Autumn Nations Cup
Five changes for French test as Fiji game cancelled
Test: Gregor Townsend (pic: SNS Group)
Gregor Townsend has made five changes to his Scotland team for the visit of France to Murrayfield on Sunday.
With their final group game against Fiji having been cancelled due to a Covid outbreak affecting 29 members of the tourists’ squad, the Scots are likely to win Pool B with a victory.
Scotland kicked off their Autumn Nations Cup campaign with a win over Italy in Florence and are looking to record a sixth Test win in a row for the first time since 1990.
Edinburgh wing Blair Kinghorn is the only change to the starting back division.
He replaces clubmate Darcy Graham to link up with captain and full-back Stuart Hogg and fellow-Edinburgh back Duhan van der Merwe in the back-three, with centres Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors) and Chris Harris (Gloucester) and half-backs Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) and Duncan Weir (Worcester Warriors) all reinstated.
The return of fit-again Glasgow Warriors No. 8 Matt Fagerson (ankle) and a new front-row of Oli Kebble, Fraser Brown (both Glasgow Warriors) and Simon Berghan (Edinburgh) completes the team changes in the forward pack.
Kebble and Berghan earn their first start of the campaign in place of injured Edinburgh loosehead Rory Sutherland (ankle) and Glasgow tighthead Zander Fagerson – who joins the replacements – while hooker and vice-captain Brown completes his return from the concussion sustained against Georgia last month to replace Stuart McInally – with George Turner retaining his place on the bench.
Scott Cummings (Glasgow Warriors) and Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs) partner at second-row once more, with Edinburgh pair Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie returning to complete the back-row – and starting side – with Matt Fagerson.
Edinburgh loosehead Jamie Bhatti takes the bench place vacated by Kebble and could feature for his country for the first time since last summer. Sean Maitland returns to the bench after missing out on the squad after breaching Covid protocols while on Barbarians duty, as does Duncan Taylor.
Townsend said: “France are full of confidence and have played really well this year. We know we’re playing one of the best teams in the world right now, so to rise to this challenge we’re going to have to play close to our best throughout the contest on Sunday.
“The Autumn Nations Cup is all about opportunity – the opportunity to play in a new competition and the opportunity for us as coaches to see how a large number of our squad perform when given the chance to play.”
Commenting on the cancellation of the final pool match against Fifi next weekend, Scottish Rugby said: “While this is very disappointing news, we support the decision to cancel the game and wish a speedy recovery to those affected in the Fijian squad.”
Both France and Italy were awarded 28-0 victories after their Autumn Nations Cup meetings with Fiji were cancelled recently.
Scotland: Hogg (c); Kinghorn, Harris, Johnson, Van der Merwe, Weir, Price; Kebble, Brown, Berghan; Cummings, Gray; Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson.
Replacements: Turner, Bhatti, Z Fagerson, Skinner, Thomson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Taylor, Maitland.
France: Ramos; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou, Rattez; Jalibert, Dupont; Gros, Chat, Bamba; Le Roux, Taofifenua; Cretin, Ollivon (c), Alldritt
Replacements: Marchand, Baille, Haouas, Willemse, Woki, Couilloud, Carbonel, Vincent