PREVIEW: Scotland and France clash in a World Cup warm-up at Murrayfield on Saturday and it could be a tough test for the visitors who are joint-favourites to win the forthcoming World Cup.
As the two teams gear up for another clash in the space of seven days, Scotland might be the better prepared, coming off a 25-13 win over Italy at Murrayfield last week.
France are yet to kick a ball since their final Six Nations fixture which means the Les Bleus have a rather condensed schedule a month out from the World Cup with two games against the Scottish and clashes with Fiji and Australia.
Les Bleus head coach Fabien Galthié has handed out three debuts with 20-year-olds Emilien Gailleton of Pau and Louis Bielle-Biarrey of Bordeaux lining up at centre and on the wing, respectively, while La Rochelle powerhouse Paul Boudehent earns his first cap in the back row.
Brice Dulin will captain the side from fullback on his first appearance for Les Bleus since the 2021 Six Nations.
Several figures expected to form the spine of France’s World Cup campaign have been given this weekend off – including captain and scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, flyhalf Romain Ntamack, centre Gaël Fickou and No.8 Grégory Alldritt.
Finn Russell will captain Scotland – less than ten months after coach Gregor Townsend left the flyhalf out of his initial squad for last year’s end-of-year series.
The 30-year-old will lead the team in the absence of Jamie Ritchie, who misses out with a minor niggle. Scotland medical staff hope the regular skipper will be fit to return for the rematch with France in St Etienne next week.
“He has always been a leader for us in terms of attack,” Townsend explained.
“He has obviously got older, got more experience and it’s the right time to give him that opportunity.”
“He’s hitting that sweet spot after playing for 10-12 years in one position and against some of the best teams around.”
He has restored most of his senior players, making 13 changes to his starting XV, after a largely experimental side defeated Italy last weekend.
French sides from the Top 14 have won the last three editions of both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, dominating European club rugby.
Everything is building towards their home tournament and taking that last step that they have never been quite good enough to make.
Players to watch
For Scotland: For the second of four tournament warm-up matches, most of the frontline stars who performed well in the Six Nations are back, with flyhalf Russell linking up with scrumhalf Ben White and the centre partnership of Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu restored. Ewan Ashman is the least-established player chosen to face the World Cup hosts as Townsend assesses his options at hooker. Darcy Graham has scored six tries in his last three Test matches for Scotland since the start of the 2022 Nations series and he has averaged a try every 64 minutes in Test rugby. Duo Blair Kinghorn and Huw Jones are the only other two players to score four tries in this year’s Championship (four each). Duhan van der Merwe is another figure to watch as he has the ability to score some scintillating tries.
For France: Damian Penaud was the top try-scorer in this year’s Six Nations with five tries, while Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont were two of just three players to provide four try assists, alongside Scotland’s Finn Russell. In the pack, loose-head prop Jean-Baptiste Gros and lock Cameron Woki add some experience after recovering from injuries which curtailed their Six Nations involvement and could play a role in the outcome of the game.
Head to Head
France by 8 points
Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (captain), 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Ewan Ashman, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Dave Cherry, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Scott Cummings, 20 Rory Darge, 21 George Horne, 22 Cameron Redpath, 23 Ollie Smith.
France: 15 Brice Dulin (captain), 14 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 13 Emilien Gailleton, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Baptiste Couilloud, 8 Yoan Tanga, 7 Sekou Macalou, 6 Paul Boudehent, 5 Bastien Chalureau, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Pierre Bourgarit, 1 Jean-Baptiste Gros.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Paul Willemse, 20 Dylan Cretin, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Antoine Hastoy, 23 Arthur Vincent.
Date: Saturday, August 5
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 15.15 (16.15 France time; 14.15 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Frank Murphy (Ireland) & Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)