The final match of this year’s Guinness Six Nations takes place a week later than the rest, with both teams knowing exactly what they have to do in order to climb the rankings, and in France’s case, potentially win the championship.
To “The Magnificent Seven” and “Geography Six”, we can now add the “Premiership 5”, of which Sean Maitland is arguably the biggest name casualty.
Following another very good performance against Italy at full-back there’s no room for the veteran winger due to the restrictions placed on selection, so Stuart Hogg’s dalliance at fly-half over, he reverts to full-back with Finn Russell fit to return in the 10 jersey after missing the romp against Italy.
“It’s much more satisfactory than I thought it was going to be on Saturday, when none of our players were going to be available and we were putting together a team of home-based players plus Finn Russell.
“So, yeah, it’s a much better situation than then. And I’m glad that we did get a resolution that players would be available. Not all of them, as you can probably tell, but most of them.” said Townsend of the thrifty, last-minute arrangement thrashed out which has limited his selection options.
“He (Maitland) was really disappointed, as was Jamie Bhatti, who has been on the bench for us the last two weeks.
“There are other players who may have come into consideration like James Lang, Duncan Taylor, Cornell du Preez, other guys who been in our squad. Cornell was actually supposed to be on the bench when we were due to play France the last time.”
As well as Maitland dropping out, three starting try-scorers from last week can maybe feel themselves a tad unlucky to have been rotated onto the bench.
Double try-scorer and accurate dart-chucker Dave Cherry loses out to George Turner, Scott Steele swaps with Ali Price – probably the most expected of the swaps – and SRB’s POTM from last week, Huw Jones fills the number 23 jersey with Chris Harris restored at outside centre.
“The last time” Townsend spoke of was of course February 28th, which was round 3 of the championship when both sides were still in contention for the title, but now Scotland know the best they can finish is in second place, while a 21-point margin of victory for France with a try-scoring bonus point would see them pinch the title from Wales at the last.
Second place would be Scotland’s best ever finish in the Six Nations after famously being the last ever Five Nations champions in 1999 courtesy of a surprise Wales win over England. The voices from the valleys are shouting in unison it’s time we repay that debt.
“No, but we’ve got a couple of Welsh members of staff and they’ve had a few messages.” Townsend said when asked if any of his old Welsh Lions’ teammates had been in touch to suggest so.
“We maybe owe Wales a favour from ’99. I remember watching that game with Stuart Grimes in France, thinking we’d had a good win the day before – but did we really want to watch England win the Five Nations?
“Wales turned them over that day, of course. So I’m sure they’ll be cheering us on as we were cheering them on 22 years ago.”
That famous 36-22 win in the Stade de France was the last time Scotland have beaten Les Bleus at home, but records are there to be broken.
“We hadn’t won in London for 38 years, hadn’t won in Wales for 18 years, so this is another number, another record that we’d like to take away.”
And should it happen, it won’t only be we Scots that would be happy to see it fall.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price;
Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson
Replacements: David Cherry, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Adam Hastings, Huw Jones