UPDATED: France v Scotland: Hamish Watson returns for Paris trip

Ali Price and Sam Skinner added to the bench

Hamish Watson has been recalled to the Scotland starting XV to face France. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Hamish Watson has been recalled to the Scotland starting XV to face France. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

HAMISH WATSON has been recalled to the Scotland team at openside flanker ahead of Sunday’s Six Nations round three clash against France in the only change to the starting XV from the Wales victory two weeks ago. The 31-year-old has only recently returned to action after a concussion suffered in the Autumn and takes the place of Edinburgh team-mate Luke Crosbie, who drops out of the squad altogether.

Meanwhile, Ali Price takes over from George Horne as reserve scrum-half, and Sam Skinner also comes into the match-day 23 as extra cover for the back five of the scrum in place of Chris Harris with head coach Gregor Townsend opting for a six-two split between forwards and backs on the bench.

“They [the Scotland players] are feeling refreshed and ready to go,” said Townsend. “To get an extra day of rest is a benefit in a fallow week. It means another day of connection, a lot of learning from the Wales game and obviously building up to a big test for us this weekend.


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Scotland have, of course, won their first two matches of this Six Nations campaign, but they’ll face a step-up this weekend against the world’s number two side who won the Grand Slam last year.

“What a run they were on to win every game in 2022,” acknowledged Townsend. “They played some top sides as well in November. They’ve got some of the best players in the world and the biggest depth of any nation currently. Playing at home is a big boost for them. They’ve not played at home yet in the Six Nations.

“They play a game where their defence and set-piece are massive, but there’s a real intent to play when they do get the ball – sometimes off counter-attack, sometimes turnover ball. We have to be alive to the size of their forwards and their defence, but also how dangerous they are when the game breaks up.”

Scotland picked up their first win in Paris in 22 years to deprive France of the championship in 2o21, but Townsend stressed that the memory of last year’s defeat at Murrayfield was just as instructive.

“Last year is very relevant to us as well,” he explained. “We obviously didn’t perform as we wanted to that day and that is a lesson that if we chase the game too early and play from deep then France have jackalers throughout the team. I think they won eight or nine turnovers against us that day and made the most of a couple of loose bits of play.

“The two previous games, which we won, are important. Both were huge efforts from our team in defence. Probably our best defensive performances of the past few years have been against France. In the game two years ago we went through 23 or 24 phases to get the win, which is evidence to our players of the effort that will be needed to score tries this weekend.”

Townsend has earned a reputation during his time in the Scotland hot seat as an arch-tinkerer when it comes to team selection, but the choice of Watson for this match is only his second team alteration of this campaign, after bringing in fit-again Zander Fagerson for WP Nel ahead of the England game.

“I wouldn’t say I like to make changes, but I give huge consideration to every player who is in the mix for selection,” he said. “The easy thing would be to say: ‘We’ve won a game, let’s not even have a discussion and just move on’. You want to reward players who are playing well, but I said after the Wales and England games that we’ve not played at our best yet.

“We need to go up a few levels. That can come from players getting second opportunities, or other players who we feel can help us improve.

“The standard of training has made selection more difficult. After the England game we discussed a number of positions and the same thing happened after the Wales game.

“Hamish Watson and Ali Price have both played very well for us in the past. They have been showing in training that they are ready to go again. That’s the situation you want to be in, with form and experience coming together to make us better.

“At the end of the day, selection is just an opportunity. This 15/23 have to take that opportunity this week.

“We looked closely at what Hamish did at the weekend and it was tough because Edinburgh weren’t getting much front-foot ball, but we felt his speed and accuracy were excellent,” added Townsend. “He has trained well and has had two games now. We believe he will be back at the level that we know he can play at.

“Against France we feel he is a good foil for the way France want to play but also adding speed to our attack. It is tough on Luke Crosbie and Jack Dempsey, who was certainly in the mix with other players who played well for their clubs last weekend. It is a good thing that we have that level of competition.

“Hamish is in our leadership group and was captain for us in Argentina. He has really stepped up as a leader over the last year or two. That experience can help psychologically when you look around and see someone who has 50-plus caps. It is obviously down to Hamish to deliver that, as we expect him to do.

“We were tough on the players going into the Wales week, and quite rightly, because we hadn’t backed up that opening performance in previous years. But we feel there is much more to come from this group. We felt that way before the Wales game and we feel the same this week.

“I think the players realise just how big of a test this is going to be. We’re playing one of the best teams in the world on their own patch, and in a venue where we haven’t had much success over the last 100 years.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge – but we can match that challenge. We can improve from the Wales game. The players can drive that. Going into a game like this on the back of two wins is a much better feeling than if you had a couple of defeats.

“Every game feels massive. It’s exciting going to Paris when we’re in the mix for the tournament. But there’s only been two games played. We know we have to improve again this week to still be in the mix going into the last two games.”

 

Scotland (v France at Stade de Français, in Paris, Sunday @ 3pm): S Hogg; K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson, R Gray, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie©, H Watson, M Fagerson. Substitutes: F Brown, J Bhatti, W Nel, J Gray, S Skinner, J Dempsey, A Price, B Kinghorn.

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, Y Moefana, E Dumortier; R Ntamack, A Dupont©; C Baille, J Marchand, M Haouas, T Flament, P Willemse, A Jelonch, C Ollivon, G Alldritt. Substitutes: G Barlot, R Wardi, S Falatea, R Taofifenua, F Cros, S Macalou, B Couilloud, M Jalibert.


France v Scotland: Sione Tuipulotu and Finn Russell on same wavelength on and off the park

About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

20 Comments

  1. I’m trying to depart from the national psyche (and the psyche often seen in this comments section!) and stay positive…especially given the fact that I was in the middle of High School the last time we started the tournament this well!

    To give Hogg his due, maybe he hasn’t had a moment yet in this tournament, but he will be desperate to do so. I’m sure in a slightly similar way Watson will be desperate to make a mark as well, as Crosbie can consider himself unlucky to be replaced by him, Watson will know he has to try to make the shirt his own again. It’s not long ago I would have considered him the first forward’s name on the team sheet, but the back row is a competitive area for Scotland and it’s hard to stay on top especially if you’re battling injuries too.

    I also think Ritchie will need to try to take a step up in this match, aggression in the collisions and breakdown will be so vital on both sides of the ball, though I guess that’s always the case! I am not a selector and love George Horne’s game, but is he perhaps seen as too diminutive to operate for all 50/60 against such a big aggressive pack and/or against DuPont?

    Going to retain perspective and say that if we could run this iteration of the French team close, but not quite beat them in Paris, that would be no disgrace, but I think this group of players are capable of something special and I hope to see it Sunday.

    Let’s Go Boys!

  2. Disappointed to see Price back in place of Horne. It’s the speed and precision in combination with Russell that gives a cutting edge. Price doesn’t bring that and he’s had plenty of opportunities. Watson has been well below his peak since the Lions tour, but let’s hope he’s fully fit and back to his best – hard on Crosbie who I thought had done ok.

  3. In Watson I can see the logic. We are lacking at the moment in those that are good in the turnover at ruck. Important against France, absolutely vital for the Ireland game. I would potentially put Fraser Brown in at hooker for Ireland game for same reason as he is one of our best

    Price in for Horne. Nonsensical. Horne has been a better player for years & the additional time his pass gives Finn is ‘golden’ for a stand off

    Hopefully Hoggy comes good. I think he will as he knows his position is in jeopardy with BK’s form (glad Blair is finally proving this doubter wrong)

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  4. Looks like we are picking according to the opposition, which is no bad thing. It shows the coaches are seriously applying their mind to the unique challenges we face week on week.

    Yes, we have won the past two games but we have to be realistic. We came back against England in the last 10 mins and had to rely on individuals at times. We were also in a dogfight against a very poor Welsh side for 50 mins before breaking loose.

    Pragmatic choices shows a level of maturity and confidence in our options rather than the the naive approach in the past of trying to play the same regardless of who we face.

  5. Thought a 6 – 2 split might be on the cards for this one. And Skinner is the obvious addition to the bench in that case given his versatility.

    I agree it is hard on Crosbie but he and Mish are quite different players. Sounds to me like we are not expecting too much ball and therefore have added someone more suited to disrupting the breakdown rather than a hard ball carrier.

    I was one of those who suggested playing Kinghorn rather than Hogg from the start against Wales but I think starting Hogg at 15 against France is the right call as I expect we will need our very best defensive kickers at their best for the first half.

    I am looking forward to see Kinghorn scything through a tiring French line late in the game though.

  6. Hmmm strange selection decisions for me. Not sure Watson has done enough yet, and Zander needs to really screw the nut in the scrum. If he starts costing us with penalties there it will get ugly fast. Have to say that dropping Horne is shocking. He’s always the first to be jettisoned yet he provides Finn the best service. His form has been crucial for Glasgow and the way the back line have been playing. The analysis on the BBC for the winning try v England showed how slick and fast it is. If we are determined to only have two backs that cover bench (huge risk that could really blow up on us) then surely it would be Horne ovee Price since Horne has played stand off FB and wing?? It’s very rare for Scotland to be in this position in Round 3 and we were fortunate to have two poor opponents first up. It’s a massive step up v France n Ireland….I do hope this hasn’t been GT letting his ego get in the way.

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  7. It is always dangerous to mess with a winning formula and I hope this is a case of sublime wisdom rather than Toony up to his old tricks. Extremely harsh on Crosbie, who was among the Six Nations’ top five tacklers and gave the pack much-needed height, muscularity and aggression to even-out what is usually a small Scottish back row. I can’t however argue with the inclusion of the world-class Mish, but I saw him possibly coming from off the bench given his recent lack of game time. And to drop Crosbie entirely from the 23 is absolutely unforgiveable – what a kick in the teeth. Dempsey rightly keeps his place on the side-line after a man of the match performance for Glasgow last weekend and the runout will have done him good. There are some big lads in reserve and it will be interesting to see how they are deployed in the latter stages. The three quarters pick themselves having inflicted such carnage on Wales in that second half. The once incomparable Hogg has done little of significance for Scotland in recent times and I imagine the coach will be watching him closely before deciding if and when to deploy his pet lad Kinghorn, who had a cracker at Murrayfield. Harris has disappeared from sight, which suggests he does not fit the expansive game Townsend has returned to. But again, poor old George Horne – who adds zip to the game when he comes off the bench, even withstanding Ali Price’s effective sniping in his last runout. I’d give this selection a nine, possibly nine point five out of ten.

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  8. Alternatively, Harris on the bench in both matches turned out to be tokenism at best. No offence to his defensive talents, but in my opinion, another forward is a better use of the slot – particularly against France (in Paris)!

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  9. I thought Watson looked more like his old self on his Edinburgh comeback, but no-one showed up well in their last match. He is a different style of player from Crosbie, who was perhaps too quietly effective for his own good in the previous two matches. I’d have kept Horne, but Price did look better in his last outing than he has and I’d only have a big problem if he’d been chosen to start. Skinner can also cover the back row and Kinghorn has done well off the bench, albeit he played most of the game against Wales. Generally quite content with this team.

  10. I think that the French will target Fagerson Snr in the scrum and the loose and our second row forwards are not hard enough or Grey senior would still be playing in France. I would have dropped Hogg for Kinghorn and cannot see why Watson is brought back in as when did he last play well?

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  11. Toonie not bothered by White’s ‘wind-up’ pass then? George Horne must wonder what he has to do to get a start. The speed of his service to a no.10 like Finn should take precedence over Price’s box-kicking, a tactic whose justifications are becoming increasingly arcane. In my day you only ever box-kicked over the line-out for all 8 forwards to chase so as NOT to give away possession, which kicking from the base of the ruck invariably does.

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  12. Im a huge fan of Watson and always glad to see his name on the teamsheet but its harsh on Luke Crosbie who has been very solid in the last 2 games. They are two very different 7’s and it looks as though Townsend has opted for the foraging and jackalling of Watson in there at the breakdown as opposed to a bigger ball carrying back rower in Crosbie, maybe disrupting French ball around the fringes of the ruck is viewed as key here. Big Dempsey can always step in off the bench if we need some power and punch. A 6/2 split on the bench which is totally understandable, we will need some ballast coming on 2nd half.

  13. Interesting, my three thoughts. Not sure if Watson is the man he was, time will see, I hope for our sake he plays a blinder. Not sure also if Hogg is a better choice over Kinghorn, Hogg is not as fast as he was, nor as fast as Kinghorn. He seems to be carrying a niggling little injury some where, he has not fully recovered from, he went off last game with an ice pack on the knee, again hope he plays a blinder. Finally Price’s box kicking was excellent last weekend maybe that swung it against Horne. I tend to believe in leaving winning teams as they are and I like Horne’s style of play however it’s Gregor’s call. He has also dropped Harris altogether, interesting , since his over time tackle on the French 15 was what won us the match 2 years ago. Lets hope that we are all smiling come Monday.

  14. Toony has the team playing well so we need to put our faith in him getting things right. Personally though, I’m not sure why you’d change a settled squad that’s flying. Hopefully it’s not the return of the tinkerman who’s been absent for the last game and has been a historical thorn in the side of Scottish selections.

    Also, I’ve slight concerns around the 6:2 bench split. It’s done to match the French. Well stuff the French (and I mean that in a nice way), let’s pick a squad that thinks about what’s right for Scotland first and a 5:3 split has been red hot for us. I can’t see us winning on Sunday but that’s more me refusing to get ahead of myself than the squad changes. C’mon Scotland.

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    • Alternatively, Harris on the bench in both matches turned out to be tokenism at best. No offence to his defensive talents, but in my opinion, another forward is a better use of the slot – particularly against France (in Paris)!

  15. Yeah if it aint broke dont fix it. Seems harsh on old crozzers but watson has been a real important player for Scotland and good to have dual qualified lock/backrow in Skinner on bench. Upset in Paris god its so romantic isnt it. Ive had my heart broken in paris before but thats a story for over a beer, i dare say a win on Sunday would more than make up for it, very exiting. oh la la.

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