FOR much of this century, Scotland squads have travelled to Paris only telling themselves they were capable of winning. This year they head out knowing they can do so, thanks to that remarkable triumph on their last visit two years ago – the first time they had beaten the home team at the Stade de France since 1999.

That knowledge and the self-belief that stems from it could be a significant factor when the teams meet again on Sunday. The atmosphere may have been very different in 2021, when the match took place behind closed doors due to the pandemic, but the never-say-die spirit of the Scotland team will have to be exactly the same.

Back then Gregor Townsend’s side were widely expected to do no more than make up the numbers as France went in search of the big win that would see them pip Wales to the Six Nations title. But the visitors were always in contention, and although the home team could have claimed a narrow win by kicking into touch in stoppage time, they surrendered possession instead: minutes later, Duhan van der Merwe scored the winning try in a 27-23 victory for the visitors.

Two years on, it is a performance that Zander Fagerson, for one, still finds inspiring. “It was absolutely awesome,” the tighthead prop said. “We had beaten England at the start and were going really well against Wales until I got my red card. I was coming back into the squad and that game was rearranged. I was over the moon to be involved. I absolutely loved it.

“It was a great game of rugby, first of all. Both teams played an exciting brand of rugby and threw the ball around.

“We took our chances. It was a close game. France weren’t walking away with it. If they had kicked it out it was game over, but they wanted to keep playing to try to get the bonus point. That was their mindset.

“Towards the end of the game you could see the desperation of the boys to keep on playing. We stuck to our principles, got the ball back and won the game. It was a great spectacle, brilliant to watch if you were a neutral and great if you’re a Scotland fan. It was absolutely awesome, and a great way to end that Six Nations tournament.

“This time it will be a bit different. It is the same sort of personnel with them, same sort of threat all across the park. But with the fans back it will be a different atmosphere.

“But we are definitely up for it. We just have to make sure we can block out the noise, and if we stick to our game plan we can get a win.”

As for France, Fagerson believes they have stuck to the same basic game plan for a few seasons now, the crucial difference being that recently they have found a way to implement it more efficiently. “France for the last four or five years have really loved throwing it about, that offloading game at a quick tempo. They’ve got threats all over the park, a pretty abrasive forward pack and dangerous backs. And their scrum-half’s not half bad,” he said, referring to the captain, Antoine Dupont, widely recognised as the best player in the world.

“I don’t think they’ve changed at all since the last time – they’ve just finessed their key attributes. Shaun Edwards going in as defence coach has really helped them as well. They’re a great team. It’s going to be a big challenge for us.

“They’ll be gutted with the Irish loss [a 32-19 Dublin defeat in their last match] and gunning for us at home, but they won’t change anything from what they’ve been doing. They’re pretty set in their game plan. It will be attacking rugby and taking opportunities. We have to make sure we don’t give them too many.

“It will be a high-tempo, high-physicality game. I enjoy that sort of stuff, so I’m looking forward to it. Come Monday morning I’ll hopefully have a smile on my face.”

Fagerson’s counterpart in the French front row is expected to be Mohamed Haouas, the Montpellier prop who was sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie in the Murrayfield international between the teams in 2020. Haous is in line to take over from the suspended Uini Atonio [correct Atonio] in what may well be the only French change from the lineup that began the 32-19 defeat by Ireland a fortnight ago.

Fagerson himself was the only alteration to the Scotland team last time out when he returned from injury in place of WP Nel. Head coach Townsend is again expected to make minimal changes this time, with speculation focusing on a possible return for Hamish Watson, the Edinburgh openside, in place of his clubmate Luke Crosbie. Both teams will be announced today.