny) comes in. We will see where he is at.

"He has been advised to continue training and stuff. If he's right, he will be in contention, but if not, we will have to make some other plans."

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