France appear at Murrayfield on Sunday for what is now likely to be the deciding fixture in Group B of the Autumn Nations Cup. With the news that all of Fiji’s fixtures have now been cancelled due to a rash of positive Covid-19 tests, Scotland could go into the final “deciding” round slightly undercooked – but if they beat France at the weekend they’ll also be top and in with a chance of silverware.
If they isolate sufficiently, Fiji may be allowed to play in the 4th place match at BT Murrayfield, likely to be against Georgia or Wales, but like most fans, the Scotland camp had been looking forward to playing against the free-flowing Fijians.
“Disappointing to hear that news. We spoke to the players after the training session to tell them that announcement was going to be made, and you can tell the players are disappointed. It’s one less game to play for their country and we knew that certain players were going to get the opportunities next week because of what they’ve done in training and also the fact there’s a six-day turnaround.
“it is a change of plans, it was going to be an intense week of training going into that Fiji game so we now we have that 2-week build up to finals weekend.
“I chatted with our leaders and the coaching group this morning about what that now means for our build-up to the final weekend. We’d like to carry on, but we’ll see how we manage that, whether it’s a few days off and come back in, because we’ve been together now for almost 7 weeks.”
France are restricting game time across their squad but their own game with Fiji being cancelled means that they have released a group of top line players – who Scotland were scheduled to swerve – back into selection.
“You want to play the best teams when they’ve got everyone available.
This weekend we were due to play NZ before the world all changed and normally when you play NZ they’re ranked #1 in the world, certainly in my experience, and now we’re getting an opportunity to play France who have been the best team in the world in terms of results since the World Cup. You want to see where you are, you want to take on the best teams because the wins are even more special when you can record them. They’ve certainly created a real focus and edge in training.”
The only change to the starting line-up against Italy in the backs is Blair Kinghorn replacing clubmate Darcy Graham on the win, but an entirely new front-row will start.
Oli Kebble starting in place of Rory Sutherland was almost a given, seeing as the *LEGALLY MANDATED LION’S CHAT KLAXON* potential Lion was carried off the pitch last wee, Fraser Brown starts ahead of Stuart McInally, and completing the trio – in perhaps the most surprising move – sees Zander Fagerson drop to the bench with Simon Berghan starting at tight-head.
“With Simon we felt he deserves the opportunity with how he’s played and trained. Some of the work he’s been doing scrum-wise in training has been excellent, he made a very good impact down in Wales and we feel he’s earned this opportunity, but we also have the knowledge that Zander should be on for the end of the game.
Zander has been outstanding in this campaign and we see him making a big impact when he comes on.”
After the head-knock which forced him off and scared the bejesus out of us against Italy, Jamie Ritchie has passed all necessary protocols to combine again with Hamish Watson in the back-row, and Matt Fagerson returns to anchor the scrum.
“Matt started against Georgia, picked up an injury, but he’s done really well to come back and was available last week after a full week of training. We’re pleased with how Blade’s played in both games, especially the last 20mins of the Italy game I thought he was excellent in defence, so now it’s up to Matt to show what he can do,”
Can Scotland repeat the feat of the spring, when the vaunted France were sent packing? Or will their undeniable growth as a team since then be too much for a Scotland unit settling into their new identity and pretty re-shuffled since last week?
“It’s hard to win away from home in 6N, we’ve obviously got a record that shows that, but with France… it’s more of a cliché now.
“This France team seem to be different. They’ve got a lot of guys that came up through the U20s together and play without fear.
Winning in Wales (Feb 2020) must’ve been a massive boost for them, they’ll be thinking ‘We can win away in some of the toughest environments to play in’. I think the home advantage isn’t as relevant in these Covid times as it was before. It feels as ‘false’, or different, for the home team as much as the away team, so that’s going to be a challenge for us. We beat them in March with 60k Scots behind us, so we’ll need to create our own atmosphere and our own energy this weekend.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (capt), Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris,
Sam Johnson, Duhan Van Der Merwe, Duncan Weir, Ali Price;
Oli Kebble, Fraser Brown, Simon Berghan, Scott Cummings,
Jonny Gray, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Blade Thomson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Duncan Taylor, Sean Maitland