PARIS (AP) — France has waited 11 years to win the Six Nations, so coach Fabien Galthie doesn’t want impatience to infect his players in the title decider against Scotland on Friday.
France stopped Wales taking the Grand Slam last weekend by winning a dramatic encounter 32-30 to keep alive its own chances.
But Wales remains the favorite because France’s requirement is a tall order in the tournament finale at an empty Stade de France.
Galthie’s side has to beat Scotland with a four-try bonus point and a 21-point margin of victory, or a 20-point victory and six tries. The last time France did four-and-21 on Scotland was 2007, but that Scotland was a shadow of this one. Galthie wants his players to avoid stressing over the mental arithmetic while they’re playing.
“The key is to play well and win, the rest will depend on how the match goes. We shouldn’t lose sight of what we need to do,” Galthie says.
“What’s most important is to focus on our performance and victory, our ability to build a win. But (Scotland) also have their ambitions because if they win by eight points they will finish second, which hasn’t happened to them for a long time.”
Scotland has not placed higher than third in the Six Nations era, since 2000. Second would be its best finish since it won the last Five Nations in 1999.
Much depends on how often Gregor Townsend’s side keeps out the French attacks. Wales held out until the 82nd minute last Saturday when it ran out of defenders against a France down to 14 following lock Paul Willemse’s red card. Galthie believes Scotland will be harder to breach.
“They have the best defense in the tournament,” he says. “They’re very well organized and disciplined, very tactical and strategic.”
Former France winger Vincent Clerc, who won three Six Nations including the last in 2010, urges the current side to stay patient despite its abundance of attacking potential.
“If you go for lots of tries early on then you might get frustrated if you don’t get them,” he told sports daily L’Equipe. “You must tell yourself that it’s no big deal if you’re only ahead by three points at halftime.”
Galthie has shaken things up with five changes, two of them enforced. The side is close to the one which finished against Wales.
Romain Ntamack is at flyhalf instead of Matthieu Jalibert, who injured his jaw against Wales. Ntamack, one of France’s best players last year and at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, has made a timely return from his own double jaw fracture in December to feature again.
“He was very solid in a funny kind of game,” Galthie says. “He made good decisions and showed all of his talent.”
Galthie had to replace the suspended Willemse but changed both of his locks anyway, going with Bernard Le Roux and Swan Rebbadj.
Showing his ruthless streak, he dropped winger Teddy Thomas, recalled Arthur Vincent to the centers and moved stalwart Gael Fickou from center to left wing.
Scotland made four changes after routing Italy 52-10, including restoring first-choice halves Ali Price and France-based Finn Russell, center Chris Harris, and hooker George Turner. Adam Hastings returned from suspension to be the backup flyhalf.
This match was postponed from Feb. 28 because of an outbreak in the French camp, but because its now outside the international window, Scotland was restricted to just five players from English clubs and couldn’t pick Lions back Sean Maitland and backup prop Jamie Bhatti.
Scotland spoiled France’s Grand Slam chances — and ultimately its championship hopes — last year at Murrayfield with a gritty 28-17 win. But in Paris it hasn’t beaten France in 22 years.
“As a group we have faced several challenges throughout this Six Nations, it has brought us closer together,” Townsend says. “I know the players are motivated and looking forward to representing their country again on Friday night.”
France: Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), Anthony Jelonch, Swan Rebbadj, Bernard Le Roux, Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Camille Chat, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Uini Atonio, Romain Taofifenua, Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (captain), Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie, Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner, Zander Fagerson, George Turner, Rory Sutherland. Reserves: David Cherry, Oli Kebble, Simon Berghan, Alex Craig, Nick Haining, Scott Steele, Adam Hastings, Huw Jones.
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