Having seen what a largely experimental Scottish side can do with that workmanlike performance against Italy at Murrayfield on Saturday, I now fully expect head coach Gregor Townsend to start this weekend’s World Cup warm-up match against France with his first choice XV.

He has said he will field his strongest possible team and for me that means a match day squad of 23 who may well fulfil that same role in the World Cup itself.

Townsend will have learned some crucial things from the Italy game: that Darcy Graham is coming back into top form, that Ben Healy is more than adequate at No. 10 – his stunning spiral kicks were reminiscent of the great John Rutherford and there’s no higher praise I can give – while Rory Darge is a fine captain. It was great to see Stuart McInally, 33 next week, come on to considerable effect and he’s surely booked his place in France for a last hurrah before he quits, while  Jamie Dobie’s 24 minutes showed his great promise for the future. 

The point is that everyone who played on Saturday proved their competence, but being merely adequate is not going to cut it against France. Scotland need to take a huge step up in the looming double header against the team ranked No. 2 in the world who are rightly favourites for the World Cup on home turf – France have been my selection for months, and I suspect I won’t be changing my mind after Saturday, even if Scotland can somehow scrape a win over them.

Townsend says he wants to build momentum before the opening match against South Africa on September 10 and that means getting the squad to gel which I am assured they have done in training.  Yet training isn’t playing and that’s why I expect to see Finn Russell, Blair Kinghorn (at full-back) Duhan van der Merwe, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Ben White, Perre Schoeman,  Zander Fagerson, Grant Gilchrist and Richie Gray all start and while Rory Darge might keep his place, I expect Hamish Watson, Jamie Ritchie and Jack Dempsey to form the back row at some stage in the game.             

The current Scotland squad has good cover for every position and that’s how Townsend has planned it since the 2019 World Cup. He has the most enjoyable of headaches for a manager or coach – who do I pick?  

Very soon now – our first match in France is less than 40 days away - Townsend faces the difficult task of selecting just 33 of the 41 men who have trained together for more than seven weeks. There will be eight very disappointed players after the second match against France but they are all professionals and will know they need to keep themselves match fit in case any injured players need replaced in the squad.  

Mistakes were made against Italy and the discipline was far from perfect, but a three tries to one victory over any Six Nations side is always acceptable. Improvements will be necessary, however, especially from players looking to cement their place in the World Cup squad.  

With all due respect to the Italians, the current France squad is in a different league to the Azzurri and for the unbiased neutral, Saturday’s match holds the pleasant prospect of watching truly great players take the field for Les Bleus.   

From the front row to full-back there are supreme talents set to play: prop Cyril Baille, lock forward Paul Willemse, the entire likely back row of Anthony Jelonch, Gregory Alldritt and Charles Ollivon, and backs of true class like Romain Ntamack, centre Gael Fickou – man of the match against Scotland in the Six Nations - winger Damian Penaud, and full-back Thomas Ramos. Plus, of course, the world’s best player Antoine Dupont at scrum-half and captain.   

Fabien Galthie has fashioned a side that does the hard work up front but which also has typically French flair, and that’s a powerful combination against which Scotland will do well to cope.  Galthie wants to build winning momentum prior to the blockbuster opening match of the World Cup on September 8 when Les Bleus will face the All Blacks in the Stade De France in Paris, so I expect him to pick a full-strength squad of 23 for Saturday’s match at Murrayfield.   He will do the same for the following week’s return match at  St Etienne and I fully expect Scotland to lose on aggregate over the two games. Running France in any way close will be an achievement, one that can be built on before September.

The one real plus from the Italy match is that no one has been ruled out by injury, and I just hope the same thing happens at the weekend. Players can’t be wrapped in cotton wool so let’s just pray all 46 come back safe and sound.

We’ve also solved Scotland’s mascot problem – if Les Bleus can have a cockerel, can’t the Scots have a brave wee seagull?