Gregor Townsend has challenged his Scotland players to "go up a few levels" as he backed them to deal with the formidable test they face against France in Paris on Sunday (live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player).
The Scots are joint top of the Guinness Six Nations table, with Ireland ahead on points difference, after opening their campaign with bonus-point wins away to England and at home to Wales.
However, head coach Townsend feels they will need to show further improvement if they are to maintain their perfect start in the Stade de France against the side ranked second in the world.
"We were tough on the players going into the Wales week, and rightly so because in the past we haven't backed up our first performance going into the second week of the Six Nations and also because we believed there was much more to come from the group," Townsend said, speaking on Friday morning as the team prepared to fly to Paris.
"We feel the same way this week. I think the players realise what a big test this is going to be, playing one of the best teams in the world on their home patch, at a venue we haven’t had much success (at) over the past 100 years.
"It’s going to be a tough challenge but we can match that challenge. We can improve from the Wales game. Going into a game like this on the back of wins is a much better place to be than if you’re coming off the back of defeats.
"You’ve got that confident feeling about how you’re playing and you’ve also got evidence that what you’re doing is leading to good things."
Townsend unsurprisingly has kept changes to a minimum, with just one alteration to the starting XV as 2021 British and Irish Lions squad member Hamish Watson takes the place of fellow Edinburgh flanker Luke Crosbie.
Ali Price – another Lion – is back in the squad as one of the subs after being left out of the 23 for the opening two games due to lack of form.
France, meanwhile, have made just one change to the side beaten by Ireland two weeks ago.
Prop Mohamed Haouas replaces the suspended Uini Atonio, who was banned after a hearing for a dangerous tackle on Rob Herring.
🇫🇷🆚🏴 𝗙𝗥𝗔𝗡𝗖𝗘/𝗘𝗖𝗢𝗦𝗦𝗘, c'est dimanche à 16h au @StadeFrance ! #FRAECO— France Rugby (@FranceRugby) February 24, 2023
🔥💪 On compte sur vous pour soutenir votre #XVdeFrance ! #NeFaisonsXV pic.twitter.com/mEJlmRygV8
Watson missed the first two games of the championship due to a lack of game time since the autumn following concussion issues, but Townsend feels the 31-year-old, who has won 54 caps, is now ready to return to the Test arena after playing two matches for Edinburgh in recent weeks.
"Hamish has trained well and had two games so we believe he’ll be back at the level we know he can play at," said the coach. "We believe he’s a good foil for the way France want to play and also adds speed to our attack.
"While it’s tough on Luke Crosbie and Jack Dempsey, who was also in the mix, it’s a good thing for us to have that level of competition.
"Hamish is in our leadership group, he was captain for us in the summer in Argentina. He’s really stepped up as a leader over the last year or two so that experience can help from a psychological level when players look around and see someone who’s been there 50-plus times for Scotland. It’s down to Hamish to deliver, and that’s what we’re expecting him to do."
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont (capt); Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas; Thibaud Flament, Paul Willemse; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt.
Replacements: Gaëtan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, François Cros, Sekou Macalou, Baptiste Couilloud, Matthieu Jalibert.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe; Finn Russell, Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, Zander Fagerson; Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist; Jamie Richie (capt), Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Fraser Brown, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Jonny Gray, Sam Skinner, Jack Demspey, Ali Price, Blair Kinghorn.
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Watch live coverage of France v Scotland (Sunday, 3pm) on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player.