Alun Wyn Jones, a veteran of the last three Lions Tours, is named as skipper and is joined in the pack by Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty – all of whom went to New Zealand on the 2017 Tour.
Moriarty has shaken off an injury to start at No.8 while in the back line Liam Williams gets the nod at full-back – the same position he played with such distinction for the Lions in the drawn three-Test series against the All Blacks.
Williams is joined in the back three by winger George North – one of the Lions heroes from the 2013 series win over the Wallabies – while 2017 man of the series Jonathan Davies is back at outside centre.
With Dan Biggar – a Lions tourist in New Zealand as well – only able to secure a bench spot, the competition for places in the Wales’ 23 is extremely intense.
And Gatland, the Lions head coach on each of the last two Tours, admits picking the side to take on Les Bleus was a real headache.
“It’s a challenge and there were some disappointed players not in the XV or even not in the 23,” he said.
“It’s a nice position for us to be in but not nice to deliver the message of disappointment to some of the players.
“But we are excited about where we are as a squad and a team, building on those nine (wins) in a row.
“We want to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to go out there and perform, we know how important the first game is, it could go a long way to helping us have a really good Six Nations.”
WALES TEAM TO PLAY FRANCE:
15. Liam Williams (Saracens)
14. George North (Ospreys)
13. Jonathan Davies (Scarlets)
12. Hadleigh Parkes (Scarlets)
11. Josh Adams (Worcester Warriors)
10. Gareth Anscombe (Cardiff Blues)
9. Tomos Williams (Cardiff Blues)
1. Rob Evans (Scarlets)
2. Ken Owens (Scarlets)
3. Tomas Francis (Exeter Chiefs)
4. Adam Beard (Ospreys)
5. Alun Wyn Jones (Ospreys) (c)
6. Josh Navidi (Cardiff Blues)
7. Justin Tipuric (Ospreys)
8. Ross Moriarty (Dragons)
16. Elliot Dee (Dragons)
17. Wyn Jones (Scarlets)
18. Samson Lee (Scarlets)
19. Cory Hill (Dragons)
20. Aaron Wainwright (Dragons)
21. Gareth Davies (Scarlets)
22. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints)
23. Owen Watkin (Ospreys)