Gregor Townsend believes Scotland’s experience of playing France three times last year can work to his team’s advantage when they meet in the Six Nations on Saturday.  

France won last year’s Six Nations match in Paris – a game that saw the hosts race to a 19-0 lead after Grant Gilchrist was sent off.

Scotland then beat a second-string France side in a World Cup warm-up at Murrayfield, before running Fabien Galthie’s first choice team close in St Etienne.  

Townsend believes an in-depth knowledge of Les Bleus could be a factor this weekend.  

“We know them as well as any team we’ll come up against.  

“In the past we would have looked at France through Finn’s experience, Pieter De Villiers as an ex-France player and through my own experiences, but now all our players are very aware of what they are capable of, the game plan they like to go to and the opportunities we have. 

“We’ve had some cracking games with them in the last 12 months and we’ll have to be at our best level physically, in defence and in the contact area, because they have a lot of jackallers in their team. 

“We know it could be an open game, which suits the strengths of our players.” 

France travel to Murrayfield after two consecutive defeats – to South Africa in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, and in the championship opener against Ireland last weekend. 

They are also without talisman and captain Antoine Dupont, who is with France’s sevens team in a bid to make the Olympics. Townsend knows France will miss the World Player of the Year.  

“He’s one of the best players in the world, if not the best player, so you’re going to miss him. He’s their captain, he’s very good in both defence and attack. 

“His strengths suit the way they play, which is to try to play through transitions, pick and goes through the forwards and getting offloads away to the scrum half. 

“He’s been a big part of their success but they have more strength in depth than any team in world rugby.  

Scotland Rugby News: France will be without Antoine Dupont (left) but will have Damian Penaud in their side.France will be without Antoine Dupont (left) but will have Damian Penaud in their side. (Image: SNS)

However, he is wary of the threat posed by wing Damian Penaud and believes his match-up against Duhan van der Merwe pits two of the best wingers in world rugby against one another.  

“If he gets quick ball in space, or one-on-one, he’s probably the most effective wing out there just now at scoring tries.  

“We also need to put him under pressure and make sure he has a tough day. It will be a great match-up between him and Duhan.  

“You’re going to see two of the very best wingers in the world going up against each other.” 

Meanwhile, Townsend also reflected on an “unbelievable” penalty count that went against his team in Cardiff last Saturday. 

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The Scotland boss said he could not recall being involved in a game with such a lop-sided penalty count.  

“II’s unprecedented to have a 16-1 penalty count against you after eight minutes, and an 8-1 penalty count against you when you score 24 unanswered points is unbelievable. 

“With that penalty count no international team should win a game of rugby, 16-1 and two yellow cards against you during that period. 

“To weather that storm and score points when we were penalised eight to one is a real credit to what the players did.” 

Townsend praised captain Finn Russell for the way he led the side in Cardiff. 

Russell will this weekend share the responsibility with the returning Rory Darge, back among three changes alongside club colleague Jack Dempsey, who replaces Jamie Ritchie and the injured Luke Crosbie to form an all-Glasgow back-row.  

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The other change sees Grant Gilchrist return from suspension to replace the injured Richie Gray.  

"We feel this is a better blend of a back-row for this game. What Jamie can do is train well. He’ll get an opportunity, I’d imagine, for Edinburgh next week to play well. So that’s the pressure he could put back on. 

“It’s a position of strength and we believe this group of four are best suited for this week’s game.” 

Townsend said the carrying game of Dempsey and Fagerson ensured they would line up alongside the new co-captain, back after six weeks out with a knee injury. 

“Both are good carriers, and Matt has shown his versatility in being a number eight who has moved to six at Glasgow, and then his first two games back from injury he played seven. 

“The all-round ability of the back-rowers is a positive, but particularly in the carrying of Matt and Jack, which will really be needed this week.” 

Andy Christie is preferred to Ritchie on the bench, and Townsend said his versatility – and his form at Saracens – prompted him to get the nod.  

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“He’s used to coming off the bench, although not so much this year, because he’s been starting for Saracens.  

“But for a number of seasons, he thrived in that role of bringing energy and covering any of those three positions.”