France v Scotland: Six Nations preview as Les Bleus look to get back to winning ways

preview scotland six nations france preview 100th test Credit: Alamy
preview scotland six nations france preview 100th test Credit: Alamy

The Six Nations returns this weekend with another bumper round of fixtures, culminating with France hosting unbeaten Scotland on Sunday.

This fixture could significantly influence the tournament outcome as Scotland are yet to lose a match, while France head into the game looking to bounce back from their defeat to Ireland.

The defending champions shook off the rust in their opening game against Italy, securing a narrow 29-24 victory, thanks largely to a 66th-minute try from Matthieu Jalibert. Fabien Galthie’s charges looked far sharper in their second match but were ultimately outplayed by a rampant Ireland side, succumbing to a 32-19 defeat.

Meanwhile, Scotland have started the Six Nations with back-to-back wins for the first time. Gregor Townsend’s men defeated England 29-23 to claim the Calcutta Cup and backed that up with an historic 35-7 victory over Wales. The win over Wales equalled Scotland’s highest-ever score, posted 99 years ago. The Scots are bidding to claim their first-ever Six Nations Grand Slam and their first Six Nations Triple Crown, having last won the latter in the final year of the Five Nations in 1999.

A fascinating encounter awaits as both sides look to keep their title aspirations alive in the 100th game between France and Scotland. Les Bleus historically have the advantage, winning 57 of the previous encounters with three draws and 39 wins for the Scots.

Where the game will be won

Two extremely organised defensive structures clash in Paris on Sunday afternoon, adding pressure on their respective attacks to find a way through.

The defending champions haven’t made the most of their attacking opportunities so far in the tournament, averaging 2.2 points per entry into Italy’s 22 in Round One and a lowly 1.4 points against Ireland. Out of the 12 matches so far in the tournament, those tallies rank 7th and 9th overall.

In stark contrast, Scotland have been the most ruthless team in the opposition’s 22, averaging 4.1 points per entry against England and 4.0 against Wales. Simply put, when Townsend’s side has gone into the opposition’s final quarter, they are coming away with an average of four points. The next best points/entry ratio was Ireland’s 3.4 points against Wales in Round One, the only other ratio over three.

France will be looking to limit the number of chances Scotland get on attack, but that is a challenge in itself. The Scots have scored six of their nine tries in the Championship from the lineout and two more kick returns.

Effectively, if France kick into touch, they provide Scotland with their most lethal launch pad to strike. Kick long and don’t find touch, and you have the likes of Kyle Steyn, Duhan van der Merwe and Stuart Hogg charging it back at you.

Les Bleus’ ability to stifle Scotland’s attack, something the Shaun Edwards’ drilled defence is more than capable of, will play a crucial role in the match’s outcome.

It’s a cliche, but the team that makes the most of their opportunities on attack will win this one.

Last time they met

What they said

Scotland head coach Townsend believes that his side can still improve and says there is so much more to come from the group.

“We were tough on the players going into the Wales week, and rightly so because in the past, we haven’t backed up our first performance going into the second week of the Six Nations and also because we believed there was much more to come from the group,” he said.

“We feel the same way this week. I think the players realise what a big test this is going to be, playing one of the best teams in the world on their home patch at a venue we haven’t had much success (at) over the past 100 years.”

France head coach Galthie is eager to bounce back from the defeat to Ireland and keen to see how his side reacts.

“This defeat [against Ireland], it was necessary to analyse it and understand it so that it brings us keys to be even better. It’s interesting to fall. And now we have to get up. See how the men, the staff, the players, work together in defeat. How we assume it, how we use it. These are very rich lessons in terms of observation, analysis and projection.” he said.

Players to watch

Anthony Jelonch is enjoying a fine run of form in the Les Bleus jersey, putting in a mammoth defensive performance against Italy. He backed that up with another big tackle count against Ireland but also made an impact on attack, gaining over 50 metres from his seven carries. The powerful back-rower is a threat in the lineout. His all-round open play attributes make him a tricky customer.

It’s impossible to keep your eyes off Antoine Dupont. The France captain is easily one of the best players in the world and is a treat to watch whenever he steps foot onto a rugby pitch. His attacking abilities are well documented, and we saw in Round Two just how brilliant he is on defence too. Keep an eye on the scrum-half when he box kicks; he kicks off both feet with such proficiency that it is challenging to identify whether he is right or left-footed.

Ethan Dumortier has taken to Test rugby like a duck to water, and the 22-year-old gets a third straight start this weekend. The Lyon winger’s ability to slip through tackles and make scathing breaks upfield is simply remarkable. In the loss to Ireland, he managed to beat nine defenders and make two clean breaks, a phenomenal effort in itself. Damian Penaud has been just as brilliant, if not more so, but keep an eye on the rookie winger; he is dynamite.

Sticking on the wings, Duhan van der Merwe has been nothing short of sensational for Scotland in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations. The 27-year-old’s full box of tricks have been on display, showcasing his brutal strength and blowing pace for a player that stands 1.93 metres tall and weighs over 100 kilograms. In the opening two games, Van der Merwe has three try involvements – two tries and one assist – has gained 190 running metres and has beaten 20 defenders.

Townsend has made just one change to his starting line-up, with Hamish Watson catapulted into the XV to earn his 55th Test cap. France will be well aware of the threat the 2020 Six Nations Player of the Championship poses. While he is a furious tackler and a nightmare for the opposition’s breakdown, he earned the nickname ‘Pinball’ for his powerful ball-carrying ability to bounce off tacklers. He returns after a strong outing for Edinburgh last weekend and will look to make his mark early in the fixture.

The Scottish backline has garnered a ton of praise so far in the competition, with the likes of Finn Russell, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu and Van der Merwe standing out. However, their pack has laid the platform for them to shine, arguably none more so than number eight Matt Fagerson. The 24-year-old back-rower’s work rate has been off the chart in the opening two rounds making 45 tackles and 20 carries. That is just the start of his workload before factoring in his lineout, ruck and support work. He played a vital role in the final try against England and has flown under the radar despite producing two world-class performances.

Main head-to-head

The main event on Sunday has to be the battle in the number ten jumpers, with Romian Ntamack and Finn Russell looking to guide their teams to victory.

Pressure is mounting on Ntamack to retain his starting position, with Jalibert notably improving the Les Bleus attack against Italy. Ntamack has endured below-par performance, of his standard, in the opening two games, and Sunday provides the perfect opportunity for him to turn things around.

In stark contrast, Russell has enjoyed a sensational start to his Six Nations campaign. He masterminded the victory over England and backed that up with a man-of-the-match performance against Wales, assisting three tries.

As mentioned above, the ability of either side to be ruthless on attack and capitalise on their opportunities will be vital in the outcome of the match. Not only will the two fly-halves play a crucial role in taking those chances, but the territorial battle via the boot will be vital in manufacturing those opportunities.


A wounded France tasted defeat for the first time in 18 months last time out, and they will be determined not to lose back-to-back games. However, they face off against a confident Scottish side riding high off the back to two victories and motivated by the prospect of creating history.

Scotland claimed a 27-23 win on their last visit to Paris in 2021, but historically the French capital is not a happy hunting ground for the Scots. In the 48 games between the two sides in France, the home side has come out on top 35 times, with Scotland winning 12 times and one draw (back in 1922). There was also a 22-year gap between Scotland’s wins in Paris.

With all this in mind, we are predicting France to bounce back from their defeat to Ireland and secure a win over the in-form Scottish outfit. Galthie’s side will have the crowd behind them, and one loss does not set a Grand Slam-winning side back that much, particularly when it is against a quality team like Ireland. France to win by 7 points.

Previous results

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
2018: Scotland won 32-26 at Murrayfield

The teams

France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Yoram Moefana, 11 Ethan Dumortier, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (c), 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Anthony Jelonch, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Thibaud Flament, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Gaetan Barlot, 17 Reda Wardi, 18 Sipili Falatea, 19 Romain Taofifénua, 20 Francois Cros, 21 Seckou Macalou, 22 Baptiste Couilloud, 23 Matthieu Jalibert

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 WP Nel, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Sam Skinner, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Ali Price, 23 Blair Kinghorn

Date: Sunday, 26 February
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 16:00 local (15:00 GMT)
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
Assistant Referees: Karl Dickson (England), Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

READ MORE: Expert Witness: Nick Easter predicts narrow England win over ’emotional’ Wales in Six Nations clash

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