France v Scotland - Teams and Predictions
SIX NATIONS PREVIEW: The best defence of the past two editions of the Six Nations stands between France and a first title in more than a decade as a depleted Scotland head to Paris on Friday.
The Championship decider has been postponed since late-February after a Covid-19 outbreak among the home camp.
Les Bleus will lift their first trophy since 2010 but need to score four tries or more in a victory of more than 20 points on Friday.
If they fail then Wales, who lost at the Stade de France last Saturday, will claim the tournament.
“Fight fire with fire – I think that’s what we have to do, whether that’s a physical battle or a game that gets the ball moving,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said.
“If France are moving the ball, we’ve got to make sure that we are forcing errors from them,” he added.
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Centre Gael Fickou is the most experienced member of Fabien Galthie’s squad with 62 Tests since his debut in 2013.
During his international career he has experienced heavy defeats to England, New Zealand and South Africa but France’s fortunes have turned around since Galthie’s appointment last year.
“I ate some stale bread with the old generation so I know it will be enormous for our supporters and our families because it’s been such a long time they’ve been waiting for it,” Fickou said.
“But we can’t get mixed up, we have to concentrate on the victory, then as time goes by, if we can win the title then we’ll go for it without hesitation.
“We will give 200 percent to try and bring the trophy home,” he added.
Townsend has been able to name Exeter Chiefs’ Stuart Hogg at fullback thanks to an agreement between English clubs and the Scottish Rugby Union as the match falls out of World Rugby’s Test window.
However, the former flyhalf will be without experienced wing Sean Maitland as they were limited to five England-based players with Scotland searching for their first win in Paris since 1999.
Townsend scored a try on that day as the away side went on to lift the last Five Nations.
“It was one of those amazing games where everything just comes right. The fact that it was the last game of the season was, I felt, very important to that happening. We’d built a lot of connections,” Townsend said.
“So, having the last game of the season should help us now. I know it’s been a different type of season for us, but we can now throw everything out there that we’ve worked on this year,” he added.
Townsend’s relationship with Galthie stretches back to the former playmaker’s time with Castres in the French top-flight.
They featured together in the former scrumhalf’s final match, as the French Barbarians lost to Australia in 2004.
“It was great to play alongside him because he was a very, very talented player and he played heads up, he looked like a stand-off playing scrumhalf and he had great intelligence, but it was his competitiveness that set him apart,” Townsend said.
“They are good traits for coaching and he has done a really good job over these last two years,” Townsend added.
Players to watch:
For France: Romain Ntamack starts in the No.10 jersey and he is one of the best playmakers in the game right now. His halfback partner, Antoine Dupont is widely regarded as the best scrumhalf in the world at the moment. Both players have the potential to unlock any defence. In the pack, the South African-born Bernard Le Roux is back and he will bring a lot of experience and muscle to the physical exchanges.
For Scotland: Finn Russell is back in the No.10 jersey this week and he is a player France will need to keep an eye on throughout the match. Captain Stuart Hogg moves back to the fullback position and he is dangerous when given time and space. Wing Duhan van der Merwe is a powerful ball runner, while No.6 Hamish Watson is aggressive at the breakdowns.
Head to head
Two of the best flyhalves in the business will be on the field on Friday and they will both have key roles to play in deciding who wins in Paris. There should also be some earthquakes in the midfield as Chris Harris has the job of marking the powerful Virimi Vakatawa. In the pack, there will be some heavyweight battles, especially in the second row with Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner up against Swann Rebbadj and Bernard Le Roux.
@rugby365com: France by 20 points.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Arthur Vincent, 11 Gael Fickou, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (captain), 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Swann Rebbadj, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julian Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Anthony Bouthier, 23 Teddy Thomas
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Nick Haining, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Sam Skinner, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Alex Craig, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Huw Jones.
Date: Friday, March 26
Venue: Stade France, Paris
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 UK, 20.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Light rain early. It will be around 5°C with winds at 15 to 30km/h.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee: Matthew Carley (England) & Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
AFP & @rugby365com