Can France keep their Grand Slam bid on track? Here's what you need to know about the Murrayfield match-up
Six Nations Scotland v France Preview
Fabien Galthie is two wins away from joining the elite list of coaches to achieve a Grand Slam in their first championship. In Six Nations history, he would follow Mike Ruddock (2005), Warren Gatland (2008), Declan Kidney (2009) and Eddie Jones (2016).
The next hurdle his France team need to overcome is Scotland at BT Murrayfield – and a coach experiencing contrasting fortunes.
Whereas France have impressed on their winning run to date, Scotland were disappointing in defeats by Ireland and England, and they made hard work of beating Italy in the last round.
On top of that, Gregor Townsend has had to deal with the fallout from Finn Russell’s “breach of team protocol” before the opening match.
It appeared at the start of this week that coach and fly-half were building bridges, and Russell was set to give the Scotland management team some insight into French rugby and his Racing 92 team-mates, but that conference call didn’t take place because of a timing issue.
Whether Townsend was able to glean any useful information from his one-on-one conversations with Russell will only be evident come Sunday afternoon. Scotland will certainly need to raise their game to record only their fourth Six Nations victory over France.
Hamish Watson’s work at the breakdown will be key in denying France the quick ball to release their dangerous backs – headed by Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack at nine and ten. But unless the hosts can be more clinical than they have proved in the championship thus far another defeat is on the cards.
What’s the big team news?
Fraser Brown wins his 50th cap for Scotland but Rory Hutchinson has no part in the match-day 23 and played in Northampton’s win over Worcester on Friday night. One man who didn’t play in that fixture though is Duncan Weir, who is called onto the bench for Scotland.
Sam Skinner of Exeter is also pulled onto the bench with Grant Gilchrist into the starting line-up. Nick Haining makes a comeback to the XV too, with Magnus Bradbury dropping to the bench.
Glasgow’s Kyle Steyn also earns a call-up to the replacements to cover centre or wing.
France have largely gone for consistency. However, there are two big changes in the starting team. Jefferson Poirot replaces the injured Cyril Baille at loosehead. In the back three, Damian Penaud returns in the place of Teddy Thomas.
What have the coaches said?
Scotland assistant coach Danny Wilson: “When you look at them in detail you are looking at a different France to what we’ve seen in the past, probably a little more pragmatic. Maybe the requirements of the Six Nations have led to that.”
France coach Fabien Galthie: “Great things can happen but we are taking nothing for granted. We need to improve every day and must not lose sight of our goal of winning matches and titles.”
“The Scots have always had a game focused on speed. When they get into the action zone, they try to create chaos with a quick ball.”
Any interesting statistics?
- France have won 17 of their 20 Six Nations matches against Scotland. All three defeats have come at Murrayfield, in 2006, 2016 and 2018.
- Both teams have made a similar number of line breaks in this year’s championship – Scotland ten and France 12 – but there’s a stark difference in tries scored. France have crossed for 11 tries compared to Scotland’s three.
- That difference in ruthlessness is emphasised by the points per visit to the opposition 22 figures: 2.4 for Scotland and 10.53 for France.
- France have made twice as many offloads to Scotland – 28 to 14 – but fewer passes overall – 309 to 395.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
Scotland v France, Sunday 8 March, BT Murrayfield
This round-four match kicks off at 3pm in Edinburgh and is live on BBC and BBC Radio 5 Live, as well as Virgin Media in Ireland.
New Zealand’s Paul Williams is referee for this match and is assisted by Englishman Wayne Barnes and Irishman Frank Murphy. Brian MacNeice, of the IRFU, is the TMO.
What are the line-ups?
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt); Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn; Adam Hastings, Ai Price; Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown, Zander Fagerson, Scott Cummings, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Nick Haining.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Allan Dell, Willem Nel, Sam Skinner, Magnus Bradbury, George Horne, Duncan Weir, Kyle Steyn.
France: Anothony Bouthier; Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Jefferson Poirot, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (capt), Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba, Romain Taofifénua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Thomas Ramos.
The April issue of Rugby World magazine – focusing on a new generation of Six Nations stars – is out now.
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