Six Nations 2023: France v Scotland – Gregor Townsend’s team face a litmus test

Scotland won 27-23 at an empty Stade de France two years ago
Local: Stade de France, Paris Dates: Sunday, February 26 Start: 15:00 GMT
Roof: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio Scotland; Text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app

When Scotland won in Paris two years ago for the first time since 1999, Gregor Townsend said it felt like “one of our best seasons”.

It was his team’s third win from five matches – including a victory at Twickenham – securing fourth place.

So the manager would likely have to create an entirely new category if Scotland were to repeat the feat on Sunday and go three for three with two home games still to play.

If Scotland beat the odds against France, they will finally announce themselves as not only Six Nations title contenders, but also one of two Grand Slam hopefuls – with the other, Ireland, next at Murrayfield.

It’s a truly mouth-watering prospect, something that would have been unthinkable a month ago.

But, it’s an ‘if’ the size of some of the French giants that await them.

Injured France, ranked No. 2 in the world, lie in wait, one who just lost for the first time in 574 days and had their Grand Slam hopes dashed seven months from a World Cup on home soil.

Unlike in 2021, the Stade de France will be packed and loudly hoping for a home win, while the French team will be eager to put on a show and right some mistakes in their first league home game.

Townsend said this week that France has “the greatest depth of any nation”. Few would disagree with him.

So after efficiently dispatching England and Wales – teams currently relatively limited in attack – how good is Scotland when it comes to the top of world rugby?

We’re about to find out. It’s the litmus test of your credentials.

France faces doubts

Scottish rugby audiences will certainly doubt their team’s chances of winning the game, given the dearth of success over the past 23 years.

Scotland have come to Paris 11 times and won once in the Six Nations, and were sacked by even poorer France sides in the process.

But there are reasons to believe in Scotland this time around, and not all of them based on the good things that have happened in the two wins so far, or Townsend’s solid recent record against the French.

France, for all their quality, face doubts at home after their defeat by Ireland.

French sports newspaper L’Equipe ran an article this week which referred to the defeat in Dublin as having “raised the haze” of autumn, where Fabien Galthie’s side crossed the finish line a few times to salvage their unbeaten run.

They did it again with a narrow Six Nations win against Italy before finally their streak came to a stop at 14.

The fog in question is the tension there seems to be between the desire to run and play freely, and Galthie’s earlier – very successful – plan to kick a lot and squeeze teams, turn them around and deploy the litany of X-players. factor to finish the job.

The frankly ridiculous 46 minutes of play in Dublin suggested the players had gone off that well-defined script, and they were mercilessly punished as Ireland scored four tries and left at least three more out on the Aviva turf in their frantic 32-19 victory.

It could be that this was the reality some of the squadron’s more adventurous members needed, and Galthie will restore order for the Scotland visit.

Defensive coach Shaun Edwards will be furious that his team has four tries. A fierce response is certainly coming. But if there are creative tensions in the camp, Townsend’s team is well equipped to exploit them.

Russell ready for presentation

Much of its attempt to do this will focus on Finn Russell.

The half-fly was majestic in the second half against Walesbe it unloading and kicking for tries, or simply walking around making things look easy.

His brilliance has been instrumental in Scotland’s relentlessly efficient attack, having scored nine paltry possession attempts so far in the tournament, and he will thrive if France play freely again.

The 30-year-old gave a fascinating insight into his detailed preparation in opposition defenses this week and will set out in Paris, the city he lit up in a Racing 92 jersey and called home for the past five years, with a point to prove. also.

France will be coming for him, and as he enters the final months of his time there – which threatens to end trophyless – before a move to Bath, the narrative of a brilliant but inconsistent player persists.

On Scotland’s last tour two years ago, the French public saw both sides of Russell as his pinpoint shooting game cleared the way to derail France’s title hopes before a red card for a forearm save 10 minutes from order to put your team in trouble.

In the end they managed a win without him, Adam Hastings flipping a Russell-style pass to Duhan van der Merwe for the late winner – with help from France’s Brice Dulin bizarrely keeping the ball in play with his team ahead and the red clock.

It’s a reminder that it’s never all about Russell and it won’t be on Sunday.

But given his red-hot form, the stage is set for him to deliver a full-on performance in one of rugby’s scariest arenas and lead his team to victory as they aim for something much more tangible than a series of jaw-dropping highlights. .

A genuine penchant for the Six Nations title.

If Russell succeeds, no one will ever doubt him, or Scotland. What no one doubts is that it will definitely be an exciting watch.

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