Six Nations 2024: Scotland v France - lessons for Gregor Townsend's side

Duhan Van Der Merwe
Duhan van der Merwe tries to break clear during the 2023 autumn Test against France

Guinness Six Nations 2024: France v Scotland

Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh Date: Saturday, 10 February Kick-off:14:15 GMT

Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra, BBC Radio Scotland Extra & live text on the BBC Sport website and app

They may be one of the best sides in the world, but France have somewhat struggled in their recent travels to Murrayfield.

Three of the last five Six Nations matches in Edinburgh have ended in Scotland wins, although France were the victors in the most recent instalment as they went on to win the Grand Slam.

After last weekend's disappointing loss to Ireland, head coach Fabien Galthie will be fully aware another bad result in the Scottish capital this weekend will kill any French hopes of a title.

So, what can be learned from the last few meetings on Scottish soil?

The Dupont masterclass

Antoine Dupont put on a show when France came to town in round three of the 2022 Six Nations.

The diminutive scrum-half got things going when, under pressure, he fielded a Finn Russell kick and took the ball from one 22m area to another. France would score a few phases later, and again a few minutes later, in a showing that epitomised the flair and elan they are known for.

Despite being faced with some of the best rugby that fans have seen in recent years, the Scots gave it a good shot - scoring through Rory Darge and creating other golden chances.

But Les Blues were in a less merciful mood, punishing Scotland at the slightest opportunity. The morsel of comfort that Scotland fans can take from that 36-17 defeat? Dupont isn't available to conjure such magic this time round.

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont was the star man for France when they played Scotland in 2022

2020 gives most reason for optimism

Of the three wins at Murrayfield in recent times, 2020 stands out as the most eyebrow-raising, marmalade-dropping surprise.

Galthie was freshly installed as coach, having assisted Jacques Brunel the year before, and had taken to the job like a duck to water.

France had battered England, blown Italy away, and survived a late Welsh onslaught to squeeze out a win in Cardiff. Naturally then, when they turned up in Edinburgh, it seemed like a forgone conclusion.

It was anything but. Scotland put in that mythical 80-minute performance that Gregor Townsend, and every other head coach, bangs on about and desperately craves.

Jamie Ritchie - not yet captain - had one of his best games in a Scotland shirt, despite being on the end of a Mohamed Haouas' haymaker that saw the French prop sent off in the 37th minute.

There are parallels to be drawn between that match and the one coming on Saturday.

This was also the first Six Nations after a World Cup cycle and France were pretty raw. Scotland had shifted their tactical focus to try and become the best defence in the tournament - which they managed.

We've only seen one iteration of the 2024 Scotland, but it appears to be much more centred around Finn Russell - who didn't even play in the 2020 win, exiled after a fallout with Townsend.

France, meanwhile, are still adapting to life without Dupont - which they had to do briefly at the World Cup and still looked incredibly good - but also Romain Ntamack.

They had to do that in 2020 as well, when the beautifully coiffured number 10 left the pitch after seven minutes with a head injury.

Jamie Ritchie
Jamie Ritchie with the Auld Alliance trophy after Scotland's Six Nations meeting with France four years ago

What about 2016 and 2018?

Although it was only six years ago, both sides looked very different in 2018. Only Paul Gabrillagues remains for France - after a five-year exile - while only Russell, Huw Jones and Grant Gilchrist remain for Scotland.

That day, France started quickly but faded after half-time, broken down by Scotland's direct play that saw penalty after penalty kicked by Greig Laidlaw.

That was Stuart Hogg's year and he was instrumental in the win over France. Scoring one and setting up another, his over-the-head flick to Tim Visser will be remembered for years to come.

There is less to be taken from these matches. Scotland finished above France on both occasions in the final standings, but while Townsend's era has arguably stagnated, Les Bleus have gone from strength to strength.

That said, those wins will give Scotland slight confidence, and it means there is no monkey to get off their back like there was last week in Cardiff. Consider, too, the loss of France's two star players that will also boost morale in the home camp.

But this is the toughest challenge Scotland will face in the Six Nations - until they go to Dublin.