GREGOR TOWNSEND has promised that his Scotland team will “fight fire with fire” as they look to derail France’s tilt at the title whilst simultaneously securing their own best ever Six Nations championship finish in Paris tomorrow night.

The head coach has made four personnel and one positional switch for the match, which his team must win by five points and also equal the number of bonus-points secured by their opponents in order to finish second. It is a colossal challenge against an in-form French team who need to win by 21 points and score four tries in order to finish top of the table for the first time since 2010.

Finn Russell returns from concussion to take over the No10 jersey, with Stuart Hogg returning back to his accustomed full-back role, which is vacant because a grubby compromise agreement between England’s top clubs and the Six Nations has blocked Sean Maitland’s release for the match.

Russell will have his old Glasgow Warriors flatmate, Ali Price, as his half-back partner, with the scrum-half restored to the starting XV and Scott Steele returning to the bench, while Chris Harris gets the nod ahead of Huw Jones at outside centre. There is only one change in the pack, with George Turner taking over from Dave Cherry at hooker, and there will be a big focus on his line-out throwing this week after some costly crooked arrows against Ireland two weekends ago. “In George’s case, he was one of our best players down in England, he had one game where he didn’t perhaps play as his best, but he is a great asset to the team,” said Townsend.

In the tight selection calls, Townsend has stuck with his gut instinct rather than be swayed by how the likes of Jones and Cherry in particular showed up when helping secure a record win over arguably the most haphazard Italian side in Six Nations history last weekend. “Selection is never going to be 100 percent right, your job is to give players opportunities in games that you think are right for them, but it is no slight on those left out, we are very pleased with their form,” he insisted.

The odds are quite literally stacked against Townsend’s team tomorrow night. The bookies are giving Scotland a 16-point start at a venue they have not won at since 1999. Last week’s dramatic victory over Wales lifted France to third in the world rankings, while Scotland currently languish ninth. However, Townsend insists that his team are not there to simply make up the numbers.

“Fight fire with fire – I think that’s what we have to do, whether that’s a physical battle or a game that gets the ball moving,” he said. “If you move the ball more, you are going to create more chances, but also there is more chances of making errors, so if France are moving the ball, then we’ve got to make sure that we are forcing errors from them. “And if they continue with what they have been doing which is a really patient game, we have to be smart as well. We’ll be happy either way they play. If it’s more kicking then we’ve got more decisions to make around counterattack and if it is moving the ball wide then we back our defence to force some errors. “In their last two games the opposition have really tested France with ball in hand,” he added. “England played some really good attacking rugby, Wales likewise and were 10 points up with 12 minutes to go, so it shows that teams can cause them problems, but then we also saw some of the tries they scored against England and Wales were outstanding.

“The fact that they won away from home against Ireland, who are a really good team, shows that they are a quality side. They’ve been very consistent for the past 12 months, and they’ve got all their players back available. When we were due to play them a few weeks ago, Virimi Vakatawa wasn’t available and maybe Ollie Le Roux was injured as well. Now they’ve got a lot of players back that perform at the highest level of the game, so that’s a situation you want to be in as the opposition – you want to be taking on the best players and seeing how you match up.”

Scotland’s record in the two Six Nations campaigns since their 2019 World Cup flop is five wins and four losses, with none of those defeats by more than seven points. They might not have cracked it as a winning team yet, but there is no doubt that they have become more competitive across the board, and this gives Townsend belief that they can make a game of it tomorrow night.

“We obviously want to turn those narrow losses into wins, and we’re very disappointed not to have done that against Wales, and maybe our performance didn’t deserve that against Ireland, but the players know that they can stay in the fight and they can create opportunities to win games, so they should feel confident in their own ability,” he reasoned. “But they do understand that this is a huge challenge. France with that target of having to get four tries and win by 21 points means that they might be playing their best rugby we’ve seen, so we’ve got to be up for that. Our challenge is to make sure that they get nowhere near that score.” Scotland (v France on Friday, at Stade de France, kick-off 8pm GMT): S Hogg©; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; R Sutherland, G Turner, Z Fagerson, S Skinner, G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Fagerson. Substitutes: D Cherry, O Kebble, S Berghan, A Craig, N Haining, S Steele, A Hastings, H Jones.

France: B Dulin; D Penaud, V Vakatawa, A Vincent, G Fickou; R Ntamack, A Dupont; C Baille, J Marchand, M Haouas, B Le Roux, S Rebbadj, A Jelonch, G Alldritt, C Ollivon©. Subs: C Chat, J Gros, U Atonio, R Taofifenau, D Cretin, B Serin, A Bouthier, T Thomas.