Townsend’s men continue grand slam bid in Paris – Scotland-France talking points

Scotland head to Stade de France on Sunday aiming to continue their stirring start to the Guinness Six Nations campaign.

Gregor Townsend’s team have won both their matches so far and will fancy their chances of another victory over a France side who lost away to Ireland on matchday two.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some key talking points ahead of the high-stakes Paris showdown.

Finn Russell factor

Finn Russell has been in sensational form
Finn Russell has been in sensational form (Andrew Milligan/PA)

As far as narratives go, it would seem fitting from a Scottish perspective if Finn Russell were to have a significant impact on Sunday’s match. The 30-year-old stand-off has been in sensational form since returning to the Scotland fold in mid-November after initially being omitted from Townsend’s squad for the autumn Tests due to the head coach’s concerns about his form with Racing 92. Russell was particularly impressive in his last match against Wales and will be desperate to cap his international resurgence by making a similar impression in Paris, the city where he plays his club rugby.

Memories of 2021

Gregor Townsend's side are bidding to repeat their 2021 win in Paris
Gregor Townsend’s side are bidding to repeat their 2021 win in Paris (Jane Barlow/PA)

Ordinarily a visit to Paris would be loaded with trepidation for the Scots. Not now, however. Townsend’s side head to France buoyed by memories of 2021 when Duhan van der Merwe’s late try secured a first win in the city of love for 22 years. There was a slight caveat attached to that victory because it was played behind closed doors due to Covid. It was a similar story when the Scots ended their long wait for an away win over England two years ago with no supporters in attendance, but they banished any doubts about whether they could pull off such a feat in front of a full house by winning the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham earlier this month. The prospect of a packed Stade de France should hold no fears for the increasingly confident visitors.

Scots chasing three in a row

Momentum is building for Scotland. On the back of a promising autumn series that included narrow defeats by Australia and New Zealand and a handsome win over Argentina, they have won their opening two Six Nations matches against England and Wales to sit top of the table. It is the first time since the 1996 Five Nations that Scotland have kicked off their campaign with back-to-back wins, and they will now be looking to once more emulate the team of 96 – of which Townsend was a key member – by making it three wins on the spin. Victory in France would keep the men in dark blue in the hunt for a first grand slam since 1990, with home matches against Ireland and Italy to follow in March.

French under pressure

France were beaten in Dublin
France were beaten in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

France romped to the Grand Slam in last year’s Six Nations but there will be no repeat of that this time round after they followed up their narrow opening-weekend victory away to Italy by losing in Ireland last time out. If they are to have any chance of retaining their Six Nations title, they will need to beat the Scots. The defeat in Dublin was their first since losing at home to Scotland almost two years ago, so the French are likely to take some stopping this weekend.

Scots’ consistency of selection

Given Scotland’s impressive start, Townsend has, unsurprisingly, kept changes to his team to a minimum, opting for just one alteration between each of his matches. After the victory away to England, he kept faith with 14 of the 15 starters for the following game against Wales, choosing only to replace the 36-year-old prop WP Nel with Zander Fagerson, a member of the 2021 British and Irish Lions squad who was deemed fit enough to return after two months out with a hamstring injury. It has been a similar story this week, with only Luke Crosbie dropping out to make way for another Lion in the shape of Hamish Watson, the Edinburgh flanker who missed the first two matches due to lack of match sharpness after being troubled by concussion issues since the autumn. The settled nature of the team is so far bearing fruit.