Preview: France v Scotland

Date published: September 4 2015

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France have yet to back up a strong performance with another during the Philippe Saint-André era. Saturday's clash with Scotland would be a good time to start.

France's recent win over England, when they convincingly outplayed their old rivals for an hour, is as good as we've seen les Bleus over the past four years and the same can probably be said of Scotland's impressive thrashing of Italy last week.

In the context of both these teams' previous inconsistencies, this weekend's clash will play a pivotal role in how they begin their respective World Cup campaigns. 

A failure to reproduce that good form will mean those positive results will count for very little. For France in particular victory is a non-negotiable this wekeend as defeat on home soil will erode any confidence gained and resurrect the self doubts and, by consequence, the lack of direction that has been so prevalent since the last World Cup. 

The French staff have put the strong showing against England down to the fact that the last few weeks have represented the frist time the squad have spent a significant amount of time together and – perhaps more importantly – the first time they've had a proper, structured, collective conditioning programme. 

If that is true – if les Bleus are finally fully fit and singing from the same hymn sheet – then the rest of the world should beware, because there is a lot of talent in this group. 

You'll have to forgive French fans for wanting to see it before believing it, because we've seen false dawns before. Let's not forget that just a week earlier (albeit with a vastly different XV) they looked as clueless as ever. But let's be fair, the signs are good, and if Fred Michalak continues to be accurate and his pack are able to dominate the breakdown again, then they're likely to leave the Stade de France with a lot of momentum. 

Scotland have been building nicely this game is set to be the climax of their preparations. After some fringe players put their hands up in an encouraging display in Dublin, a victory in Turin a week later finally broke their long losing streak. That was hardly a vintage performance but the positive energy it brought was clearly on show at Murrayfield in the return fixture. Even if Italy were terrible, there is nothing like romping to a big win to bind a team together. 

That display bodes well for their chances of making the World Cup quarter-finals – Samoa and South Africa will have taken note.

But just like France, the Scots will have to back up that performance with another big one before anyone is convinced they capable of upsetting the Springboks in Pool B, but again, lets be fair, the signs are good. 

There are minimal changes to the French team, and PSA admitted that this is as close to his ideal starting XV as injuries will allow, meaning the home crowd will be even more anxious to seem them hit their straps. Only Yoann Maestri is expected to be added for their opening RWC clash with Italy while the rest of the squad are already preparing for game two against Romania. 

The Scots, who have made five changes in a slightly more pragmatic approach, are not quite at full strength without the likes of Stuart Hogg, will feel significantly less pressure and can perhaps play with a little more freedom. It's been 16 years since Scotland last won in the French capital, so they will not suffer under the weight of expectancy.  

On a warm, dry night in Paris, the stage is set for what should be an interesting contest. 

Team news: Skipper Thierry Dusautoir returns for France in his first run after missing the previous two warm-up games with a knee niggle. The other change sees Alexandre Flanquart start as Maestri rests some bruised ribs. Bernard le Roux covering the second row on the bench is an interesting choice. Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour return for Scotland after injury-enforced international layoffs. Centre Matt Scott comes into the midfield while back-row John Hardie and lock Richie Gray join the starting pack. 

Players to watch:

For France: After countless changes to the half-back combination over the past four years, Frédéric Michalak and Sébastien Tillous-Borde have a chance to lock down their jerseys if they can control the game they way they did against England. Since Tillous-Borde does not offer the goal-kicking option that Morgan Parra or Rory Kockott do, he will be keen to show that his partnership with his Toulon team-mate is also France's safest combination both in terms of decision making and with regards to his defensive ability. 

For Scotland: Kiwi import Sean Maitland gets a run after gambling on having shoulder surgery which left him in race against time to be fit for World Cup selection. It was a tough call to make as rehab work would have been the safer option – short-term – but he now has a chance to push for a starting spot, even if that's likely to be on the wing rather than full-back. Also keep an eye out for South African tighthead prop WP Nel, who has added some grunt to the Scottish front row and will want to show his value at scrum time.

Head-to-head: Contentious Scotland call-up John Hardie will be given the chance to justify his selection as he will be compared with one of the best in the business, Thierry Dusautoir. The French captain may be a little rusty in his comeback game but Hardie will have no margin for error if he wants to keep the critics quiet. England were heavily penalised for being a step behind the French, Hardie must lead the way in arriving to the breakdown quicker. 

Previous results:
2015: France won 15-8 in Paris
2014: France won 19-17 in Edinburgh
2013: France won 23-16 in Paris
2012: France won 23-17 in Edinburgh
2011: France won 34-21 in Paris
2010: France won 18-9 in Edinburgh
2009: France won 22-13 in Paris
2008: France won 27-6 in Edinburgh
2007: France won 46-19 in Paris
2006: Scotland won 20-16 in Edinburgh
2005: France won 16-9 in Paris

Prediction: On home soil and with their tails up, France really should get the job done. France by eight points.

The teams:

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Dimitri Szarzewski, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Yannick Nyanga, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Alexandre Dumoulin.

Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 Ryan Wilson, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Jon Welsh, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Alasdair Strokosch, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Sean Lamont.

Date: Saturday, September 5
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 BST, 19:00 GMT)
Weather: 18°C dry
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)    
Assistant referees: JP Doyle (England), Luke Pearce (England)
Television match official: Graham Hughes (England)

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