France v Scotland - teams and prediction
ROUND THREE PREVIEW: Scotland heads to Six Nations champions France on Sunday with Les Bleus coach Fabien Galthié looking forward to observing two magnificent flyhalves Finn Russell and Romain Ntamack on show.
The visitors’ Russell has helped his side to an unprecedented two opening wins in the Six Nations, against England and Wales, with three try assists.
Ntamack was impressive in the victory against Italy but failed to hit his straps in the loss at world No.1 side Ireland two weeks ago.
“There is going to be two magnificent players facing each other,” Galthié told reporters.
“Sunday we’ll see the best in rugby.
“A sold-out stadium, music, the sound, pyrotechnics, we’re not going to be bored at the Stade France.
“It will be a spectacle,” he added.
Russell, 30, plays his club rugby for Racing 92, based less than 15km to the west of the Stade de France.
Ntamack, 23, has been a pivotal part of Toulouse’s recent return to form which has included two Top 14 titles and a European Champions Cup success.
“Russell will try and contribute, with his style of play and the confidence he has in himself at the moment,” Galthié said.
“I think Romain will also bring his know-how, potential and motivation,” he added.
France’s defeat in Dublin on February 11 was their first Test loss in 14 games, a run stretching back to July 2021.
It left Ireland and Gregor Townsend’s Scotland as the only two sides who can still win a Grand Slam this season.
“We fell, but we have to get back on our feet,” Galthié said.
“What’s interesting with the defeat, was to live it, analyse it, understand and look for the keys to be better.
“The keys to being better are to lift our rugby level. Physically, technically and strategically.
“It’s not one point on its own that will make us improve. It is the three simultaneously which will allow us to win games like that,” he added.
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Off their feet
Townsend has made just one change to his team for the trip to the French capital, where they will also face Ireland in the Rugby World Cup pool stage on October 7.
Flank Hamish Watson returns from concussion as Scotland eye just a second win at the 80,000-capacity Stade de France since winning the Five Nations in 1999.
“It’s one of the best arenas with one of the best atmospheres you can play in,” Townsend said on Thursday.
“They play a rugby that can get the crowd off their feet. I’d like to think we can do that too. We’ll have a few thousand supporters but it’s going to be a tough place to play.
“It’s an exciting place to go out and express ourselves,” he added.
Galthié has been forced into starting tight-head prop Mohamed Haouas with Uini Atonio suspended and 2021 World Rugby player of the year Antoine Dupont will captain the side at scrum-half.
Dupont may have looked off-form but Galthié’s men still lead the competition for off-loads and tackles broken.
“They’ve got some of the best players in the world and the biggest depth of any nation currently,” said Townsend, who played for Castres and Montpellier during his career.
“They play a game where their defence and set piece are massive but there’s a real intent to play when they do get the ball – sometimes off a counter-attack, sometimes turnover ball.
“We’re going to have to be at our best to get a win this weekend.”
Players to watch
For France: No highlights reel would be complete without a few clips of flyhalf Romain Ntamack and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont (who doubles up as captain. The key change is at tighthead prop, where Mohamed Haouas replaces suspended Uini Atonio. La Rochelle’s Atonio, 32, was handed a three-week ban for a high tackle during the February 11 loss to Ireland. South African-born Paul Willemse is part of a powerful engine that provides the platform for the impressive French backs.
For Scotland: As is the case with the French, the key to Scottish success is in the halfback positions – flyhalf Finn Russell and scrumhalf Ben White. Flank Hamish Watson is also fully fit and returned to the team, after struggling with concussion. Watson, 31, has featured twice for club Edinburgh since suffering the head knock in November’s loss to New Zealand. The back row forward, who captained his country in last July’s series loss to Argentina, replaces Luke Crosbie in the starting lineup. There are two other changes from the squad that beat Wales two weeks ago – with centre Chris Harris dropping out for back row forward Sam Skinner and scrumhalf Ali Price in for George Horne.
Head to head
@rugby365com: France by eight points
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (captain), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Gaetan Barlot, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Baptiste Couilloud, 23 Matthieu Jalibert.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Ali Price, 23 Blair Kinghorn.
Date: Sunday, February 26
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 16.00 (15.00 UK & Ireland time; 15.00 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)