11 of Scotland’s XV also started last season’s Six Nations’ clash with France - Stuart Hogg, Richie Gray, Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson the absentees.

The turnover in the French side has been much higher with just 6 returning starters. Half backs, Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack are the most significant names missing from the side that won 32 – 21 at the Stade de France.

Scotland Rugby News: Scotland Rugby News:

There are some players who are just box office. Whenever they get their hands on the ball, almost no matter the situation, it’s time to really sit up and take notice. Duhan van der Merwe and Damian Penaud are two such players, even if the ways they get the crowd off their feet can be quite different.

Penaud is the natural rugby player, with clever lines, delicate kicks and languid stylings until he’s required to explode into action. Van der Merwe is the uber-athlete, a T-800 in fully human form whose pace and power more than compensate for any deficiencies in basic skills.

The French wing has the better overall scoring rate, with a try every 99 minutes at Test level compared to every 118 mins for his Scottish opponent. It’s worth noting though, that purely for scores in the Six Nations, van der Merwe just has the edge with a try every 103 mins v 105 for Penaud.

Scotland Rugby News:

Gael Fickou’s history of playing against Scotland stretches all the way back to 16th March 2013. In fact, that was the day the then 18-year old centre made his Test debut. This will be the 14th time he has played the dark blues with 9 wins and 4 losses under his belt so far.

His partnership with Jonathan Danty (Fickty cent?) has been deployed 9 times in France’s last 13 matches. They are both fine attacking players but it is their defensive nous that really allows them to dominate the midfield. Fickou’s intelligent reading of the game makes him a balanced foil for Danty’s muscular presence scavenging for the ball.

Scotland will feel that, on current form, the Huwipulotu pairing can match – and maybe even better – their more illustrious opponents in terms of attack. It’s often defence that wins the day though and the Scots will need to be at their very best to break through versus the French duo.

Scotland Rugby News:

Ben White’s 13 kicks were an absolutely essential part of Scotland’s excellent start against Wales. They were also pretty much the only thing that relieved the pressure – however briefly - when it all started going wrong in the second half.

That consistency of exits from the Scottish 22, giving the opposition a starting point in midfield rather than from prime attacking positions, will be even more crucial this weekend. The French love nothing more than to pin a side back and wait to take possession deep in their opponents’ territory.

If White can maintain the level he showed in Round 1 and use his box kicks to push his team up to halfway, and even beyond, it will make defending a bit less pressured and also put Scotland in areas they can really have a go from if they do turn over ball.

Scotland Rugby News:

The weight differential between the tight fives is 21kg (585kg v  606kg) which just happens to also be the difference between the respective tighthead props. 126kg Zander Fagerson is a very large human being. 147kg Uini Atonio is simply enormous.

The big man from Timaru will be in the game for a good time, not a long time – he averages just 48 minutes per start in Test rugby over the past three seasons. While he’s out there though he will be a significant obstacle for Scotland to overcome at the scrum and around the fringes of the breakdown.

The setpiece in particular may give the home side pause in considering what their approach should be this week. Against a relatively inexperienced Welsh unit, the Scots were aggressive but ended up conceding 2 penalties and a free kick at scrum time. With the first choice French front row in town, discretion may be the better part of valour and getting the ball in and out as quickly as possible the go to option.

Scotland Rugby News:

The Scottish lineout has lost its premier operator with Richie Gray out injured while Paul Willemse’s suspension does at least allow France to replace a near unliftable (not a real word but works for lineouts!) giant with the player who has ruled the air for them during the last couple of seasons – Cameron Woki.

That could be important for the French as they try to recover from an uncharacteristically untidy performance in this area against Ireland. The Scots came up with some big steals down in Cardiff, even after the early departure of Gray, but an opposition lineout with Woki and Charles Ollivon as targets will be tough to disrupt.

Scotland Rugby News:

Although this breakaway trio have never before started a Test for Scotland, this will be their 10th start together following nine games for their club side, Glasgow Warriors. It’s that cohesion as well as the balance in skills among the three players that Scotland’s coaches will be hoping can close the gap somewhat on a world class French triumvirate who have the edge on paper on a man for man basis.

Work rate and efficiency will be the order of the day for the Scots after last week’s performance. They lost 5 attacking breakdowns due to tardy clear outs as well as coughing up 3 penalties when defending at tackle situations. Wales were also able to win all 110 rucks they set up. That simply won’t do against a France side who can be near unstoppable from quick, clean possession.

Scotland Rugby News: For the second week running, there is plenty of inexperience on both benches for Scotland’s Six Nations fixture. Alec Hepburn and Elliot Millar-Mills should follow starter, Kyle Rowe, in making their home Test debuts. Both props put in solid showings against Wales in their first international appearances, with the late scrum penalty they won effectively closing out the win in that game.

Scotland Rugby News:

The 8 players on the French bench have only made a combined 32 previous substitute appearances at Test level. George Horne alone has made 24.

Gregor Townsend opted for a 6 forward / 2 back split on the bench for two out of the three games Scotland played against France last year. The 5 / 3 split this time round should give a bit more flexibility generally but will mean an even harder shift for the forwards.

Scotland Rugby News:

* Six Nations debut
** Test debut
Players in BLOCK CAPITALS have been selected for the British & Irish Lions




– There are 11 Glasgow Warriors, 6 Edinburgh men and 6 Exiles in the Scotland 23. The French squad is made up of players from Toulouse (7), Bordeaux (6), La Rochelle (4) and Racing 92 (2) plus 1 each from Lyon, Perpignan, Stade Francais and Toulon.

– The 63 minutes played by Maxime Lucu last week against Ireland in his first ever Six Nations’ start were more game time than he had managed in his 7 previous substitute appearances in the championship (59 mins).

– Gregor Townsend has made just 3 alterations to his matchday squad from last weekend versus Wales. There are only 4 occasions in Scotland’s last 76 Tests where fewer changes have been made.

– Scotland have a theoretical route to a record high world ranking of 4th on Monday. Victory over France at Murrayfield by a margin of at least 16 points is required (something the dark blues have only managed once in the last 99 years). This also needs to be accompanied by England failing to win their match at Twickenham against Wales. Simple really...

– This is the 8th time in their last 60 games that the same backline has started consecutive matches. There have been no occasions in that period when an identical pack has started two games in a row.

– Scotland have had 3 players sent off in their last 5 matches v France (Finn Russell, Grant Gilchrist and Zander Fagerson).

– French players have committed 6 red card offences in their last 18 Six Nations’ fixtures:

  • Mohamed Haouas (red card) – 2020, Round 4
  • Paul Willemse (red card) – 2021, Round 5
  • Uini Atonio (cited) – 2023, Round 2
  • Mohamed Haouas (red card) – 2023, Round 3
  • Paul Willemse (cited) – 2024, Round 1
  • Paul Willemse (red card) – 2024, Round 1