France head coach Fabien Galthie has made just one change to his starting XV as Les Bleus look to maintain their Six Nations Grand Slam ambitions in Edinburgh on Saturday.
Gabin Villière, France’s hat-trick hero from the round one win over Italy, is out with the cheek injury he sustained against Ireland a fortnight ago and replaced on the wing by Yoram Moefana. Powerhouse centre Jonathan Danty returns to France’s midfield as a result of the minor backline adjustment.
Scotland, meanwhile, have to contend without number eight Matt Fagerson who limped off in the defeat to Wales a fortnight ago. Magnus Bradbury replaced him that day and gets the nod again at the back of the pack.
Rory Darge is set to win his first Scotland start with Bradbury and Hamish Watson rounding out the back-row combination. The only other change is also in the pack with Zander Fagerson coming in for WP Nel at tight-head.
France could move up to third in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings if they win in Edinburgh in the Six Nations for the first time since 2014, as well as obviously taking a step closer to the title.
However, they would have to rely on Wales doing a job on England at Twickenham in the later of the two Saturday kick-offs to make this possible.
Scotland will climb up to sixth above Australia if they were to derail France’s Grand Slam bid.
A Saintly affair
History will be made at Twickenham as for the first time in the long history of fixtures between England and Wales both captains come from the same club – Northampton Saints.
England will be led out by the fit-again Courtney Lawes, while opposite Dan Biggar has shrugged off the knee complaint that troubled him in the latter stages of Wales’ 20-17 win over Scotland in round two to captain his country.
Wales haven’t won at Twickenham since they shocked the then Rugby World Cup hosts in 2015. But if Wayne Pivac’s side put that record right this weekend and win their second match of the Six Nations 2022, they will move up to sixth if the result is combined with a Scotland defeat.
Wales will be the higher-ranked of the two nations if they win by more than 15 points. That scenario could see England drop as low as seventh.
Moving on to Sunday’s game, Ireland start their match with Italy as red-hot favourites. A win would put them back on track to challenge for the title, however, it would not come with any rankings reward in its own right due to the large differential in the standings of the teams.
That said, Ireland would climb up to third if they win and Scotland beat France and Wales beat England.
Massive game in Madrid
Away from Six Nations, there are two games in the Rugby Europe Championship to look forward to this weekend.
With Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification points at stake, Spain’s game against Romania in Madrid has so much riding on it.
Spain go into the weekend on top of the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 table on nine points, one ahead of Romania. However, the Oaks are one point ahead in the overall RWC 2023 qualification standings after getting a better set of results in 2021.
For the loser, the likely route to France 2023 would be through the Final Qualification Tournament, where the third-placed team will play teams from other regions – Africa, Asia/Pacific and the Americas – who also fail to take the more direct route, for the 20th and final ticket.
In terms of the rankings, Spain must beat Romania by more than 15 points to become the higher-ranked of the two nations as a smaller win will leave them 0.02 rating points behind. In this event, the sides will swap places with Spain taking over 15th – their highest ever ranking – and Romania falling to 17th.
Normally points are at a premium but not excitement when Spain and Romania meet with the Oaks having claimed wins in the last two meetings.
However, Los Leones have won back-to-back matches against Romania in Madrid and have not lost there in the Rugby Europe Championship to any other team except Georgia since Romania came away with a 21-18 win in February 2016.
Portugal playing catch-up rugby
Meanwhile, in the opening match of the third round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 in Lisbon on Saturday, Portugal will be looking to maintain their qualification push by taking a maximum of five points from their game against the Netherlands.
Portugal have won the last six encounters, the last 61-28 in Amsterdam, and are currently riding the crest of a wave despite only picking up two points from their opening two Rugby Europe Championship 2022 matches against Romania and Georgia.
Os Lobos coach Patrice Lagisquet, once known as the Bayonne Express in his playing days for his speed down the wing, has embedded the French flair of old into the Portuguese playing style and it is paying dividends in terms of their performances if not always their results.
Portugal are currently fourth in the RWC 2023 qualification table, some five points adrift of border rivals Spain, and realistically cannot afford any slip-ups in their remaining three fixtures if they are to keep their dream of appearing at a second Rugby World Cup alive.
Os Lobos will not get any rating points for victory, while the Netherlands would need to win by more than 15 points to improve on their current ranking of 26th.