Gregor Townsend has challenged Scotland to seize their “last chance” to remain in the hunt for the Six Nations title by beating in-form France at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.
The Scots entered the tournament with high hopes, but defeat in Wales last time out means they now have little margin for error if they are to stay in contention for a first championship win since 1999, when it was still the Five Nations.
Victory over France is deemed essential if the Scots are to back up their promise with silverware and Townsend believes his team are equipped to deal with that challenge.
“We know it’s our last opportunity,” said the head coach. “We believe in our team but it is our last chance to be in the race for a trophy at the end of the season. We believe in our group so we have to put everything into this at the weekend and deliver what we’re capable of delivering.”
The Scots won in Paris last year while they have not lost at home to France since 2014. However, Townsend is mindful of the fact Les Bleus are currently one of the strongest teams in the world.
“It’s probably up there with playing South Africa in November,” he said, referencing the Autumn defeat by the world champions.
“They’re one of the top two or three teams in the world right now. They’ve got a huge pack, momentum behind them, results behind them, so it’s a great challenge for us.
“They’ve got their full squad this week and lots of confidence, they rested up last week too. They’ll be raring to go. But I’ve seen our group rise to this challenge in the past and I’m sure we’ll do that again.”
Asked if positive memories from recent meetings with France might benefit his side, Townsend said: “It can help in preparation for the week because you have a model or a formula or examples of when we’ve done things well against France and put them under pressure.
“But every game tells its own story, you have to work out as a group what is effective, what works for you and puts the opposition under pressure. The opposition learn from those games too, so whether we see France playing the same way as in the past, or change it. For us, we’ve just got to adapt to that.”
Glasgow flanker Rory Darge, 22, will make his first start for Scotland as one of three changes to the XV from the defeat in Cardiff.
“For us, Rory brings a lot either side of the ball,” said Townsend. “Defensively he’s one of our best tacklers, a very good jackaller, very disciplined in contact area with his decisions and technique.
“And if you look at his performances and stats he breaks more tackles than most back-rowers playing just now. He’s someone we feel can really complement what we have in the back row on either side of the ball.”