Stuart Hogg back to full-back for Scotland’s game against France to end rugby’s 2021 Six Nations
Borderers Stuart Hogg, Rory Sutherland and Darcy Graham will be lining up together again for Scotland’s final game of rugby’s 2021 Six Nations against France this Friday, March 26.
Team captain Hogg will be returning to his usual full-back role after playing at fly-half against Italy at the weekend, though, as Finn Russell is back after injury.
Russell’s return is one of four changes made by head coach Gregor Townsend to the Scots’ starting XV at the Stade de France near Paris.
The 28-year-old and Ali Price are back as half-backs, with Chris Harris at centre and hooker George Turner also returning to the Scots’ starting line-up.
Graham, 23, and Duhan van der Merwe, both among Scotland’s try-scorers last Saturday, March 20, will again be lining up on the wings.
Sam Johnson partners Harris in the centres, with Huw Jones providing cover from the bench alongside Scott Steele and Adam Hastings, set to get his first cap since October after being ruled out first by injury and latterly by a three-match suspension.
Turner’s return sees him pack down with Sutherland, 28, at loosehead and Zander Fagerson at tighthead, with Grant Gilchrist and Sam Skinner combining again in the second row.
Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson and Matt Fagerson make up the Scottish back row for the fourth time this championship.
Hooker David Cherry, another scorer against Italy, is joined by Oli Kebble and Simon Berghan as front-row cover, with Alex Craig and Nick Haining offering further forward options.
Hogg is now on 84 caps, with fellow ex-Hawick players Sutherland and Graham on 15 and 18 respectively.
Townsend, 47, said: “The match against France provides us with an opportunity to finish the Six Nations in our highest position in its history.
“This is a great opportunity for us to take on France, at home in Paris, as they also look to end the championship on a high.
“Both teams have needed to manage a short six-day turnaround, and we have used this week to regroup and focus on putting in our best performance of the competition so far, which we will need to deliver if we are to leave Paris with a victory.
“As a group, we have faced several challenges throughout this Six Nations. It has brought us closer together, and I know the players are motivated and looking forward to representing their country again on Friday night.”
The Scots go into Friday’s rescheduled game, kicking off at 8pm, in fourth place in the Six Nations table with 11 points from four games, four points and one place behind their hosts, and erstwhile Gala and Border Reivers star Townsend is setting his sights on a top-three finish.
Notching up what would be their first victory in Paris since 1999 could take them above France and Ireland into second place, although only if they pick up eight points, and deliver the title to Wales.
“We feel like we're capable of going there and getting a result," said Townsend.
“We need more than just a win. We need to win by a few points to get to third and potentially get to second, but that's what we're gunning towards.
“We've shown that we can play very well away from home, and if we do deliver an 80-minute performance, we'll be more than just competitive.
“We've played France a couple of times in the last 12 months, and they've both been close games.
“We didn't fire many shots in our game against them in November, but it was right down to the last minute that game.
“A year ago, we played some really good rugby against them, so I would hope they'll know we'll be a tough opponent for them."
A first win in France for over two decades might seem a tall order, but two form-book-defying victories for the Scots on their travels in the last five months lead Townsend to believe a third might well be achievable too.
His team beat Wales in Llanelli in October in their last match of 2020’s Six Nations, their first win on Welsh soil since 2002, and they followed that up with their first Calcutta Cup victory over England in London since 1983 to get the current campaign off to a winning start.
“We hadn't won in London in 38 years and hadn't won in Wales in 18 years, so there's another number there, another record we would like to take away," he added.
"Our players can take a lot of confidence from those two performances in Llanelli and Twickenham.
“This is an opportunity more than any other when there's no crowd in the stadium. We felt that in our two home games and when we've played away from home this season."
See also …