France will need to have a big game to curb the enthusiasm of an ever-improving Scotland side in Paris on Sunday.
Les Bleus came close to breaking England’s winning streak at Twickenham last weekend but were just pipped 19-16.
This means they sit at fourth on the overall table after gaining a bonus point for finishing within seven points of England and having a smaller points difference than Ireland. If they beat Scotland with a bonus point they can leap-frog them in the table.
Scotland are coming off a fantastic 27-22 win over Ireland in Edinburgh in the opening round. The men in blue got the better of their Celtic rivals after superb performances from Stuart Hogg and Greig Laidlaw.
France will look for vengeance after Scotland punished them 29-18 in Edinburgh last year, when the Scots scored three tries to two and in the process banished the French to second from the bottom on the overall points table. This new French team will know that fifth place is below them and will need to win this game in order to improve their standings this season.
France have made one change to their side to face Scotland. Damien Chouly will start off the bench while Bordeaux-Bègles’ loose-forward Loann Goujon will start in the 6 jersey.
They have two changes on the bench as Toulouse hooker Christopher Tolofua could get his first cap for France and Julian Le Devedec replaces Arthur Iturria.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter discussed how France in Paris is a very different siuation to playing them in Scotland.
“France in Paris is a monumental challenge. They have improved markedly since Guy Noves took charge and will be smarting since their narrow defeat to England at Twickenham last weekend,” he said.
“We’re their next opportunity to get their campaign up and running and they’ll be intent on throwing every part of their considerable fire power at us this Sunday.
“We’ll have to match their ferocity while ensuring we take that – and all the other battles we can expect in this game – on our terms, whether that’s in collisions, in set-piece, at the breakdown or in the air.
“This will be an excellent test for this group of players: mentally, physically, tactically and of our skillsets under pressure. We will need to be at our relentless best once again.”
Scotland have made one change to their side with back-row John Barclay starting as a replacement for Ryan Wilson, who has failed to recover sufficiently from an elbow infection.
Players to Watch
For France: The size, strength and speed of Fijian-born attacking dynamo Virimi Vakatawa strikes any opposition with fear. The former Sevens player was incredible last weekend against England and looks like he’s only gaining form. The flyer beat four defenders on the run, broke the line twice and made 121 metres last weekend. France are not unaware of his prowess with ball in hand and expect him to get many opportunities on Sunday.
For Scotland: The exploits of Jonny Gray have arguably been undersung considering how well he has been playing for club and country. The Rutherglen giant’s contribution to Scotland’s win over Ireland last week was nothing less than spectacular after making a titanic 27 tackles while constantly keeping his side on the front foot after making 14 runs. The French defence will do well if they can contain Gray.
Head-to-head: With both teams playing such expansive rugby, the game could hinge on the potency of the wings on each side. The Australasian clash between New Zealand-born Sean Maitland and Fiji-born Noa Nakaitaci could make for an interesting one. Maitland was dangerous last week, providing intelligent support runs while holding his line well. While Nakaitaci didn’t play to his potential against England but expect him to get far more opportunities in Paris. The winger is a dangerous weapon in the French arsenal.
2016: Scotland won 29-18 in Murrayfield
2015: France won 19-16 in Paris
2015: France won 15-8 in Paris
2014: France won 19-17 at Murrayfield
2013: France won 23-16 in Paris
2012: France won 23-17 at Murrayfield
2011: France won 34-21 in Paris
2010: France won 18-9 at Murrayfield
2009: France won 22-13 in Paris
Prediction: Scotland look on fire at the moment but France are starting to hit their straps so this should go down to the wire. France by five.
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Rémi Lamerat, 12 Gaël Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kévin Gourdon, 6 Loann Goujon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Julian Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Yoann Huget
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw(c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 John Hardie, 21 Ali Price, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett
Date: Sunday, February 12
Venue: Stade de France
Kick-off: 16:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)