Scotland will take on a French team that will be fully loaded as they seek their first Six Nations Championship in 11 years.
France know they have to try to win with four tries and by 21 points because that’s the only way they’ll get the title.
So it’s not going to be a dull game. For Scotland, it’s a huge opportunity to finish the Championship with a win, to secure a victory in Paris for the first time since 1999 and to achieve their highest ever placing in the Six Nations by finishing second. For individuals, it offers the opportunity to claim a major scalp and put your name in the mix for Lions selection.
This is a huge, huge week for Scottish rugby.
Even though it will be one of the most difficult challenges they face, there’ll be no excuses. You can’t say it’s a French team who had nothing to play for or that it’s a French B team, Scotland will get the best French team, you’ll get them fully motivated, you’ll get them having to play rugby. It’s an awesome challenge.
Scotland will have their English-based players available so it’s France's strongest team against Scotland’s strongest.
Gregor Townsend’s side have demonstrated over the last eight weeks that they have got the players, the team and the structures to go away from home and win. And France have shown enough to suggest that Scotland can go and attack them and get really deep into them. I thought Wales showed that on Saturday night, even if they were edged out 32-30 in the dying minutes.
Scotland can win in Paris, but they’ll have to play their best game not just of this Six Nations but of the last few years. And they need to perform for 80 minutes because we saw on Saturday night that if you switch off against France for a couple of minutes, they will punish you.
Scotland will definitely have the belief that they can go there and win. They will be full of confidence after the victory over Italy but will also know that there are a number of areas in which they can still improve.
Saturday’s 52-10 win at BT Murrayfield was clinical. Italy were poor but Scotland did really well in putting them away.
The start of the game was far from ideal, conceding in the first few minutes, but I thought there was a composure and trust in their own way of playing which immediately got Scotland back into the game. To have the bonus point secured before half-time was particularly impressive, as was the way they then went and finished them off in the second half. It is more difficult than you think to maintain that level of performance in a game when you are clearly the better team.
Scotland have got a good lineout and a good maul, and one game doesn’t change that. The defeat against Ireland the previous weekend was disappointing for all those involved but against Italy they took the simple options.
Grant Gilchrist would have been calling the lineout and you could see the mindset at the start of the game was to take the safe, ball-winning options with the aim of trying to get the maul set.
The lineout is so important to give you a platform to launch from, particularly for Scotland, and it was really pleasing to see it back to the high standard that has been set over the last few years. It was a very professional performance at the set piece and would have been pleasing for the players and the management. I think John Dalziel, our forwards coach, will have been particularly satisfied. The Ireland game was probably the toughest test for our lineout since he’s been in charge and I thought the boys bounced back impressively.
Scotland played well but you’ve got to temper that with how poor Italy were. I can’t recall seeing as poor an Italian side in the Six Nations but you can only beat what’s in front of you and I thought Scott Steele and Dave Cherry, on their first starts, did really well.
Italy have had a poor season but this year has been so different for obvious reasons that you can’t judge them solely on this campaign.
We hear stuff coming out of Italy that they are picking lots of young guys and they’re building for the future and it’s nice to hear that but international rugby is an unforgiving environment and you’ve got to pick your best players to perform every single week.
If you want to build for the future you drop a couple of young guys into an experienced Test team and you ask your clubs to help develop the young players.
In Test rugby, you can’t afford to lose heavily and say “that’s OK because we’re building for two to three years’ time”. The game, particularly the international game, develops fast and you’ve got to go out and try to win every single week.