Blair Kinghorn put in an impressive performance against Georgia last month
It is a sign of Scotland’s burgeoning strength in depth that head coach Gregor Townsend has been able to name a side featuring five changes from the side who beat Italy for the arrival of France to Murrayfield on Sunday in the Autumn Nations Cup, yet field an equally strong team.
Four of those changes are related to injuries while the other was in response to Scotland’s expected six-day turnaround before next week’s game against Fiji, although that match was, as widely expected, called off on Friday lunchtime.
Up front, Oli Kebble starts at loosehead after Rory Sutherland damaged ankle ligaments, although Townsend said that the injury was not as bad as first feared. Hooker Fraser Brown will be alongside Kebble in the front row after recovering from a head knock, with George Turner on the bench and Stuart McInally dropping out of the 23 altogether. On the other side of the front row, Simon Berghan starts at tighthead prop, another position where Scotland have three good options, while Zander Fagerson begins on the bench and WP Nel drops out of the squad. Matt Fagerson starts at No 8 after recovering from injury, meaning that Blade Thomson drops to the bench, while Jamie Ritchie is fit to start at blindside flanker after sustaining an injury early in the win over Italy.
The one place where Townsend has changed his starting selection without injury as a factor is on the wing, where Blair Kinghorn displaces Edinburgh club-mate Darcy Graham, as he did at the end of Scotland’s win in Florence.
The Scotland coach has also drafted Saracens centre Duncan Taylor, who was not initially named in the squad, and Sean Maitland on to the bench as part of a planned rotation designed to give as many players as possible a run, with a view to building depth and competition. “We’re looking at this campaign as an opportunity to see other players play, and Fiji was going to be a big part of that,” Townsend said. “We certainly wanted to give players like Sean Maitland and Duncan Taylor, who are on the bench this week, the opportunity to be involved in our match day squads, because we know what good players they are and it increases competition. It means that players should be fresh when they get that opportunity in this seven-week period.”
Scotland are seeking a record sixth successive win, but face a formidable France side who won all of their Six Nations games except at Murrayfield, where prop Mohamed Haouas was sent off early in the Scots’ 28-17 win in March. The outcome against France will determine whether Scotland play Ireland in Dublin a week on Saturday or England at Twickenham the following day.