France seek payback as Scotland go for record win streak
France returns to the scene of the crime on Sunday.
Murrayfield was where France suffered its only loss this year, and where it faces Scotland again in the new Autumn Nations Cup.
Back in March, France was leading 7-6 just before halftime when a scuffle in front of its posts ended with prop Mohamed Haouas sent off for punching Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie.
France was rattled and Scotland emboldened. The penalty kick regained Scotland a lead it didn’t relinquish. Long-range tries bridging halftime gave the Scots a buffer and they won 28-17. France’s Grand Slam bid was blown and it lost the Six Nations title race to England on points difference.
“We all remember that match, how it went,” France fullback Thomas Ramos says. "This will be a different context and a different competition. We will think about it when we prepare, but under no circumstances are we preparing for the same scenario or expecting the same game.”
The red card doesn't diminish the win for Scotland coach Gregor Townsend.
Townsend says they were already playing well, “getting into our groove.” He says the red card led to France kicking less and attacking more but Scotland took its chances and managed the game well.
"It was certainly our best team performance of the year, especially in defence,” the coach says.
Townsend is relishing a trophy being at stake. Scotland had only an outside chance at the Six Nations crown. But if it beats France again it will advance to the Autumn Nations Cup final in two weeks.
Conditions are vastly different, though. Murrayfield will be empty and Scotland won’t have the benefit of 67,000 raucous fans.
Haouas is in the reserves. He got away with the punch, serving a three-week suspension while rugby was shut down by the pandemic. Sean Maitland, who scored both tries around halftime, is also only a reserve. The flyhalves are changed somewhat: Scotland's Adam Hastings is injured, as is France’s Romain Ntamack. Ntamack came off injured after seven minutes in March and was replaced by Matthieu Jalibert, who starts this time with backup from uncapped junior star Louis Carbonel. To lighten the load on Jalibert, Ramos will take the goalkicks.
Coach Fabien Galthie originally planned a weakened side against Scotland, but the Fiji match last weekend in Vannes was canceled after a coronavirus outbreak amongst the Fijians. Galthie is fielding the strong side that was intended for Fiji, and three weeks after its last outing it is raring to go and eager to end four straight losses at Murrayfield.
“Scotland are difficult to play,” Ramos says. "They are able to shut down their opponents. They are full of confidence.”
That confidence has them on the brink of history. Scotland could bank a sixth consecutive win, matching its national record achieved in 1925-26 and 1989-90. The current streak includes wins over Italy (twice), Georgia, a declining Wales, and 14-man France.
But wing Blair Kinghorn doesn't believe the opponents downgrade the streak, saying Scotland deserves to be proud.
"Winning five international games in a row is not a fluke,” Kinghorn says. "We have been playing good rugby, regardless of what people think of the other teams. We play a good brand of rugby.
"We conceded the fewest points in the Six Nations, which is a great start, and we’ve managed to keep backing that up.
"Yeah, France only had 14 men last time we played but quite often you see teams with 14 men come out on the winning side of the result because a team with 15 think they’ve got the game won and relax. That wasn’t the case with us, so hopefully we can back that performance up and get another victory.”
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Blair Kinghorn, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Duncan Weir, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Simon Berghan, Fraser Brown, Oli Kebble. Reserves: George Turner, Jamie Bhatti, Zander Fagerson, Sam Skinner, Blade Thomson, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Duncan Taylor, Sean Maitland.
France: Thomas Ramos, Teddy Thomas, Virimi Vakatawa, Gael Fickou, Vincent Rattez, Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), Dylan Cretin, Romain Taofifenua, Bernard Le Roux, Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Demba Bamba. Reserves: Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille, Mohamed Haouas, Paul Willemse, Cameron Woki, Baptiste Couilloud, Louis Carbonel, Arthur Vincent.
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