If Fabien Galthié’s team play with the same daring, the delayed climax of this year’s Six Nations will not disappoint. But save a dime for the thoughts of the French government and tournament organizers and everyone involved in negotiating the financial deal to ensure the availability of five of the England-based Scottish players. Gregor Townsend called the deal “satisfactory” – as on Saturday morning he faced the prospect of not having any at his disposal – but you cannot escape the fact that Scotland is not all in. Paris.
So while organizers may feel relieved that the tournament isn’t dragging into the summer, or even into next season, with air of anticipation for the outcome, there is a sense of foreboding. France will be crowned outright champions if they win with a bonus point and 21 or more points, but if they handle it like last weekend’s dying breath, there will be questions about what could have happened if Scotland had had a full squad to choose from.
Certainly, if France is still in the title race in dying stadiums, the neutrals will be happy and that would be even more convincing proof for the Six Nations to stay on terrestrial television with the end of the existing agreement between the BBC. and ITV. Although the average margin of victory in the competition – not counting matches in Italy – is less than six points, Wales remain big favorites to win the league.
As a result, Galthié made all the right noises, focusing on trying to win the game first, the championship second. “We cannot get caught up in the high stakes,” he said. “The key is to play well and to win, the rest will depend on how the game goes. There seem to be mixed messages coming from the French side this week, however, and it hasn’t gone well with Scotland captain Stuart Hogg. “A lot has been said, and it’s starting to mislead me, that they need 21 points to win the title,” Hogg said. “And I saw someone from their camp talking about them playing for the trophy. As a proud Scotsman, it hurt me a lot.
Because Scotland also has a stake in the game, beyond the stop of France, and the victory could see them climb to second place in the table. Doing Wales a favor isn’t exactly a priority for Scotland, but their trips to France will always evoke memories of the last time they won in Paris, in 1999, when a day later they were crowned champions as Scott Gibbs denied England the grand slam, and the title, at Wembley.
Townsend was on this Scottish team 22 years ago and as a head coach he is making a habit of ending unwanted races. They won in Wales for the first time since 2002 last year and the victory at Twickenham in February was their first in 38 years. A rare victory in France would be another important step for this Scottish team. “If we are able to reproduce [the] performance against England we will be with a shout out to win the game because it is the best I have seen in recent years, ”Townsend said.
Scotland weren’t helped by the late withdrawal of No.8 Matt Fagerson, which meant a promotion for Nick Haining and a surprise call from the bench for Ryan Wilson. However, France has not lost sight of the fact that Scotland have the most stingy defense in the competition. “They are very well organized, tactically and strategically good,” said Galthié. “Smart too. They are the best at the moment. Last year they also did well defensively.
Patience will therefore be vital for France, who against England seemed aspired to play from anywhere and against Wales anxious to claim the bonus point from the first whistle. “We are working as much on defense as on attack, and vice versa,” said Galthié. “Simply because we can’t predict what the game will look like. We can be launched by a big start to the game in attack, or a great defensive period, and it is important to be able to respond in all cases.