Scotland and Darge are looking forward to a wonderful confrontation with France

<span>Scotland’s Alec Hepburn (left) and Elliot Millar-Mills hold the Doddie Weir Cup after beating Wales in Cardiff.</span><span>Photo: Joe Giddens/PA</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ ab2f7764181c” data-src= “–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/ 764181c”/></div>
<p><figcaption class=Scotland’s Alec Hepburn (left) and Elliot Millar-Mills hold the Doddie Weir Cup after beating Wales in Cardiff.Photo: Joe Giddens/PA

Scotland has done the hard work. A first win in Cardiff in 22 years should mean the rest of the championship goes off without a hitch. Of course, in Scotland nothing is that simple. France and England are next, both at Murrayfield. Scotland have defeated the former in three of the last four home games in the Six Nations, and the last three in a row, home and away. But it is when they are predicted to win that Scotland disappoints.

They are not really predicted to beat France this weekend. The bookmakers have them as four-point underdogs, just as they had four-point favorites to overturn Wales’ long history of failure. So kudos to Scotland for winning last weekend when that was expected of them. Now we could say that the pressure is off…

Related: Jamie George calls on England to ‘show passion’ in Six Nations clash with Wales

That 27-26 victory over a young Welsh team was almost perfect from a psychological point of view. No Scot will be getting carried away after seeing their 27-0 lead evaporate to one point just minutes into the second half, with a full ten minutes to play.

That they got through those final nervous moments without mishap – and even scored their own fourth try in the blink of an eye – was reassuring and not something we could always have taken for granted from Scotland – an example of this was their surrender of a 10-point ahead with less than five minutes to play in Cardiff in 2010, when they somehow conceded 17 points. In fact, the 26 unanswered points they conceded last weekend could actually make their historic victory feel more like a defeat.

The last time Scotland played France at Murrayfield in the Six Nations two years ago, the only one of the last four they lost was in Edinburgh against Les Bleus. France won the grand slam that year and were as impressive as ever as they picked out their hosts to score 36 points in a match that could not be said to have dominated. Scotland missed a priceless chance to take the lead just before half-time when Stuart Hogg couldn’t quite collect Chris Harris’ long pass as the line begged. The French immediately countered with tries either side of half-time.

That was as painful a defeat as Scotland has suffered in an era of pain. The only bright spot was Rory Darge’s energetic performance in his first start. The Glasgow flanker, now co-captain, returns to the team this weekend after recovering from the knee injury that kept him out of the match against Wales.

He shares the captaincy with Finn Russell, replacing the man who was captain until last year’s World Cup. Jamie Ritchie drops out of the team completely. Luke Crosbie, the other flanker from last weekend, is also out after picking up a Championship injury against Wales. Jack Dempsey comes in at number 8 and Matt Fagerson moves to the wing. The other loss to Scotland last week was to Richie Gray, another Cardiff casualty who will no longer feature in this Six Nations. He is neatly replaced by Grant Gilchrist, who returns to the second row after suspension.

One second row returns from suspension, another is banned. Paul Willemse will be missing from France’s line-up, due to the two yellow cards for high tackles he received in France’s defeat against Ireland (the latter was shown red anyway). Gilchrist was suspended for this. What is it about these 2 meter tall, 120 kg players and their struggle to adjust their body size in the last split second?

Cameron Woki comes on for Willemse, but the most notable addition for France is on the left wing, with the electric Louis Bielle-Biarrey coming on for Yoram Moefana. Everyone can applaud the inclusion of a specialist winger in place of a converted centre. This makes for a delightful confrontation between two enterprising sets of outside defenders.

Caelan Doris will captain Ireland for the first time in Sunday’s Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin.

The 25-year-old, who moves from number eight to open-side flanker, has been selected to lead a starting XV, with six personnel changes from last Friday’s 38-17 first round win over France.

Munster scrumhalf Craig Casey will make only his fourth Test start, with center Stuart McCloskey, prop Finlay Bealham, lock James Ryan and back rowers Ryan Baird and Jack Conan also coming in.

Regular skipper Peter O’Mahony, who missed training earlier this week, is one of four established stars to be given the weekend off, alongside Tadhg Furlong, Tadhg Beirne and Bundee Aki. Jamison Gibson-Park and 2022 World Player of the Year Josh van der Flier drop to a much-changed bench, which also includes fly-half Harry Byrne and versatile back Jordan Larmour.

Tighthead Bealham, who became a father this week, joins loosehead prop Andrew Porter and hooker Dan Sheehan in the front row, while Joe McCarthy partners Leinster teammate Ryan in the second row after his man-of-the-match display in Marseilles.

Jack Crowley continues at fly-half, forming a partnership with his provincial teammate Casey, whose last two starts have also come against Italy. Ulster’s McCloskey joins Robbie Henshaw in midfield, with wings James Lowe and Calvin Nash and full-back Hugo Keenan retained in an unchanged back three. PA media

H Keenan (Leinster); C Nash (Munster), R Henshaw (Leinster), S McCloskey (Ulster), J Lowe (Leinster); J Crowley (Munster), C Casey (Munster); A Porter (Leinster), D Sheehan (Leinster), F Bealham (Connacht), J McCarthy (Leinster), J Ryan (Leinster), R Baird (Leinster), C Doris (Leinster, captain), J Conan (Leinster).

Replacements: R Kelleher (Leinster), J Loughman (Munster), T O’Toole (Ulster), I Henderson (Ulster), J Van der Flier (Leinster), J Gibson-Park (Leinster), H Byrne (Leinster), J Larmour (Leinster)

Kyle Rowe remains at full-back for Scotland, where he shone in their purple campaign against Wales, with Kyle Steyn and Duhan van der Merwe running wild outside him. The incomparable Damian Penaud opposite him also knows all about that.

Anyway, this fixture is never boring. France was comprehensively defeated by Ireland in Marseille, and therefore has its own reputation to defend. They also know all about the torments of fickle fortune. Round two will start with a bang.

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