There are 5 changes to the starting XV compared to Scotland’s Six Nations encounter with France in Paris earlier this year. Blair Kinghorn, Ali Price, WP Nel and Jack Dempsey step up from bench duties in February, replacing Stuart Hogg (retired), Ben White (injured), Zander Fagerson (suspended) and Matt Fagerson (rested?) respectively. Rory Darge is the only starter to come from outwith the Six Nations’ matchday 23 as he takes the number 7 shirt from Hamish Watson.
France also have 10 of the players who started in Paris in their XV for this game, although they have an entirely different bench, featuring 5 of the starting side who were edged out in last week’s warm-up fixture. The starting lineup changes in the backs see first choice players returning (Jonathan Danty and Gabin Villiere) while the alterations in the forwards skew more toward experimentation and covering for injuries (Dorian Aldegheri, Cameron Woki and Paul Boudehent).
6 Scotland changes from last Test (v France)
- 14 – Steyn for Graham
- 9 – Price for White
- 2 – Turner for Ashman
- 3 – Nel for Z. Fagerson
- 6 – Ritchie for M. Fagerson
- 7 – Darge for Watson
BACK 3 – ADVANTAGE FRANCE
Duhan van der Merwe
36 Tries 36
92kg Average weight 101kg
79 Total caps 85
5 RWC matches 2
27.5 Average age 28.1
1st time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other back 3 players in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
Darcy Graham – who is safely on the plane to return to France in a few weeks’ time!
This is a high quality group of players with every one of them boasting impressive strike rates. Who is statistically the best though? Well, here are the number of minutes on average between Test match tries plus the total tries scored for all six:
- Penaud – try every 116 minutes (26 tries in total)
- Steyn – 124 mins (6)
- van der Merwe – 133 mins (17)
- Villiere – 163 mins (6)
- Kinghorn – 192 mins (13)
- Ramos – 283 mins (4)
The missing Darcy Graham has notched 19 tries so far in his Scotland career at an average of one for every 122 minutes played.
CENTRES – EVEN
17 Tries 18
103kg Average weight 102kg
99 Total caps 54
5 RWC matches 0
30.1 Average age 28.1
7th time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other centres in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
Chris Harris, Cameron Redpath. It seems probable that four centres will travel to the RWC so Harris and Redpath should make it, although if 6/2 benches are to be the norm for the big games, only two midfielders will make the matchday 23s.
Huwipulotu gets a third shot this year at tackling France after a tear-up in Paris and a quieter outing last week at Murrayfield (although one that brought the wide players onto the ball on plenty of occasions). Jonathan Danty will be a step up on Yoram Moefana, who played at inside centre in those last two meetings, while Gael Fickou is all class. A good defensive test then for Sione and Huw plus the chance in attack to try and outsmart one of the best defenders of the outside centre channel in world rugby.
HALF BACKS – ADVANTAGE FRANCE
Antoine Dupont (c)
18 Tries 12
85kg Average weight 89kg
83 Total caps 132
7 RWC matches 8
25.5 Average age 30.6
26th time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other half backs in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
Jamie Dobie, Ben Healy, Ben White. There will be no South African style 4 scrum halves selection so unless White’s injury is worse than is being admitted, Dobie will almost certainly return to Glasgow Warriors. That at least will give him a chance to embed himself in his club side before George Horne and Ali Price return. Healy has already seen off Adam Hastings and booked his slot in the final squad.
The younger pairing of Romain Ntamack and Antoint Dupont have also started 26 Test matches together in the half backs for their country. The French duo have a further 48 starts together at 9 and 10 for Toulouse while the Prussell bromance was broken up at club level after 22 starts in combination for Glasgow Warriors.
These pairings have only gone directly head to head twice before with Russell and Price coming out on top in 2021 in Paris while Ntamack and Dupont had their revenge with a comfortable win at Murrayfield in 2022. Best out of 3 and this one is the decider then?
FRONT ROW – EVEN
343kg Total weight 342kg
4 Tries 8
81 Total caps 113
4 RWC matches 10
29.4 Average age 32.5
2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other front rows in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
Ewan Ashman, Jamie Bhatti, David Cherry, Zander Fagerson, Murphy Walker. Logic would seem to suggest 6 props and 3 hookers travelling (although some other nations’ selections have gone against this conventional wisdom). Missing out on the last two weeks of action indicates Murphy Walker is most likely to be omitted. Prior to the Summer Nations Series the hooker Depth Chart might have been considered to be Turner – Ashman – Cherry – McInally but the performances of the latter two in the warm-ups just might have pushed them up the rankings.
Pierre Schoeman has started 20 out of 24 Tests since his international debut, appearing as a replacement in 3 other games and only missing the 23 for the first warm-up match against Italy two weeks ago. He has started Scotland’s last 4 fixtures against France where he has come up against 4 different tighthead props (Dorian Aldegheri, Demba Bamba, Mohamed Haouas and Uini Atonio) in an area where France still seem to be trying to lock in a first choice.
LOCKS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
219kg Total weight 244kg
6 Tries 4
36 Total caps 137
0 RWC matches 15
25.5 Average age 33.5
9th time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other locks in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
None – it all seemed to be pretty much done and dusted for the big men in the second row from the point that Jonny Gray’s injury was announced.
It’s definitely an over simplification but this battle looks like both sides would benefit from swapping for one of the other team’s second rows. Scotland have two veteran heavyweights who can comfortably anchor the scrum at tighthead lock. Their hosts have two (relatively) lightweight athletes who can be flung up at lineout time and will be great in the loose but who might move the pile a bit less at rucks and won’t provide the same level of support to their props in the scrum.
Looking ahead, France will be hoping to be able to recall either Paul Willemse or Romain Taofifenua after injury to balance out their pairing. Scotland have a big decision to make as to whether to stick with their giant duo to counter Springbok power or to bring in Scott Cummings or Sam Skinner and try and beat South Africa to the punch by playing at a higher tempo and away from the collisions.
BACK ROW – ADVANTAGE FRANCE
Jamie Ritchie (c)
336kg Total weight 320kg
16 Tries 2
73 Total caps 60
7 RWC matches 2
26.8 Average age 26.6
1st time this unit has started together for Scotland
Other back rows in the Scotland training squad not in this 23:
Luke Crosbie, Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson. The presence of Josh Bayliss in this dry run of the 6 forwards, 2 backs split on the bench is maybe a hint that his flexibility to play across the back row, at lock and even in the backline might just win the race for the final back row slot. Crosbie would seem the most likely to drop out if that’s the case – the Edinburgh man would arguably be the unluckiest player of all involved in the training squad.
Rory Darge has never previously started a game in the same back row as Jamie Ritchie – and it is also the first time he’s started in the same Scotland back row as Jack Dempsey (although the Glasgow duo have 19 previous starts together at club level). It will be the fourth time Ritchie has started in the same back row as Dempsey.
This is the first Fagerson-less game for Scotland since the opening fixture of the 2019 World Cup. At least one of the brothers had been in the 23 for a run of 40 matches in a row up until this selection.
FORWARD REPLACEMENTS – EVEN
117kg Average weight 113kg
3 Tries 13
102 Total caps 129
1 RWC matches 8
28.3 Average age 29.6
There are a few players – on both sides – who still have something to prove to seal their place in the final RWC squad. Stuart McInally, Javan Sebastian and Josh Bayliss in particular have seen their stock rise for Scotland over the last couple of weeks but still need strong performances on Saturday. Scott Cummings and Sam Skinner will have designs on a starting XV slot while Rory Sutherland needs to recover some of his pre-Lions’ form to to have any chance of moving ahead of Jamie Bhatti for the 17 shirt against South Africa.
BACK REPLACEMENTS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
1 Tries 8
79kg Average weight 93kg
14 Total caps 29
0 RWC matches 3
25.4 Average age 25.5
The supersub himself, George Horne, will no doubt relish any opportunity he gets but would probably have hoped for a start in one of Scotland’s warm-ups against a Tier 1 nation. He might need to be content with filling the 9 shirt against Georgia. If he does then that will be his first start at test level since the 2019 RWC pool match against Russia.
– This is the oldest starting XV (average age 29.7) named for any Scotland Test match during the Townsend era.
– Against France last time out, Scotland earned their 13th win against a side in the world’s top three since the official rankings were introduced in 2003. The Townsend era has provided 8 of these wins with Andy Robinson managing 3 and Frank Hadden 2.
– Gabin Villiere is nearly 3 years into his Test career but this will be the first time he has ever played against Scotland.
– Antoine Dupont started 26 times for France and Toulouse during the 2022/23 season, winning 24 of those games with his only defeats both coming in Dublin, against Ireland in the Six Nations and Leinster in the Champions Cup.
If you missed Part 1 of the preview – previous meetings, review of last week’s match and more – check it out here.