Uini Atonio (L) made his France debut in 2014
Paris (AFP) - France head coach Fabien Galthie said Thursday that Uini Atonio was an “indisputable starter” against Wales in the Six Nations this weekend when the prop will win his 50th Test cap.
Tight-head prop Atonio comes in for Dorian Aldegheri, who has a groin issue, and lock Taofifenua replaces Paul Willemse, who sustained a hamstring injury in last Saturday’s record 53-10 win over England.
New-Zealand-born Atonio, 32, will reach the landmark at the Stade de France on Saturday as Les Bleus eye retaining their trophy with a bonus-point win if Ireland fail to claim a point against England in Dublin later in the day.
La Rochelle’s Atonio returns to the side after being suspended for two games for making a high tackle during February 11’s defeat by world number one side Ireland.
“He’s a player that counts because of his experience, his intrinsic qualities, his power at the scrum,” Galthie told reporters.
“He’s surely the best in the world in his position at scrum-time so it’s an asset which means he’s an indisputable starter,” he added.
Lyon’s Taofifenua has come off the bench in France’s four games so far this Championship and has started just five Tests since Galthie took over after the 2019 Rugby World Cup.
“He’s our second tight-head lock, simply put,” Galthie said. “In our hierarchy there is Paul and then Romain. He’s played well when he’s come on.
“Naturally with his performances he wears the number 5 shirt, it’s an obvious choice.”
This year’s World Cup hosts can still claim the Six Nations, but former Les Bleus skipper Galthie said his side’s concentration was on the game and not the trophy and events in Dublin.
“We’ll focus on ourselves firstly,” Galthie said.
“To be in a position to win the Six Nations we have to go up against Wales, we can’t make a mistake in who our opponents are: they are Wales and this match.
“We prefer to focus on our match, then we have control on our destiny, afterwards it’s not down to us,” he added.
Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Francois Cros; Romain Taofifenua, Thibaud Flament; Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille
Replacements: Peato Mauvaka, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Bastien Chalureau, Sekou Macalou, Maxime Lucu, Yoram Moefana, Melvyn Jaminet
Coach: Fabien Galthie (FRA)