|Six Nations Championship: France v Scotland|
|Venue: Stade de France Date: Saturday, 23 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Scotland & the BBC Sport website and app.|
Players should be prevented from turning out for their clubs six days before Six Nations matches, believes Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend.
Fly-half Finn Russell will miss Saturday’s match against France in Paris after suffering a head injury playing for Racing 92 on Sunday.
His failure to pass a concussion test saw him ruled out of the Paris match, with Peter Horne now starting at 10.
“It’s disappointing he played a Sunday before a Test match,” said Townsend.
“That was always one of the risks of him playing in France. I’m just disappointed that the French Federation, or the Top 14, had games on Sundays, which makes it very difficult to recover from any injury in a short time. If you have a head injury it is almost impossible to play the following week.
“I would certainly look at not playing on Sundays because with the HIA (head injury assessment) process that is rightly in place, if anybody is suspected of having a head injury then they go through that process and it effectively rules them out six days later.”
The majority of Scotland’s frontline home-based players were rested from club duty last weekend after the second round of the Six Nations, before the tournament resumes this weekend.
Townsend points out that England, who only pick players based in England, and Ireland do the same, but that “Wales are probably in a similar situation to us because they have one or two players based in England, and Italy likewise”.
“It is not a level playing field going into such an important tournament, that our players do play between Six Nations games, but it is what it is,” he said. “We can’t change it.”
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Despite his disappointment at losing his star fly-half, Townsend said he has a good relationship with Russell’s club Racing, who have just re-signed New Zealand superstar Dan Carter to provide cover at fly-half.
“Finn was rested before the Six Nations, he was rested before the November Tests and he has been rested for a couple of other games,” he added.
“They are aware that it’s in their best interests, and especially in Finn’s best interests, that he doesn’t play too many games, but they were in a position where they believed they had to select Finn because one of their other 10s – Pat Lambie – had to retire with a head injury.
“Missing Finn wasn’t part of the plan going into this game, but we know that someone with Pete (Horne’s) experience and form is more than capable of grabbing this opportunity.”
‘We can beat France despite injuries’
Townsend is missing a battalion of frontline players. Russell and Hogg, the two principal game-breakers, are gone. Huw Jones, Duncan Taylor, Matt Scott and Mark Bennett are absent from the midfield. Prop WP Nel also misses out. The Scotland coach is without last season’s first-choice back row in John Barclay, Ryan Wilson and Hamish Watson.
There is still a belief that they can beat the beleaguered French in Paris for the first time in 20 years, though. France are on a monumentally bad run having won just three of their last 19 Tests. A fortnight ago they were hammered 44-8 by England at Twickenham.
“We have a squad of players and a way of playing that can put any team under pressure,” Townsend said. “We have a real belief in the group we’ve selected this week, and we’ve also got evidence of players stepping up when they’ve been given that opportunity.
“Blair Kinghorn showed it recently [against Italy]. I remember the November Tests in 2017 when players like Darryl Marfo and Jamie Bhatti were involved for the first time. They stepped up and played really well. Byron McGuigan got man-of-the-match against Australia after being called up in the warm-up when Stuart Hogg picked up an injury. So, we’re expecting the same again from our players this weekend.”
French ‘will come out all guns blazing’
There is huge rancour surrounding the French national team of late and Townsend is expecting a backlash on Saturday.
“Singing the anthem at the Stade de France, the atmosphere they play in really brings the best out of them,” he added. “I’ve seen them play outstanding rugby in the Six Nations at the Stade de France. They should have beaten Ireland [last season] and did beat England. Arguably they should have beaten Wales after being 16-0 up [earlier this month].
“They love reacting to difficult circumstances, to challenges. They will come out all guns blazing. I believe that with the squad they have selected, they have gone for a more mobile pack and players in the backline who are fearless, who will be ambitious and who will take the game to us. We’ll have to be at our best to win this game.
“I recall in the 2011 World Cup, from reports coming out of the group, they had stopped talking to the coach – and they should have won the World Cup that year. That is what we can expect from a French team that is written off and under pressure. They will produce a really good performance.”
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