Scotland has successfully completed the most challenging task. Winning in Cardiff after 22 years should make the rest of the championship relatively easy. However, with Scotland, things are never that straightforward. The upcoming matches against France and England will both take place at Murrayfield. Scotland has emerged victorious in three out of the last four home games against France in the Six Nations, and they have also beaten England three times consecutively, both at home and away. Yet, it is when they are expected to win that Scotland tends to let down their guard.
It is not expected that they will defeat France this weekend. According to the bookmakers, they are considered four-point underdogs, the same as they were considered four-point favorites to break their record of losses in Wales. Therefore, congratulations to Scotland for their win last weekend when it was not anticipated. We may now say that the pressure is lifted.
The win of 27-26 against a youthful Wales squad was nearly ideal in terms of psychology. Despite seeing their 27-0 advantage diminish to just one point with 10 minutes remaining in the second half, no Scottish player will become too confident.
That they negotiated those last nervous moments without mishap – indeed coming within a whisker of scoring a fourth try of their own – was reassuring and not something we might always have taken for granted from Scotland – an example of which was their surrender of a 10-point lead with less than five minutes to play in Cardiff in 2010, when they somehow conceded 17 points. Better still, the 26 unanswered points they conceded last weekend might make their historic win actually feel more like a defeat.
The last time Scotland and France faced off at Murrayfield during the Six Nations was two years ago. It was the only loss in the past four matches that Scotland has had against Les Bleus in Edinburgh. France went on to win the grand slam title that year and were exceptionally strong, scoring 36 points against their opponents. Although they did not completely dominate the match, they were still impressive. Scotland had a chance to take the lead right before half-time, but Stuart Hogg was unable to catch Chris Harris’s long pass with the goal line in sight. The French quickly responded with tries on either side of half-time.
That was as galling a defeat as Scotland have suffered in an era full of agony. The one bright spot was the energetic performance of Rory Darge in his first start. The Glasgow flanker, now co-captain, returns to the team this weekend having recovered from the knee injury that kept him out of the Wales game.
Finn Russell and Grant Gilchrist now share the captaincy role, with Gilchrist replacing the previous captain who held the position until last year’s World Cup. Jamie Ritchie has been completely removed from the squad, while Luke Crosbie, who played as a flanker in the last game, is also no longer included due to an injury sustained during the match against Wales. Jack Dempsey will now take on the No 8 position, while Matt Fagerson will move to the flank. Scotland has also lost Richie Gray, who was injured during the game against Wales and will not be able to play in the rest of the Six Nations. In his place, Grant Gilchrist will return to the second row after serving a suspension.
After serving a suspension, one second-row player returns while another is excluded. Paul Willemse will not be playing for France due to receiving two yellow cards for high tackles during their defeat against Ireland (with one being upgraded to a red card). Similarly, Gilchrist was suspended for the same violation. It seems that these players, who are 2 meters tall and weigh 120kg, struggle with adjusting their body height in the final moments.
Cameron Woki replaces Willemse, however, the most attention-grabbing change for France is on the left side, with the dynamic Louis Bielle-Biarrey taking the place of Yoram Moefana. It is widely praised that a dedicated winger is chosen instead of a player who has switched positions. This decision creates an exciting match-up between two creative groups of outside players.
Kyle Rowe retains his position as full-back for Scotland, where he excelled during their successful period against Wales. On the wings, Kyle Steyn and Duhan van der Merwe were dominant. The exceptional Damian Penaud, playing on the opposite side, also experienced their prowess.
However, this match is always exciting. France suffered a defeat in Marseille against Ireland, so they have their own reputations to uphold. They are also familiar with the ups and downs of unpredictable outcomes. The second round promises to be action-packed.