Scotland will need to be battle-hardened for the ‘pool of death’ at the World Cup and back-to-back warm-up matches against France should set them on their way, starting with Saturday’s encounter at Murrayfield.
The Scots have Ireland and South Africa in their section for the World Cup so will need to be at it from the off, and stepped up their preparations last weekend with a messy win over Italy.
Townsend has named a far stronger side for this latest friendly game against France, who are underdogs for the trip to Edinburgh having left several big names out of their starting line-up.
Scotland’s side shows 13 changes from the 25-13 win over Italy with only Darcy Graham and Matt Fagerson retaining their places in the starting line-up.
Blair Kinghorn gets the nod at full-back in place of the now-retired Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones and Sione Tuipulotu are reunited as the centres and fly-half Finn Russell is named captain in the absence of the injured Jamie Ritchie.
While Scotland’s team has a combined cap number of 562, France’s line-up is relatively inexperienced with 165 caps in total.
Only Ethan Dumortier retains his place from Les Bleus’ last Six Nations game, with the likes of Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Gael Fickou and Gregory Alldritt given the weekend off.
Debutants Emilien Gailleton and Louis Bielle-Biarrey start as the centres with No.8 Paul Boudehent also handed his first cap.
Scotland -5 @ Evens
It’s rare these days that France, 11/4 second-favourites for the World Cup, find themselves as underdogs for a game, but they look vulnerable for this showdown with Scotland.
Head coach Fabian Galthie is keen to experiment and the result would appear secondary on his list of priorities in Les Bleus’ first warm-up game before hosting the World Cup.
Even when at full-strength, France tend to find Scotland a handful with Townsend’s side running the French close in this year’s Six Nations meeting in Paris.
At Murrayfield, Scotland have won four of the last six meetings with France, including a World Cup warm-up win over the French before the 2019 tournament.
The Scots were sloppy against Italy last week, but that was an experimental line-up and this line-up, the majority of which performed admirably in the Six Nations, should have a lot more cohesion.
A potent backline, overseen by the mercurial Russell, should be a handful, while their defensive game remains strong with Scotland conceding the second-fewest points in this year’s Six Nations.
The Scots are prone to slipping up when expected to win and this French pack could still cause them issues. But Scotland need a big win over a major rugby nation and with France’s big guns likely to return for next week’s rematch in Saint Etienne, this is the Scots’ chance to knock off the World Cup hosts.
Darcy Graham anytime tryscorer @ 5/4
Darcy Graham marked his return from injury last week with two tries in the victory over Italy, picking up where he left off before his knee problem.
Graham’s brace last week took his tally for Scotland to 18 tries in 35 caps, but it’s his try-scoring form more recently which makes him a standout candidate to score again this weekend.
Since the start of last season, no player in world rugby has a better tries-per-game ratio for club and country than Graham, who has scored 18 tries in his last 15 games for Scotland and Edinburgh.