Scotland v France preview: Scots to crumble in the face of Les Bleus’ backlash in another Six Nations thriller

Jared Wright
Scotland captain Finn Russell and France skipper Gregory Alldritt during the opening round of the 2024 Six Nations.

Scotland captain Finn Russell and France skipper Gregory Alldritt during the opening round of the 2024 Six Nations.

A mouth-watering encounter awaits at Murrayfield on Saturday as Scotland host France in what promises to be an epic Six Nations clash.

Scotland head into the game after a rollercoaster Test against Wales in Cardiff, with Gregor Townsend’s side producing two completely contrasting performances in each half.

It was still a historic victory for the Scots, but a first win in Cardiff in 22 years was met with exhalation instead of jubilation after shipping 26 unanswered points and holding onto a win by the narrowest of margins.

Meanwhile, France arrive in Murrayfield off the back of an unwanted record, conceding 38 points to Ireland for the first time on French soil. The crushing 21-point margin of defeat rubbed further salt into their wounds, while the backlash in the French media this week has been nothing short of brutal.

Les Bleus arrive in the Scottish capital with a bruised ego, a head coach under the cosh and a point to prove.

It’s a common trend for past French teams to come undone at the seams, causing rifts that divide the squad, but this French outfit is different – or so we have been promised – and now it is their time to show it.

As for Scotland, they will be eager to deliver on the promise their star-studded squad possess and prove that the hammering they gave Wales in the first half was not just a flash in the pan. They were favourites to knock over Wales in round one, but the clash against France this weekend will provide a far clearer indication as to where they are as a team as they look to become title contenders.

Where the game will be won

Last week, this writer highlighted the playmaker battle as the crucial area of the game where the match would be won and lost in Cardiff, and it proved to be the case with a Finn Russell first-half masterclass being just enough to get the Scots over the line.

But the second-half shift from the Scottish pack was their undoing, and that is where the French will feel as though they have the upper hand. Scotland had their fair share of issues in the scrums – winning just four of their nine feeds – against Wales and lost two of their six lineouts, the kind of stats they cannot afford to reproduce against France. They managed to disrupt Wales’ lineout on six occasions, and while that is an impressive statistic in itself, they provided Wales with far too many lineouts overall (20).

A lot went wrong for France on the opening night of the Championship, but the lineout was certainly the most damaging. Ireland managed to nick four of their 18 throws and did their utmost to disrupt just about every single possession from the set-piece and with great success. The sending-off of Paul Willemse did not aid France, and while they do lose his bulk and weight in the second-row this week, Cameron Woki’s promotion to the starting XV will surely soothe their lineout woes.

The lineout continues to be the richest source of tries in Test rugby, and the opening weekend of the Six Nations saw that trend continue, but both packs will be eager to improve on their outings in round one. France were battered on the gain line, and their breakdown accuracy was as sharp as a rolling pin. They will take pride in the performance of their scrum, which comfortably got the upper hand over Ireland – one of the few facets of the game where that occurred.

Scotland were equally effective on the gain line and at the breakdown in the second half against Wales, while their scrum was largely on the backfoot against the Welsh pack. Whichever pack is able to produce a more well-rounded and efficient performance is likely to come out on top in this one.

Last time they met

What they said

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend is gearing his side up for a mighty response from the visitors following their loss in round one.

“We know them as well as any team we’ll come up against,” the Scotland boss said. “This will be the fourth game [against France] in a year.

“We’ve had some cracking games with them in the last 12 months, and we’ll have to be at our best level physically, in defence and in the contact area, because they have a lot of jackalers in their team.

“They were up against a really good Irish team, and they were down a man for the majority of the game.

“From the French perspective, they know they didn’t play their best rugby so I would imagine we’ll get a reaction from that.

“They came back at one stage – even with 14 on the field – but we know that with 15 on the field they are a quality team, still a top-three, top-four team in the world.”

France assistant coach William Servat says that his side has put the disappointment of the World Cup behind them, but they have prepared for the clash against Scotland with the scars of their opening round defeat.

“The Scotland match will be prepared with the stigmata of Ireland,” he confirmed. “However, Ireland’s match was not prepared with those of the World Cup.

“A new staff is in place; new players have joined this group. The competitions come one after the other in the clubs; the players are used to preparing for new challenges.

“You know, from one scrum to another, you can go from dominant to dominated and vice versa. To talk about the performance against Ireland while trying to evoke the memory of South Africa, that would be a mistake.”

Players to watch

Jack Dempsey returns to the Scots’ starting XV after puzzlingly being named on the bench against Wales last week. The hard-working back-rower will hammer into the French on both sides of the ball but will be particularly important with ball in hand up against the imposing French defence that is bound to have got a rollocking from Shaun Edwards. Dempsey is powerful in possession, and if Scotland are to have a chance of winning, he will need to get gain line success regularly.

Finn Russell shares the captaincy this weekend, but make no mistake, it will all be his show when it comes to dictating the Scottish attack. The fly-half put on a magnificent show against Wales with brilliant tactical precision and an excellent kicking game. He faces a tough challenge against the excellent Matthieu Jalibert this weekend but will be keen to get stuck in and pull the strings.

Duhan van der Merwe put concerns over his try-scoring drought to bed in emphatic fashion last week, grabbing an impressive double. The first came off a smart support line, while the second was sheer individual brilliance. With France’s try-scoring addict, Damian Penaud, lining up across from him this weekend, the abrasive winger will be keen to make another statement on intent.

Talk about making the most of your opportunity. Paul Gabrillagues earned his first cap since 2019 last weekend and took his chance with both hands. He was a clear standout in an otherwise lacklustre performance from Les Bleus. The hard-working second-rower got his name on the scoresheet and produced the kind of industrious shift that earned him a recall in the first place.

All eyes will again be on scrum-half Maxime Lucu after he failed to impress in his first start this year as he fills Antoine Dupont’s void. The Bordeaux number nine is a classy operator in his own right, and while we did not see that in round one, he will be hellbent on setting the record straight – he just needs a lot more help from the other single digit jersey numbers in front of him.

Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou will also be under the magnifying glass this weekend after the pair put in shifts well below their lofty standards against Ireland. Not too long ago, the duo were considered among the best centre partnerships in the game, but against Ireland, they were more anonymous than the box office. There is no doubting their capabilities, but it will be another long night for French fans if they produce a similarly grim performance, particularly in defence, against Scotland’s beloved ‘Huwipulotu’ combo.

Main head-to-head

There are tasty head-to-heads throughout the matchday starting line-ups and even on the bench, but with the breakdown and gain line set to be a match-deciding facet of the game, we cannot ignore the battle between Rory Darge and Francois Cros.

Both players seemingly live and breathe for the breakdown, although they approach it in different ways. On the one hand, we have the livewire Scottish pilferer, and on the other, we have the bulldozing Frenchman. Both are highly effective in their approach and will look to lay down their marker.

Darge returns from injury and goes straight into the starting XV with the added responsibility of co-captaining the side. He has been preferred over Jamie Ritchie in the back-row and links up with his Glasgow Warriors team-mates Matt Fagerson and Dempsey. Townsend’s loose trio are hard-working grafters who will work tirelessly throughout their shift, but Darge’s outing will be crucial as he will need to stop France’s momentum in key areas of the pitch and get Scotland going with his explosive carries when in possession.

Cros will have similar tasks on his hands for France, with his breakdown accuracy and power being the key assists he brings to the game. With the well-rounded skillsets of fellow back-rowers Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt, Cros is able to concentrate on what he does best: hammering into the rucks and tackles.


Recent history between the two sides suggests that it could go either way, with France winning six of the last ten encounters and Scotland winning the remaining four. Les Blues got the better of Scotland last year, winning two of their three matches. However, the last two games were decided by a margin of four and three points, respectively. France do not get it all their own way against Scotland anymore, and Townsend’s side will be eager to claim a statement victory over the wounded French side. But we predict that they will fall short, with an emotionally charged Les Bleus outfit bouncing back from defeat to claim a win by 11 points.

Previous results

2023: France won 30-27 in Saint-Etienne
2023: Scotland won 25-21 at Murrayfield
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

The teams

Scotland: 15 Harry Paterson, 14 Kyle Rowe, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (cc), 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge (cc), 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Andy Christie, 21 George Horne, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Grégory Alldritt (c), 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 François Cros, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchard, 17 Sébastien Taofifenua, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Posolo Tuilagi, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Nolann Le Garrec, 23 Yoram Moefana

Date: Saturday, February 10
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Referee: Nic Berry (RA)
Assistant Referees: Nika Amashukeli (GRU), Jordan Way (RA)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

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