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Autumn Nations Cup: Gregor Townsend happy France are sending the ‘grande fromages’ after all

Duhan van Der Merwe leads the charge for Scotland against Italy.
Duhan van Der Merwe leads the charge for Scotland against Italy.

Gregor Townsend prefers that France are bringing “les grandes fromages” to BT Murrayfield next week as Scotland seek a history-equalling sixth successive win.

France coach Fabien Galthier had originally planned a developmental team to come to Murrayfield for the second Autumn Nations Cup game, but after their game with Fiji was cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Islanders’s squad, he immediately announced that a fully-loaded team would be travelling instead.

Scotland are the only team to beat France during 2020, in the Six Nations game in Edinburgh won 28-17 – the same scoreline as the Scots’ victory against Italy at the weekend.

“They were going to be coming with a different squad but now they’re coming with a strong squad,” said Townsend, before the team left Florence, agreeing with the suggestion that he preferred playing France’s best team.

“They came with their strongest team in March and brought the best out in us,” he said. “We’ll have to rise up to that challenge again next week.

“They’ve moved on since then, I think they’re playing excellent rugby. They know what their game is just now and they’ve got some players in top form, so it will be a big challenge for us.

“If they had come with a different team it would have presented a really different challenge – the expectation, the pressure to win, was off them, and there were players we don’t know that much about.

“There was certainly going to be no Romain Ntamack, Virimi Vakatawa, Teddy Thomas – all their top players.

“I think they’re the form team in the world right now. New Zealand have lost twice now, South Africa haven’t played, France and England are the two top teams. So this will be a game that we’ll have to be at our best to win.”

The coach would be happy for his players to take the decision to continue to refuse easy penalty points and go for tries, as they did repeatedly on Saturday.

“ It will be the players’ decision on the field,” he said. “Hoggy’s was a great call in the end (in the first half) because we scored off it. We’ve got to allow our leaders to make those decisions.

“In the context of the game the maul was starting to bring penalties – I think we had a penalty earlier on from a maul – so you feel as if that’s a strength that you can get a try if you force the opposition to give away a penalty.

“It may be different next week, because it might be a different game. But that will be up to the leaders to decide on.”

The desire to win for Scotland was the same after five straight wins as it would be at any other time, he added.

“It would be the case if we had five defeats in a row to five wins in a row,” he said. “You go out to win for Scotland. The belief that gets created from winning certainly helps, and knowing that one of the top teams in the world is coming to town next week will get our focus.

“We can prepare for that game knowing there are some things to improve, but the feeling that they found a way to win on the field will just give them an extra bit of confidence if we have to do the same next week.”

Zander Fagerson carries for Scotland in Florence.

Prop Zander Fagerson’s mum wasn’t happy with the description of her son on scoring his second international try, but he didn’t care a jot with that or that it was one of the more bizarre scores of recent times.

An offload by Hamish Watson deflected into Fagerson’s hands and he sauntered across the line as if in slow motion, with the Italians all stopping expecting a knock-on or offside call.

Instead, the TV match official Wayne Barnes confirmed an Italian hand knocked it into Zander’s grasp and the try quite rightly stood – although it needed a vocal intervention from his best mate and colleague, Scott Cummings.

“I went over the line and I was just waiting for the ref to blow up for offside or something,” he said. “I just heard Scott shouting `put it down, put it down’, so I flopped down just in case.

“My mum has texted me to say someone compared me to a tranquilliser water buffalo when I scored, but I’ll take that ad I’ll definitely take the try!’

Zander said the first half was a wake-up call ahead of next week’s big game.

“We can’t start like that against France, we know that,” he said. “Italy really came at us in the first half, but we backed our systems in the second half and showed much more aggression.

“France like to play and they can be physical too so we need to match that. They have a lot of experience and we need to deliver the full 80 minute performance.

“We have found a way to win and there is much more to come performance wise and that is the exciting thing.

“We are on this unbeaten run but we haven’t played our best rugby yet. We need to keep building phases, keep grinding teams down and in years gone by we probably wouldn’t have won that game today.”