The final fixture of the Guinness Six Nations takes place tomorrow at 9pm in Paris, when Scotland play France. The tournament had originally been due to end last weekend, but illness in the French squad led to postponement of the match and hence pushed the tournament back, resulting in the awkward situation where the international window has been exceeded and national clubs were correspondingly reluctant to release players for the game. With this predicament largely dealt with through negotiation and financial compensation to the affected clubs, both teams are now looking forward to ending the tournament with a flourish although France will be starting as firm favourites, with odds as short as 2/9 from bookmaker SBK.
Wales have dominated this year’s tournament but France do still have an outside chance of winning. Les Bleus need a bonus-point victory and a winning margin of at least 21 points to deny Wales the title. If they win by exactly 20 points, scoring five tries, then the Championship title would be shared with Wales for the first time since 1988 when both teams were joint winners of the Five Nations. Bookmaker Paddy Power offers odds of 6/4 that France will win the Six Nations trophy tomorrow.
After their 32-30 victory over Wales last weekend, confidence is high in France that Les Bleus will win the title as the French team displayed tremendous character to come back from 10 points down, with only 14 men on the pitch. Two late tries – firstly from captain Charles Ollivon and secondly, in the dying moments of the game, from Brice Dulin – denied Wales the win and the Grand Slam. Coach Fabien Galthie explained the flow of play using a boxing analogy, saying “This Welsh team, World Cup semi-finalists, Grand Slam champions in 2019, they are very strong. Usually they box for 12 rounds, but here, they let us box the final round. They stopped in the 11th.”
Scotland are just as keen to score a win, with head coach Gregor Townsend saying the team are “gunning” for the eight-point victory that would make them runners-up to Wales. At present, Scotland are fourth in the table so a win would allow the team to leap-frog France and Ireland into second-place. Townsend is confident even though Scotland has not won in Paris for over twenty years, saying “We feel like we’re capable of going there and getting a result…we’ve shown that we can play very well away from home and if we do deliver an 80-minute performance we’ll be more than just competitive”. It’s a big ask for sure, and the bookies are much more cautious about Scotland’s chances with odds of 11/2 for a Scotland win tomorrow from BetVictor.
France have made a number of changes to the team sheet. Romain Ntamack will replace Matthieu Jalibert at fly-half. Arthur Vincent comes into midfield, and Gael Fickou has been moved to the wing, with Teddy Thomas dropped to the bench. The second row has been changed with Bernard Le Roux and Swan Rebbadj replacing Romain Taofifenua and the suspended Paul Willemse, while Anthony Jelonch is in for Dylan Cretin on the blindside.
As for Scotland, Finn Russell is playing at fly-half with captain Stuart Hogg back to his normal position at full-back and the returning Adam Hastings on the bench. In the pack, George Turner is back at hooker in place of Dave Cherry. Controversially, Sean Maitland will not play due to the limit of five England-based players allowed in the squad following the agreement with the Premiership after the tournament was extended.
France v Scotland will be shown live on BBC, with details of channel/programme start still pending. It will also be streamed live on the BBC Sport website and the BBC iPlayer app. Welsh rugby fans will undoubtedly be glued to their screens, eager to see Scotland deny France the comprehensive win Les Bleus need to win the tournament. Wales remain favourites to lift the trophy with odds of 4/7 from bookie SkyBet but, for the moment, all the team and the nation can do is wait.