France boss Fabien Galthié is confident his starting XV for the title-deciding clash against Scotland can replicate the performance from the final stages of their dramatic victory over Wales in Round 5.
Of the five new faces that will start Friday evening’s crunch contest at the Stade de France, all bar Bernard Le Roux – who has recovered from injury and comes into the second row for the suspended Paul Willemse – were on the field for the incredible comeback against Wales.
Les Bleus memorably turned a 30-20 deficit heading into the final five minutes into a 32-30 triumph that denied their opponents a Grand Slam and means they can still win the title themselves this Friday.
Lock Swan Rebbadj, flanker Anthony Jelonch, fly-half Romain Ntamack and centre Arthur Vincent are the Round 5 replacements now trusted from the off and Galthié claims they have earned the opportunity to help France clinch a first Guinness Six Nations crown since 2010.
“This team looks like the team that finished the game against Wales and played very well for the final 20 minutes,” he explained.
“Paul (Willemse) being suspended and the availability of Romain (Taofifenua) for a long time this week being uncertain, we opted for players who were available and who had been able to work with us for six days.
“Anthony (Jelonch) and Swan (Rebbadj) meet these criteria. They were also very good when they came on against Wales.
“The adaptability of Gaël Fickou led us to putting him on the wing and allows us to rely on Arthur Vincent’s mobility in the centres and how he complements Virimi Vakatawa. We also had to tighten things up facing very athletic players that Scotland have.
“Regarding Romain Ntamack, he was very solid last week against the Welsh and was able to use all his talent to help us win. Against Scotland, he will be on from the start and will be one of our leaders, along with the rest of our backbone: Antoine Dupont, Julien Marchand, Charles Ollivon and Brice Dulin.”
We have detailed in our scenarios piece here what France need to do in order to seal a first title in 11 years – with a bonus-point victory and a winning margin of 21 points or greater the ‘simplest’ route to glory.
And while they will be aware of what is needed at the Stade de France, Galthié says that his players can’t get too hung up on the title permutations, or Scotland will take advantage.
“We can’t get caught up in the high stakes,” added Galthié. “We have to win the match, the rest will come later.
“We have to focus on our performance and winning the match, then we’ll see what happens next.
“Our opponents also have a lot to play for, namely to finish second in the Six Nations. We will all focus on winning the game.
“The Scots have the best defence in the Championship. They are very well-organised, well-disciplined and well-established in defence. They are the best in this sector so far.”