A TEAM who are on course for the Grand Slam versus a team who have only beaten Italy. A team who have found the ideal balance between attack and defence against opponents whose defensive record has been markedly superior to their offensive efforts. A team who are sure of themselves and comfortable with the way they play against a team who have yet to emerge from the shadows of a traumatic World Cup.

Those are just some of the factors that make France favourites to beat Scotland at Murrayfield this afternoon, and stated so baldly they can appear intimidating.

The sheer physicality of the French side can be awe-inspiring too, and Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has recognised as much by naming a home team which, with Fraser Brown, Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining all restored to the starting line-up, emphasises maximum solidity.

But while Scotland’s aim in the opening stages of the game may well be to contain the French, they will plan sooner or later to be very much on the front foot. After failing to score a try against either Ireland or England, Townsend’s players managed three against the Italians in a game where they did not concede a point.

If the nature of the opposition suggests that was no more than a moderate improvement, it was at least something positive to build on, and captain Stuart Hogg, for one, appears confident that his team can raise their game considerably today – as they will surely have to if they are to derail those French hopes of a first clean sweep in a Six Nations season since 2010.

“The big message I’ve said for the last month or so is to let everything go – don’t hold back,” the full-back said. “You could potentially play 60, 70 or 80 minutes in this game. You need to do all you can to put that jersey in a better place than when you picked it up.

“I’ve said to the boys that we hold nothing back, let everything go, express ourselves and have some fun. When we’re doing that, we’re scoring tries and defending well and showing what it means to play for Scotland.

“The big thing for us is that we’re not striving for perfection, because that doesn’t exist. We’ll just continue to bounce through our mistakes and make sure we’re in a better place.”

Of course, suggesting you can “bounce through” your mistakes does imply that you will have a certain amount of clean possession, and Hogg is well aware that a massive effort will be required before that can be achieved.

“France have a hugely physical pack who have been dominating scrums and line-outs,” he said. “It’s a big challenge for our boys up front, but I believe they’ll be ready for it and beat them up there.

“France bring a high press and a blitz defence, which has changed for them over the past couple of years or so. It’s the [new defence coach] Shaun Edwards effect – he’s a world-class coach. But with every challenge comes an opportunity. We might get four or five opportunities in attack and we’ve got to exploit that and make the most of every single one of them.

“The first 20 minutes will be key for us. We need to meet fire with fire and go after them. We need to front up physically and knock them back in defence, as well as playing in the right areas in attack. We need to use all our energy in the right way and make sure we’re clinical.”

Edwards has brought a new discipline to the French set-up, emphasising a solidity and sang froid while still acknowledging the important role that improvisation has long played in their game. This may be a delicate balance, but the equilibrium has been achieved in the team’s wins over England, Italy and Wales.

“They’ve started the championship off really well, they’ve got an excellent blend in their team and they can play in different ways,” said Scotland assistant Mike Blair, who played under Edwards on the 2009 Lions tour. “You can see that they’ve played their power game and their kicking game a lot, but they’ve got the players to play different varieties of game as well.

“The French have always been a dangerous team to play against. Potentially over the last decade or so it hasn’t been a situation where they’ve all clicked at the same time. They’ve still got the flair but they’re playing a simpler game plan, which has reduced their errors.”

Scotland have to find a way of getting that French error count creeping up again. Doing that will be half the battle.

The other half? Playing with the self-expression and the sense of fun which Hogg talked about – in other words, beating France at their own game.