This weekend serves up an interesting rematch in Saint-Etienne after Scotland sealed a brilliant 25-21 comeback victory at home against France last Saturday.
That Test was a fascinating clash and a true game of two halves. In the opening period, France showed their class and led 21-3 at the break. Perhaps the different-looking French side lacked a bit of leadership in the second period and complacency crept in. That is certainly not the case this week as Fabien Galthie has gone as close to full strength as possible.
The Scots deserved the win, their second period was brave and they used their momentum to effectively score points. The visitors this time around have made some changes of their own in what looks pretty much their first choice side.
It’s all set up for an intriguing clash as Scotland will be looking to underline that last week’s win was not because of the weakened France side, whilst Les Bleus will be desperate to stamp their authority on home turf, issuing a statement ahead of the Rugby World Cup.
Where the game will be won
Both sides have gone for 6-2 splits on their bench with physicality the clear focus. When France get their power game right there are very few teams across the globe that can match it. Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend probably felt it was absolutely necessary to load up an extra forward in the 23 for this reason.
The breakdown is the next focal point because Les Bleus simply cannot be afforded quick ball all game long. Antoine Dupont and his classy backline will run riot in that case. Scotland need to disrupt their ball which is where their back-row must stand up.
France though are also adept at the breakdown with most of their forwards comfortable over the ball, with some experts in Julien Marchand, Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt.
Finally the kicking game. France boast a variety of options through either of Dupont’s feet, Romain Ntamack and Thomas Ramos making them a side that can exit their red zone particularly well.
Scotland need their half-backs Finn Russell and Ali Price to hit their straps with the boot, be clean in their exits and nail those attacking kicks.
Last time they met
What they said
Townsend believes this weekend is a chance to shake up the line-up to keep everyone ready for the World Cup.
“This week is an opportunity to manage people’s game time – Darcy has played in the two games – and give others an opportunity,” he said.
Meanwhile, the coach says the team are trialling the 6-2 split to see how it goes ahead of the global showpiece.
“We know some teams like to use a 6-2 split, probably our first World Cup opponents South Africa will, and it gives us an opportunity to see how it works – and we know we have flexibility in our backs.”
Player to watch
Thomas Ramos has been in red-hot form at all levels for some time now and is a massive player for France. He has just about everything; his running game is impressive, his playmaking even better, his anticipation in the backfield is brilliant and he seals it all with an educated boot. The Toulouse man is arguably the premier full-back in the world rugby right now. Expect him to be at his cool and calm best this weekend.
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Number eight Gregory Alldritt is another star who is probably running out of space to store man-of-the-match awards. His skill-set is impressive and his work-rate is even better. The La Rochelle man will carry all game, play clever little balls off the base of the ruck and on the other side he will defend like a man possessed. He is a game-breaker and a coach’s dream. Alldritt will be looking for a big one on home soil.
Julien Marchand is a good example of what modern hookers should aspire to be. His set-piece is clean both in line-out throwing and at scrum-time, however, where the hooker earns a reputation is on defence and in the breakdown. He is physical and so strong over the ball. The star is essentially another loose forward in what is already a very mobile pack.
Scotland are a good side but to beat the biggest teams in the world X-factor is required which is where Duhan van der Merwe comes into the fray. The robust winger is a superstar in every sense of the word; big, strong, fast and intelligent with ball in hand. He showed in the Six Nations that he can score from absolutely anywhere. A massive shift is required.
Finn Russell will know these French players well after spending some time with Racing 92 and he will be desperate to make his mark. His knowledge of the conditions and crowd makes him a huge asset. The fly-half has all the tricks one could imagine, he just needs the platform. However, in a game like this Russell will have to show a complete game and steer his side as best he can around the field.
The magician strikes again 🪄🤯
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) August 5, 2023
Flanker Jamie Ritchie has grown with the captain’s armband, it suits him and his style. He is an incredible worker and no doubt he is a key part of the positive energy in the Scotland camp at the moment. His influence on his team-mates will be important as there will be a time his team is under the pump and it’s up to him to hold the group together. Another big leadership test for the Scot.
This week’s head-to-head to look out for is between two experienced players in a crucial decision-making position, it’s the battle of the scrum-halves.
Antoine Dupont’s influence on a game cannot be understated. He is well on his way to being regarded as one of the best scrum-halves in history if he isn’t already. His ability to exit with both legs from the base of the ruck is incredibly valuable. Outside of that, the way he reads the game and creates play is simply poetry in motion. Always in the right place at the right time, Dupont is the absolute real deal but we have known this for some time now.
That's it. That's the tweet. pic.twitter.com/6xEH8Zn0KB
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The sheer quality of the French nine puts pressure on Ali Price, who is no longer the first choice for his country. However, with Ben White out the veteran needs to step up. Make no mistake Price is still a quality scrum-half with a solid kicking game. His game management is also pretty good which will be important in conjunction with Russell. Put simply he needs to have a big game to match his rival.
France showed last week what they could do and the Scots showed their bravery. However, it’s almost completely different this week as a result of team selection. Galthie and France would not have liked to lose in that way and will be desperate to win this weekend. France by 14.
2023: Scotland won 25-21 at Murrayfield
2023: France won 32-21 in Paris
2022: France won 36-17 at Murrayfield
2021: Scotland won 27-23 in Paris
2020: France won 22-15 at Murrayfield
2020: Scotland won 28-17 at Murrayfield
2019: Scotland won 17-14 at Murrayfield
2019: France won 32-3 in Nice
2019: France won 27-10 in Paris
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (c), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Paul Boudehent, 5 Thibaud Flament, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Florian Verhaeghe, 20 Bastien Chalureau, 21 Sekou Macalou, 22 Maxime Lucu, 23 Louis Bielle-Biarrey
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge, 6 Jamie Ritchie (c), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 WP Nel, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Javan Sebastian, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Josh Bayliss, 22 George Horne, 23 Ollie Smith
Date: Saturday, August 12
Venue: Stade Geoffroy Guichard, Saint-Etienne
Kick-off: 21:05 local (20:05 BST, 19:05 GMT)
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (Wales)