Scotland v France - teams and predictions
NATIONS CUP ROUND TWO: Gregor Townsend says Scotland will need to be “close to their best” if they are to beat France on Sunday.
They are aiming to become only the third Scottish side to win six successive Tests.
The Scots already number Fabien Galthie’s much-improved French side among the five teams they have beaten – having been the only side to defeat France in the Six Nations.
The French did not enhance their cause that day at Murrayfield in March with prop Mohamed Haouas being sent off before half-time.
“France are full of confidence and have played really well this year,” said Townsend after naming the starting XV for the year-end Nations Cup clash.
“We know we’re playing one of the best teams in the world right now, so to rise to this challenge we’re going to have to play close to our best throughout the contest on Sunday.”
Townsend came under pressure following the disappointing group stage exit at the World Cup last year and then a falling out with flyhalf Finn Russell.
However, all is sweeter now with the victories over France, Italy (twice) Georgia and Wales, plus he and Russell have made up.
The 47-year-old former Scotland playmaker disputes Haouas’s red card was the decisive moment in their Six Nations clash saying his side already had the French under pressure.
He says Sunday’s game feels as if it has the same intensity about it especially as the winner could well progress to the play-off to decide the champion.
Fiji’s inability to fulfil their fixtures due to an outbreak of COVID leaves Six Nations wooden spoon holders Italy as the other opponents.
France play the Italians in the final round of pool fixtures.
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‘Best team in the world’
“We are getting the opportunity to play France who have been the best team in the world in terms of results since the World Cup,” said Townsend.
“So you want to see where you are when you take on the best teams because the wins are even more special.
“It feels like a proper Six Nations game even though it’s the year-end Nations Cup because France are playing so well and they’ve brought their best players.”
The first occasion when Scotland won six Tests in a row came in the 1925/26 season when they won their first Grand Slam.
They matched that in 1989/90 when David Sole’s side claimed their third and most recent Grand Slam with a memorable win over England at Murrayfield.
Scotland they have never won more than six in a row but did go nine games undefeated between 1885 and 1887.
Players to watch
For Scotland: Townsend has made five changes to the starting XV from the one that defeated Italy in their opening year-end Nations Cup last weekend. Blair Kinghorn is the only change to the starting back division as he replaces Edinburgh teammate Darcy Graham. Townsend has named a whole new front row from the one that faced the Italians with the experienced Fraser Brown returning as hooker having recovered from injury. Props Oliver Kebble and Simon Berghan also come in whilst the fifth and final change is Matt Fagerson returning at No.8 having been out injured. The bench is re-enforced with the recall of Saracens wing Sean Maitland, who scored a brace of tries in the win back in March. His club mate Duncan Taylor – who last featured for Scotland against Russia in last year’s World Cup – joins him on the bench.
For France: Exciting Bordeaux-Begles flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert returns for the Murrayfield outing. The 22-year-old, whose only previous start came in the 13-15 loss to Ireland in the 2018 Six Nations, takes over from Romain Ntamack who has a thigh injury. Jalibert will link up with Antoine Dupont at halfback in a backline that also sees Thomas Ramos return at fullback for the injured Anthony Bouthier and taking over Ntamack’s goal-kicking duties. Gael Fickou moves to centre to make way for Teddy Thomas on the wing. The front row has had a total revamp and there is a first start for Lyon flank Dylan Cretin, who has made four previous appearances from the bench. Toulon’s 21-year-old flyhalf Louis Carbonel is named on the bench for the first time.
Head to head
Scotland have won their last two Tests against France, as many as they had won in their 15 meetings prior. The last time they won more consecutive Tests against Les Bleus was a three-match span from 1956 to 1958.
Scotland have won their last four Tests on the bounce against France at Murrayfield, after winning only one of their nine fixtures at the venue prior.
France and Scotland have met on just six occasions outside of the Five or Six Nations, with France winning four and one draw being shared; Scotland did win the most recent such game, a Rugby World Cup warm-up match at Murrayfield in August 2019.
France have won 11 of their last 14 Test matches, although two of their three defeats in that span came at the hands of Scotland (also v Wales).
Scotland have won each of their last five Test matches, the first time they’ve managed that since 2011 – they’ve not won more consecutive games since 1989 to 1990.
France scored the most points (138) and joint most tries (17, level with Ireland) in the Six Nations this year, while Scotland conceded the fewest points (59) and tries (5).
France scored the most tries from both counter attacks (4) and turnovers (4) in the 2020 Six Nations, meanwhile each of Scotland’s four tries against Italy in the opening round of the year-end Nations Cup came following a successful line-out.
Charles Ollivon has scored five tries for France in 2020, Sebastien Chabal is the only forward to score as many for Les Bleus in a calendar year (5 in 2007). Should Ollivon cross the try line again in 2020 he’d be the first Frenchman to score more than five tries in a non-Rugby World Cup year since Philippe Bernat-Salles in 1998 (six).
Stuart Hogg needs one try to move clear of Tommy Seymour (20) as Scotland’s outright fourth top try scorer in men’s Test rugby, while two tries would see him go level with Chris Paterson in third (22). Hogg has four tries against France, his joint most against any nation (also 4 v Italy).
Scotland’s Stuart McInally and Hamish Watson each made 16 successful tackles in the opening round of the year-end Nations Cup, more than any other player; meanwhile, France duo Bernard le Roux (84) and Gregory Alldritt (81) made the most tackles in the Six Nations this year.
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: France by seven points
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Blair Kinghorn, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Replacements: 16 George Turner, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Blade Thomson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Sean Maitland.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos; 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Virimi Vakatawa, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Vincent Rattez; 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont; 8 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 7 Camille Chat, 6 Demba Bamba, 5 Bernard Le Roux, 4 Romain Taofifenua, 3 Dylan Cretin, 2 Charles Ollivon (captain), 1 Gregory Alldritt
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Mohamed Haouas, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Cameron Woki, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Arhtur Vincent
Date: Sunday, November 22
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17.15 (18.15 French time; 17.15 GMT)
Expected weather: Clear changing to cloudy by lunchtime, with a moderate breeze. High of 7°C and a low of 5°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley (England), Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)
- Additional reporting by @rugby365com