SOMETIMES the best way of making history is to ignore the past. At least, that is the approach being taken by Gregor Townsend as he prepares his Scotland team for tomorrow’s Autumn Nations Cup match against France.

If Scotland win, they will go to the top of Group B then qualify for the final when the competition organisers award them five points for their cancelled match against Fiji. They will also have won six Tests in a row for the first time in 30 years, having already beaten Italy (twice), Georgia and Wales this year as well as the French in the Six Nations.  

Winning half a dozen matches on the bounce is clearly a greater achievement than a single victory, and emulating the Grand Slam side of 1990 would be something of which Townsend and his players could be rightly proud. For the time being, however, the head coach and his assistants are far more interested in plotting the downfall of France then they are in claiming a place in the history books.

“We’ve never mentioned it in any of our meetings or among the coaches,” Townsend  insisted yesterday when asked how he was dealing with the prospect of going for six in a row. “I couldn’t tell you if the players talk about it. 

“We obviously know there has been momentum building, and that's a good thing to have as a team, because you have the confidence of winning and feel like what you’re doing through the week is leading to victories. But we’re playing a very good side this weekend who will challenge us in all sorts of areas, so we’ve got to be at our best, and be at our best for 80 minutes. The challenge and opportunity this game provides is massive, and whether it’s on the back of six defeats, one win, or no wins - it’s a great game for us to get stuck into.

“The opportunity is about winning this game and what that would mean to this group in terms of getting into the final to play for first or second in a couple of weeks’ time. We know what a challenge France are going to bring – one of the best teams, if not the best team, in the world right now - so that’s all we’re thinking about. 

 “You want to play the best teams when they’ve got everybody available. We were due to play New Zealand this weekend [in the Autumn Internationals] before the world changed, and normally when you play New Zealand they are ranked one in the world. 

“Now we’re getting the opportunity to play France, who have been the best team in the world in terms of results since the World Cup. So you want to see where you are when you take on the best teams, because the wins are even more special. 

“It has created a real focus and edge in training. It feels like a proper Six Nations game even though it’s the Autumn Nations Cup, because France are playing so well and they’ve brought their best players.” 

Almost all of their best players anyway - stand-off Romain Ntamack has been ruled out by injury. But Mathieu Jalibert is a more than able replacement, and of course Scotland have had their problems at playmaker too, with both Finn Russell and Adam Hastings having been ruled out.

After an assured performance against Italy, Duncan Weir continues at 10 in a team that shows five changes from the one that began that win in Florence. Three are in the front row, with Oli Kebble replacing the injured Rory Sutherland, Fraser Brown returning from injury to take over from Stuart McInally, and Simon Berghan being given a start in place of Zander Fagerson. Matt Fagerson is another who returns from injury and is preferred at No 8 to Blade Thomson, while the sole change in the back division sees Blair Kinghorn replace his Edinburgh team-mate Darcy Graham on the right wing. 

Thomson and Zander Fagerson drop down to the bench, while McInally drops out of the 23, as does Graham. Also on the bench, Duncan Taylor, who was not part of Townsend’s original squad for the tournament, is included for the first time along with fellow-Saracen Sean Maitland, who the coach said had been “very apologetic” for his part in the breach of Covid protocols that led to the cancellation of the Barbarians’ game against England. Back-up loosehead Jamie Bhatti also makes his first appearance in a national squad this season, despite having played little rugby for Edinburgh.

The Scotland squad, like their opponents, are close to full strength on paper. They will need to be closer still to the top of their game if they are to get the better of France.


Scotland (v France at BT Murrayfield tomorrow Sunday, kick-off 3.15pm): S Hogg (captain) (Exeter); B Kinghorn (Edinburgh), C Harris (Gloucester), S Johnson (Glasgow), D van der Merwe (Edinburgh); D Weir (Worcester), A Price (Glasgow); O Kebble (Glasgow), F Brown (Glasgow), S Berghan (Edinburgh), S Cummings (Glasgow), J Gray (Exeter), J Ritchie (Edinburgh), H Watson (Edinburgh), M Fagerson (Glasgow). Substitutes: G Turner (Glasgow), J Bhatti (Edinburgh), Z Fagerson (Glasgow), S Skinner (Exeter), B Thomson (Scarlets), S Hidalgo-Clyne (Exeter), D Taylor (Saracens), S Maitland (Saracens).

France: T Ramos; T Thomas, V Vakatawa, G Fickou, V Rattez; M Jalibert, A  Dupont; J Gros, C Chat, D Bamba, B Le Roux, R Taofifenua, D Cretin, C Ollivon (captain), G Alldritt. Substitutes: J Marchand, C Baille, M Haouas, P Willemse, C Woki, B Couilloud, L Carbonel, A Vincent.

Referee: W Barnes (England).