There are just 4 changes to the starting XV from the last time that Scotland met France, five months ago in Paris. The retired Stuart Hogg and injured Jamie Ritchie are replaced by Blair Kinghorn and Jack Dempsey who were on the bench at the Stade de France. Darcy Graham returns from injury in place of Kyle Steyn while Ewan Ashman takes over at hooker from George Turner.
By contrast, Yoram Moefana and Ethan Dumortier are the only returning starters from the Six Nations encounter between these sides, with Matthieu Jalibert, Baptiste Couilloud and Sekou Macalou (the latter two of whom were unused subs in March) promoted from the bench.
The total cap counts for the starting XVs have dropped from:
Scotland 613 – 439 France
Scotland 562 – 165 France
13 Scotland changes from last Test (v Italy)
- 15 – Kinghorn for Smith
- 13 – Jones for Harris
- 12 – Tuipulotu for McDowall
- 11 – van der Merwe for Steyn
- 10 – Russell for Healy
- 9 – White for Price
- 1 – Schoeman for Sutherland
- 2 – Ashman for Turner
- 3 – Z. Fagerson for Walker
- 4 – R. Gray for Skinner
- 5 – Gilchrist for Cummings
- 6/8 – Dempsey for Crosbie
- 7 – Watson for Darge
BACK 3 – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
Duhan van der Merwe
Brice Dulin (c)
48 Tries 5
95kg Average weight 85kg
106 Total caps 22
6 RWC matches 0
27.0 Average age 24.4
2nd time this unit has started together for Scotland (the previous occasion was v Georgia in 2020 when Duhan made his Test debut).
This back 3 trio have also started together 15 times for Edinburgh, although not since 1st January 2021 at an empty Murrayfield against Glasgow. At full back, Blair Kinghorn will need to fill the gap left by Stuart Hogg – one of the crucial components being how he links up with and complements Finn Russell.
Blair’s recent outings at 10 should leave him well-positioned to step into the attack but he has relatively little direct experience of starting in this role alongside Finn. Just 2 of his 8 starts at full back came when Russell was playing at stand off. The warm-up games could be crucial in building the relationship between these two ahead of the RWC and confirming if Kinghorn is as secure as a first choice as his Edinburgh back 3 colleagues already are.
CENTRES – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
18 Tries 2
102kg Average weight 93kg
52 Total caps 16
0 RWC matches 0
28.1 Average age 21.6
6th time this unit has started together for Scotland
The 6th outing for Huwipulotu in Scotland colours means this partnership has overtaken Huw Jones’ centre pairings with Peter Horne and Sam Johnson (5 starts each) and is behind only the Alex Dunbar / Jones duo (10 starts) for Shuggy’s most frequent combination at Test level.
While the try-scoring race between Darcy Graham (18) and Duhan van der Merwe (17) is drawing most of the attention, Huw has quietly returned to the free-scoring ways of his early days with Scotland after a mid-career slump. The Warriors’ midfielder has bagged 6 tries in his last 8 appearances and now has 16 in total. He seems to have found the ideal foil in Sione Tuipulotu to return to his best form and lock down the centre berths with his Glasgow teammate.
HALF BACKS – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
Finn Russell (c)
11 Tries 4
90kg Average weight 85kg
83 Total caps 34
7 RWC matches 0
28.0 Average age 25.4
5th time this unit has started together for Scotland
Finn Russell is the 12th player overall and 4th back to captain Scotland during the Townsend era. The Muscle has become increasingly influential as his international career has developed. During the biggest moments of the World Cup, it will be his decision-making in attack that could be the difference between success and failure.
The rest of the backline is being built around him with a suitable blend of skills to complement what Finn can bring to the game. Ben White’s solidity at scrum half provides balance for the mercurial stand off and the two have been allowed to build up a strong relationship over a number of games. George Horne should get a chance next week but with White having overtaken Ali Price, the pairing for this match looks almost certain to be first choice for the World Cup.
FRONT ROW – EVEN
355kg Weight 344kg
7 Tries 1
86 Total caps 53
3 RWC matches 1
26.7 Average age 25.2
1st time this unit has started together for Scotland
While this might be the new starting front row trio it’s worth noting that Ewan Ashman is a new addition to a very established pair of props – Pierre Schoeman and Zander Fagerson have started together in 17 of the 23 Tests played since Schoeman’s Scotland debut. The loosehead/tighthead combo are undoubtedly the dark blues’ first picks.
Ewan has a real opportunity to make his case for the number 2 jersey as he starts for the first time in his career at Murrayfield. The incumbent at hooker is George Turner who has started 18 out of the last 28 Tests for Scotland. The two men have similar profiles as aggressive carriers and defenders. Which of them runs out against South Africa may come down to who is nailing their set piece basics best over the Summer Nations Series.
SECOND ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
244kg Weight 227kg
4 Tries 1
135 Total caps 22
15 RWC matches 0
33.5 Average age 28.1
8th time this unit has started together for Scotland
Since Richie Gray’s return to the national side, he and Grant Gilchrist have been the go-tos at lock whenever they have been available. The injury-enforced absence of Jonny Gray – who started 7 of Scotland’s 9 fixtures across the 2015 and 2019 RWCs – reduces the options for this year’s tournament but the return to fitness of Scott Cummings might prove to be the biggest challenge to the veteran duo.
Neither Richie nor Grant were significant contributors as carriers during the Six Nations – 3.7 carries per 80 minutes and 0.6 per 80 respectively. While both players will hit rucks and make their tackles, that leaves a hole to be filled for a Scotland pack who have been used to having the younger Gray available to make 10+ carries per game.
While their sheer heft may be welcome against the Springboks’ monster pack it still feels like selection here is not 100% settled with a better balance to be found in the styles of play of the tighthead and loosehead lock.
BACK ROW – ADVANTAGE SCOTLAND
325kg Weight 324kg
9 Tries 1
100 Total caps 18
1 RWC matches 0
28.7 Average age 26.2
1st time this unit has started together for Scotland
Glasgow have switched Matt Fagerson to the blindside 13 times across the last two seasons to accommodate both him and Jack Dempsey in the same back row so this won’t be a new experience for either player. Zander’s wee brother has started 26 of Scotland’s last 30 Tests (23 at number 8 and 3 at blindside flanker) but finds himself in one of the most competitive areas of the team ahead of the World Cup.
That’s true for the other regular selections of recent years in the back row with Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie only tending to miss out when injured. There’s a case to be made for all of the main trio coming under pressure for their places with Dempsey, Rory Darge and Luke Crosbie in fine form at club level and showing strongly in a Scotland jersey as well. The final decision on the breakaway selection may not be made until much closer to kick off against South Africa.
REPLACEMENT FORWARDS – ADVANTAGE FRANCE
111kg Average weight 116kg
9 Tries 9
126 Total caps 87
13 RWC matches 0
30.0 Average age 27.6
Jamie Bhatti has had jersey number 17 for 8 of Scotland’s 11 Tests this season. WP Nel has filled the 18 shirt 6 times. There’s a strong possibility that the coaches already know who the dark blues’ replacement props will be when they kick off their RWC campaign against South Africa in five weeks’ time.
At hooker, Dave Cherry is probably battling Stuart McInally for the final hooker slot in the RWC squad and will be hoping his setpiece solidity gives him the edge. Scott Cummings and Rory Darge will look to back up strong performances against Italy and neither player will be intending to settle for a bench role.
REPLACEMENT BACKS – ADVANTAGE FRANCE
8 Tries 7
89kg Average weight 87kg
30 Total caps 59
3 RWC matches 3
24.8 Average age 26.4
As the only group of players selected where the Scots are younger than their French counterparts, there’s just a hint that Gregor Townsend and his coaching staff need some backs to make a significant step up for the task ahead. Three Lions are currently being squeezed out following the retirement of Stuart Hogg; Ali Price losing his previous status as unchallenged first choice scrum half; and Huwipulotu’s form meaning no place for Chris Harris, at least partly contributing to the youthful bench lined up for Saturday.
Blair Kinghorn’s flexibility allows for more options among the replacements but decisions need to be made about whether the back subs are game changers, game steadiers or purely for emergency injury cover. Given the scale of the task facing the pack, there’s also the question of whether priorities need to lie up front and a 6 forward 2 backs split on the bench is the way to go.
* Test debut
– 1,017 days have elapsed since Blair Kinghorn last started at full back for Scotland and it’s 813 days since his last start in the 15 shirt for Edinburgh. His previous outings in this position at Test level are – Canada (A) 2018, Wales (A) 2018, France (A) 2019, Georgia (A) 2019, Georgia (H) 2019, Russia (N) 2019, Georgia (H) 2020.
– This the 14th time in 68 Tests during the Townsend era that Scotland’s starting lineup has included more than 500 previous caps.
– 8 of the French starting lineup (plus one from the bench) have never played in a Test against Scotland before. For the Scots only Ewan Ashman in the XV plus Cameron Redpath and Ollie Smith among the subs will be getting their first experience of playing against France at this level.
– The Scottish pack has a combined weight of 924kg. There are only 3 times that a heavier starting eight has been named during the Townsend era, with all 3 of those occasions coming within the last 12 months.
– The last time Darcy Graham and Duhan van der Merwe started together for Scotland was against Argentina in the autumn when the wing twins scored 4 tries between them.
– The 13 changes to starting lineup and 15 players introduced from outwith the 23 not the most in the Townsend era. Against Canada in 2018 there were 14 changes to the XV (Fraser Brown was the only returning player) and 20 new faces in the 23 compared to the selection for the final game of the Six Nations v Italy.
– Skipper, Brice Dulin, hasn’t played for Les Bleus since he was the last Frenchman to have possession of the ball in his side’s loss to Scotland in Paris in 2021.
If you missed Part 1 – previous meetings, scouting report and more – check it out here.