France can close in at Murrayfield on settling virus-hit 6N
EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Because of the new coronavirus, the Six Nations won't be completed until June or July. Maybe even later than that.
But it could be settled by the end of next week.
France -- the championship's only unbeaten team -- can make Italy's postponed matches against Ireland and England virtually irrelevant if it keeps on winning.
Beat Scotland this Sunday at Murrayfield and beat Ireland the following Saturday in Paris and the Six Nations trophy and Grand Slam are France's for the first time in a decade.
The Tricolors say they aren't thinking of the Grand Slam -- yet.
“There are stages, and the next stage is not the Grand Slam. The next stage is winning the match in Scotland,” says France No. 8 Gregory Alldritt, twice a player of the match last month.
“We're keeping our feet on the ground, staying humble. The staff are helping us with this. They are helping us to work hard, day after day. That's the only way we're going to get there.”
Backup scrumhalf Baptiste Serin backed up Alldritt.
“It would be a big mistake to think of Ireland already,” Serin says. “The Scots are formidable players. We have to go and get a result there, and then maybe give ourselves the right to dream about the last game.”
Serin speaks from experience. The French have lost their last three visits to Murrayfield.
Those France sides and this one aren't much alike, though. This one is much younger, less inhibited. It's a work in progress that has managed to knock off England and Wales.
And coach Fabien Galthie is trying to speed up that work with minimal changes. There was only one change -- forced by injury -- after beating England, one more after beating Italy when the injured player became available, and two more after beating Wales: Damian Penaud is back on the right wing he was picked for against England until he tore a calf muscle on the game's eve, and prop Jefferson Poirot is in for the injured Cyril Baillie.
There was no thought to resting halves Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, who have been masters of their domains.
“This continuity,” Galthie says, “fits perfectly into the framework which we set for ourselves and the project we wish to put into place: To increase the potential of players, give them caps, and to give them confidence with regards to future challenges. When you look at the number of caps the players have, we're at the very beginning of our adventure. Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack have perfectly matched our expectations; the team's winning so they keep playing.”
Scotland believes it might have gleaned some inside knowledge on France thanks to Finn Russell, the banished flyhalf who has started patching up his differences with coach Gregor Townsend.
Russell, who plays for Paris club Racing 92, reconnected with Townsend on the phone last week and agreed to call into a Scotland coaches meeting to download what he knows even though only two of his clubmates play for France, center Virimi Vakatawa and reserve hooker Camille Chat.
At the very least, a thawing has begun, as Russell's falling out with Townsend has overshadowed Scotland's campaign.
When the team's main playmaker broke team rules about alcohol limits before the championship, Russell was ruled out of the opening match then quit the camp. Then he said he and Townsend didn't have a relationship and didn't see himself playing for Scotland while Townsend was coach. Townsend replied that Russell was welcome back when he agreed to abide team rules.
The stalemate has hurt both sides. Scotland would be immeasurably better with Russell wearing No. 10, and Russell would be realizing his potential by coming out of self-imposed exile. He's reportedly agreed to be available for Scotland's tour of South Africa and New Zealand in July, and offered some tactical insight about France.
“We don't know the French as well as the other teams, we don't play them on a regular basis in the Pro14, and the French have brought a number of new players into their squad,” Townsend says.
“Conversations with players who are playing in France, people who have worked under Fabien Galthie in the past, and also having a former French international (Pieter de Villiers) on our coaching staff has certainly helped. It was good to have that (Russell) contact to help us with our preparation.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Sean Maitland, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings, Ali Price; Nick Haining, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, Fraser Brown, Rory Sutherland. Reserves: Stuart McInally, Allan Dell, Willem Nel, Sam Skinner, Magnus Bradbury, George Horne, Duncan Weir, Kyle Steyn,
France: Anthony Bouthier, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gaël Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), François Cros, Paul Willemse, Bernard Le Roux, Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bemba, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Matthieu Jalibert, Thomas Ramos.
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