France v Scotland: Johnnie Beattie runs the rule over Gregory Alldritt v Matt Fagerson battle at No.8
That is the view of former Scotland man Johnnie Beattie, who will be in the Stade de France in Paris carrying out broadcast duties while the mouth-watering third-round clash unfolds in seven days time.
The 35-year-old, inset, knows a thing or two about No.8 play, too, having started in that position in 31 of his 38 international caps earned between 2006 and 2015.
And, of course, he knows French rugby well having served Montpellier, Castres and Bayonne with distinction before retiring last year while he and his young family still live in the south west of France between Biarritz and Hossegor.
France have been hit by a coronavirus outbreak in the past few days that has resulted in positive tests for, among others, star scrum-half Antoine Dupont and head coach Fabien Galthie. But they go into next weekend top of the table with two wins from two having seen off Italy 50-10 in Rome and then edged past Ireland 15-13 in Dublin.
They are on nine points while Scotland are fourth in the table on five points after following up their famous 11-6 win over England at Twickenham in week one with a 25-24 home defeat to Wales after tighthead prop Zander Fagerson’s red card.
Two of the standout players for both sides to date in the competition have been Alldritt and Matt Fagerson.
Alldritt, the 23-year-old La Rochelle man, has made 25 carries and 23 tackles in their two games, with 22-year-old Glasgow Warrior Fagerson making 30 carries and 13 tackles.
The former has been a revelation for France since he came into the Test arena and has 20 caps under his belt already and played at the 2019 World Cup.
Fagerson missed out on that showpiece event in Japan, but since the Autumn Nations Cup has slowly started to make the No.8 jersey his own and many feel his performances on his tenth and 11th caps against England and Wales were his best to date for his country.
Alldritt got the better of the battle of the two men during November when France won 22-15 at BT Murrayfield, but Fagerson seems to flourish with – hopefully fit-again – Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson in the Scots’ back-row.
To add even more intrigue, Alldritt’s family have strong Scottish connections after father Terence moved to Stirling when he was 12 years old having been brought up initially in Kenya and then attending boarding school in South Africa and, in 2019-20, his brother Scott was playing club rugby for Stewart’s Melville in Edinburgh.
“It is going to be a great match up between Grégory Alldritt and Matt Fagerson, they are two players who are at the top of their respective games,” Beattie said.
“Alldritt was playing for the Auch club as a young man and making people sit up and take note and in 2017 La Rochelle gave him his chance at the top level.
“He is one of the standout performers week in and week out in the French Top 14 while people high up within French rugby hoped that he could be the heir to the throne which Louis Picamoles left vacant [the last of his 82 Tests was at the 2019 World Cup].
“As well as being an impressive individual, he has been lucky with the staff that he has been able to work with in the shape of Jono Gibbes [director of rugby] and Ronan O’Gara [head coach] at La Rochelle because they play a balanced game which allows him to get lots of touches on the ball – and every time he does he is destructive.
“France head coach Fabien Galthie will also have helped him, I played my best rugby at No.8 under him at Montpellier because the role was so clearly defined and you knew exactly what you had to do to get your team on the front foot.
“So, I can see exactly why Alldritt is flourishing under Fabien, he is a great athlete, a grafter and everything that you want from someone in that position.”
As for Fagerson, well, Beattie – who now hosts Le French Rugby Podcast alongside Benjamin Kayser who earned 37 French caps at hooker – has been a big fan of his for some time.
“I felt that he should have gone to the World Cup in 2019 ahead of others who went, but he has dusted himself down superbly since then and become a more rounded player,” Beattie said.
“He is very explosive with ball in hand and I am glad to see that he has been given a good run in the position to really find his feet at Test level.
“There was maybe a lot of pressure on him when he was still just 19 or 20, but he has grown up in the last couple of years and the way he has started this Six Nations has been really encouraging.
“I love the way he goes about his business, he seems to be a level headed kind of guy and if Scotland can get the trio of him, Ritchie [left] and Watson out regularly then they have a back-row that will trouble any team made up of three guys who will have British & Irish Lions ambitions.
“Scottish rugby has a great tradition of churning out great back-rowers – think of the Calders, John Jeffrey, David Leslie and others – and Matt Fagerson certainly has a big future ahead of him.”