Townsend tells Scotland to seize 'last opportunity' against France
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has said Saturday's Six Nations Championship match against Grand Slam-chasing France at Murrayfield on Saturday represents a "last opportunity" for his side's title ambitions.
The Scots started this edition with a 20-17 Calcutta Cup win at home to England only to lose 20-17 away to reigning Six Nations champions Wales in the second round.
France, the hosts of next year's World Cup, have lived up to their billing as pre-Championship favourites with wins over Italy (37-10) and Ireland (30-24).
Both of those victories, however, were at the Stade de France and Les Bleus, beaten 27-23 by Scotland in Paris last season, have not won at Murrayfield since 2014 -- French coach Fabien Galthie referred to the Scots as 'their problem team."
Townsend, however, reckoned an in-form France posed as tough a challenge as the world champion Springboks.
"It's probably up there with playing South Africa in November," said Townsend, recalling a 30-15 defeat by the Boks at Murrayfield, after naming his side on Thursday.
"They (France) are one of the top two or three teams in the world right now -- a huge pack, momentum behind them, results behind them, so it's a great challenge for us."
And former Scotland fly-half Townsend warned a good recent record against the French would only count for so much in Edinburgh on Saturday.
"It can help in preparation for the week because you have a model or a formula or examples of when we've done things well against France and put them under pressure," he said.
"But every game tells its own story, you have to work out as a group what is effective, what works for you and puts the opposition under pressure," added Townsend, who had spells with three French clubs -- Brive, Castres and Montpellier -- during his playing days.
"The opposition learn from those games too, so whether we see France playing the same way as in the past, or change it.
"For us, we've just got to adapt to that."
This weekend's match is a must-win game for Scotland if they are to remain realistic title contenders.
"We know it's our last opportunity," said Townsend.
We believe in our group, so we have to put everything into this at the weekend and deliver what we're capable of delivering."
- Darge start -
Rory Darge will make his first Scotland start at the weekend.
The Glasgow flanker, who made his international debut as a replacement against Wales earlier this month, takes over from Sam Skinner at blindside flanker.
Townsend had made three personnel changes, all in the pack, to the starting XV that lost in Cardiff, with Magnus Bradbury starting at No 8 in place of the injured Matt Fagerson and Zander Fagerson replacing tight-head prop WP Nel, who drops to the bench.
There is also a positional switch, with Skinner shifted to the second row in place of injured Exeter team-mate Jonny Gray.
"For us, Rory (Darge) brings a lot either side of the ball," explained Townsend. "Defensively he's one of our best tacklers...And if you look at his performances and stats he breaks more tackles than most back-rowers playing just now."
Scotland team to play France (15-1)
Stuart Hogg (capt); Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ali Price; Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Rory Darge; Grant Gilchrist, Sam Skinner; Zander Fagerson, Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman
Replacements: George Turner, Oli Kebble, WP Nel, Jamie Hodgson, Nick Haining, Ben White, Blair Kinghorn, Mark Bennett
Coach: Gregor Townsend (SCO)
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