Opinion: Battle of the out-halves at Murrayfield as France look to put on a show against Italy

Interesting subplots at Murrayfield, Paris less so

We have already covered the Irish and Welsh team selections for tomorrow’s Guinness Six Nations opening fixture in Dublin opener: https://hawkeyesidekick.com/2022/02/mack-hansen-handed-ireland-debut-as-ireland-and-wales-select-teams-for-guinness-six-nations-opener/ so it is time to focus on the test matches taking in Murrayfield and Paris. Hawkeye Sidekick takes up the narrative.

Finn Russell vs. Marcus Smith is worthy of the gate admission fee alone in Murrayfield

Eddie Jones has set the gauntlet for Scotland ahead of this latest renewal of the Calcutta Cup. Scotland are the clear favorites. Scotland enter this fixture with a very experienced side named. The pack have progressively improved per each season. Johnny Gray partners Grant Gilchrist in the second row. Hamish Watson leads a dynamic back row.

Finn Russell along with Ali Price are the key fulcrums for this side. Price if provided quick ruck ball to work with will allow the mercurial Russell to launch Scottish attacks with unerring accuracy. Harris, Hogg, Graham, van der Merwe will be excited if that scenario plays out given how flat Russell plays at ten. England defensively will need to be on guard of Russell.

It is not to say that England do not have a maestro at half-back. Marcus Smith looks destined to be Eddie Jones’ guy in the ten shirt for this campaign. Smith has lit up the Gallagher Premiership and Champions Cup with some breathtaking displays. Harlequins attacking axis with the explosive Joe Marchant at thirteen. Smith can vary the point of attack so quickly that Scotland defensively could have their hands full.

As mentioned, Russell and Smith is the key matchup here. The other intriguing subplot is the England captaincy. Tom Curry takes on the captain mantle, youngest player to captain England since Will Carling. Jones does not feel it is an issue and has praised Curry to the hilt. Curry vs. Watson will be a superb matchup in terms of breakdown supremacy. Maro Itoje perhaps held in captaincy reserve for now?

It is an incredibly evenly poised contest tomorrow at Murrayfield. I can see this being quite an expansive game provided the weather decides to gatecrash proceedings. Early morning rain should clear in time for kickoff. I am expecting bonus point tries from both sides given the attacking options on show.

England’s bench for me looks stronger and may have enough to win but Scotland come into this game with good confidence. Tries aplenty but will give the slight edge to England to close it out late (5 pts).

Scotland team to face England: Hogg; Graham, Harris, Johnson, Van der Merwe; Russell, Price; Sutherland, Turner, Z Fagerson, J Gray, Gilchrist, Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson.

Replacements: McInally, Schoeman, Nel, Skinner, M Bradbury, White, Kinghorn, Tuipulotu.

England team: Steward; Malins, Daly, Slade, Marchant; Smith, Youngs; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Sinckler, Itoje, Isiekwe, Ludlam, Curry (capt), Simmonds.

Replacements: George, Marler, Stuart, Ewels, Dombrandt, Randall, Ford, Nowell.

France eyeing convincing win over Italy

We post this blog with Italy yet to announce their side but it is fair to say that Italy are up against it in this test match. Kieran Crowley is now the head coach, the hope is that Benetton Rugby cohesion will lead to improved performance for the eighty minutes but there are clear pack issues in set piece which France will exploit. Garbisi’s game management and exit strategy will be crucial.

France come into this game without their head coach Fabien Galthie who has Covid-19. The side named oozes excitement in the back line. Jaminet is heralded as a superb full back prospect. Danty and Fickou will look to complement each other in offloading and straight line running.

The big question for me on France is their half-back partnership. Dupont and Ntamack are sensational but where is the depth chart in these positions. I don’t see it personally and France could be a bit vulnerable as we go further into this tournament.

The pack has physicality and abrasiveness. The back row unit looks standout. Jelonch, Cretin and Alldritt have the pace, power and mobility to provide the quick ball that this French side crave.

France are favorites for this championship based on their November performance against New Zealand where there was a flair, swag, ambition with ball in hand from the 80’s. Italy have been warned here but you can only see a convincing 20+ point win for Le Bleu.

France team to face Italy: 15. Melvyn Jaminet, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gael Fickou, 12. Jonathan Danty, 11. Gabin Villiere, 10. Romain Ntamack. 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Cameron Woki, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Anthony Jelonch, 7. Dylan Cretin, 8. Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18. Demba Bamba, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Francois Cros, 21. Maxime Lucu, 22. Yoram Moefana, 23. Thomas Ramos.