SCOTLAND v FRANCE @ BT MURRAYFIELD IN EDINBURGH, SUNDAY 11TH FEBRUARY 2018.
Kick-off 3pm. Live on BBC, FR2, TV3, DMAX, NBC.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, John Barclay©, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson. Substitutes: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis, Dave Denton, Ali Price, Chris Harris, Blair Kinghorn.
France: Geoffrey Palis; Teddy Thomas, Remi Lamerat, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Virimi Vakatawa; Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Machenaud; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado ©, Rabah Slimani, Arthur Iturria, Sebastien Vahaamahina , Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara, Marco Tauleigne. Substitutes: Adrien Pelissie, Eddy Ben Arous, Cedate Gomes Sa, Paul Gabrillagues, Louis Picamoles, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Benjamin Fall.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
DESPITE that painful set-back in Cardiff eight days ago, and the fact that on the same day France pushed Ireland all the way before a sensational late Jonny Sexton drop-goal snatched the win in Paris, the general feeling seems to be that the home team should get their Six Nations campaign back on track at Murrayfield this afternoon. This, despite the fact that Scotland have only beaten France once in their last 12 meetings during the last decade.
The logic is that good players don’t become bad players overnight, and that the selection of Greig Laidlaw, Grant Gilchrist, Ryan Wilson and Peter Horne will bring a valuable pragmatic edge to the sometimes excessive exuberance of Scotland’s precocious ball-players such as Finn Russell, Stuart Hogg and Huw Jones. There is no doubt that there is enough ability within the home team’s squad to secure a win – which hasn’t always been the case when these two nations have locked horns on the rugby field in the recent past – the big question is whether they can, collectively, get in the right head space to make it happen.
The Scottish coaching team have been pretty emphatic this week that their fast and loose philosophy is still sound, the players just need to be more accurate. France have set themselves up to play a more pedestrian brand of rugby than Wales put out in Cardiff, and that could play into Scotland’s hands, if it means they can build the momentum at their own pace rather than being harried and harassed into ever-more frantic rolls of the dice.
WHAT THEY SAID –
Scotland captain John Barclay on the physical challenge Scotland face against France –
“We have spoken about it and addressed it and I would be very disappointed if there wasn’t a reaction to what we have discussed and looked at. We went over there (last season) and almost came away with a win despite a shed load of injuries so, yeah, I think they will come and try and play physical rugby. It’s up to us to meet that but also to play up-tempo rugby with a lot more accuracy than we managed last week.”
French attack coach Jean-Baptiste Élissalde on France’s game-plan –
“I had the fortune, or the misfortune, to meet Gregor Townsend’s Glasgow team with Toulouse. He loves rugby with movement, speed and continuity. He has his players run the ball and move all around the pitch. On Sunday, we expect to force them to play slower. We’ll try to block them and not let them play the rugby they want.”
“We want [stand-off] Lio Beauxis to concentrate on his own qualities, which are key fly-half qualities. He is able to control the speed of the game, speed it up when we need it and slow it down when we need it, particularly with his kicking, which is among of the best in France.’
Scotland assistant coach Mike Blair on the influence of the 10-12 axis of Finn Russell and Peter Horne –
“With Finn it is a more visual thing. He seems to be able to snap from one mistake to move on and still make the big calls with his next play. I think that’s one of the things you’ve got to realise with Finn at the moment: he’s got a lot better with his decision-making. He’s a student of the game. He probably doesn’t like people knowing about that because he likes to be this relaxed character but he’ll have done a lot of analysis on his games and had a lot of chat from the coaches about what we expect from him. But but in terms of his confidence, he backs himself 100 per cent and I expect him to go out and have one of those performances like he did against Australia and New Zealand in the autumn.”
“Peter Horne bring a few things. Communication and work-rate are two very big things for us. You saw when he came onto the pitch on Saturday the communication that he gives to Finn helps organise the attacks outside him, but also the work-rate to get into position as well is impressive.”
“You saw that with his try against Samoa, where he tracked 40 or 50 yards across the pitch to pick up an inside ball: that’s what we know and love about Peter, and you know you will get that every week – they are constants.
“And he’s got a great skill-set as well: his passing game, left-foot kicking option … we’re expecting Pete to bring a lot to the game tomorrow.’
France captain Guilhem Guirado on French forward power –
“The game of rugby starts with pressure from the forwards and if you want to win this game then you have to take control in the forwards.“It was difficult after the Ireland result. We had good recovery over two days but we always focused on the rugby and look forward and think about Scotland, which we know will be a tough game. The last time at Murrayfield we did start quite well but we were maybe overcome by the Scottish play after that and didn’t cope well with it.“There are some good things for us to look back on the Ireland game but of course we wish we had been better at the finish, and didn’t lose. We know we have to control the end of the game better than we did last week.“Scotland have become a very dangerous team with very good individual players like Greig Laidlaw, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, but the most important thing is that they are now playing as a team. They like to play at speed, to hold onto the ball and build momentum with repeating things, continuing to play the way Vern Cotter wanted them to play. Gregor Townsend has continued that and made it quicker, and it is more dangerous rugby than they played before.“We watched them against Australia but Australia had a player red-carded after about 35 minutes so we didn’t pay much attention to that game. We have looked at the Wales game and I wasn’t surprised by that result because the first game is always difficult and Wales are very well prepared under Warren Gatland, and we know that after that Scotland will be giving their best for this game.“We expect the Murrayfield crowd to want revenge for that defeat and obviously being at home will help them, but we have lots of French supporters here – we have seen them around the hotel – and they will be loud for us I am sure. But we will keep our focus on the rugby.”
THREE KEY CLASHES
Finn Russell versus Lionel Beauxis
When French wonder kid, 19-year-old Mathieu Jalibert dropped out of the team after suffering knee ligament damage whilst playing against Ireland, head coach Jacques Brunel decided to go to the other extreme to fill the gap at stand-off by selecting 32-year-old Lionel Beauxis to make his first appearance for Les Bleus in six years. Beauxis, who has 20 caps and 125 international points, has resurrected his career since moving from Bordeaux to Lyon last summer and the French coaching team have made little secret of the fact that his selection is part of a concerted effort to control the speed the game is played at. “We know his talent, his qualities, especially his kicking game, (but) he has not always expressed them at the highest level. Since the beginning of the season with Lyon, he has shown great things, which is why he is there (in the France team), compared to others who could have had a claim,” said Brunel.
Meanwhile, we saw the best and worst of Russell last weekend. Some of his individual moments of skill were sublime, but he failed to get a grip of the game when it became apparent that things were running away from Scotland. With Greig Laidlaw re-installed at inside centre and the calming influence of Pete Horne coming in at inside centre, he will have more support when t comes to choosing when to throw caution to the wind and when to play the percentage this week. The last thing Scotland want to do is loose his natural mischievousness – especially against a French team set up to play
Simon Berghan v Jefferson Poirot
Berghan comes straight back into Scotland’s starting fifteen after serving a six-week suspension for stamping whilst playing for Edinburgh against Glasgow Warriors just before Christmas, which gives an indication of how important he is to Scotland’s Six Nations prospects – and it is worth remembering that he, ordinarily, would only be third choice tight-head behind the injured duo of Zander Fagerson and WP Nel. The New Zealand born 27-year-old has five caps to his name – the first coming against France last year – and only one start, against Australia last November. His club coach, Richard Cockerill, explained earlier this week that he has all the physical attributes to be a top-level number three but has a that familiar Scottish trait of switching off at key moments.
“He is durable and when he applies himself and concentrates the whole time then he can be a handful. Sometimes when he doesn’t concentrate he gets into a bit of bother. Certainly, this year he has worked very hard. We have to push him and help him along the way. He is a good athlete, he is slowly learning more about set-piece and getting better. He is a lovely man which is great when you are off the field, but not when you are on it always. He has a lot of potential and he has scrummaged well this year, but as we saw against the All Blacks: he came off the bench, didn’t concentrate, lost a scrum and was penalised. That can cost you games,” explained Cocokerill
Berghanwill have to be fully focussed for the whole 80 minutes today but will take confidence from the fact that the magnificently named Jefferson Poirot had a torrid time against WP Nel the last time he faced Scotland back in 2016.
Ryan Wilson v Marco Tauleigne
The Frenchman has impressed for Bordeaux this season but with just 20 minutes of international rugby under his belt he has yet to prove himself at this level, and Ryan Wilson – returning to the starting fifteen after easing his way back from injury off the bench last week – will be desperate to make sure the new kid on the block doesn’t have a chance to settle. With Louis Picamoles and Dave Denton lurking on the bench for their respective countries, there could be fireworks in the back-row during the last quarter.
SCOTLAND’S RECORD AGAINST FRANCE
Played 91 – Won 35 – Drawn 3 – Lost 53
20 January 1912: Scotland 31 France 3
25 October 2003: Scotland 9 France 51
Six most recent matches
16 March 2013: France 23 Scotland 16
8 March 2014: Scotland 17 France 19
7 February 2015: France 15 Scotland 8
5 September 2015: France 19 Scotland 16
13 March 2016: Scotland 29 France 18
12 February 2017: France 22 Scotland 16
LAST TIME OUT
Scotland went into last year’s clash at Stade de France on a real high after that memorable victory over Ireland at home in their Six Nations opener, but could only manage a losing bonus point at the end of a bruising encounter in Paris.
The Scots were hamstrung by injuries that day. Greig Laidlaw was the first to go after 25 minutes with ankle ligament damage; John Barclay, who took over from the scrum-half as captain, did not last to half-time before his match was ended by injury; and then John Hardie, who replaced Barclay, was added to the list of casualties soon after the break. Number eight Josh Strauss also battled through to the finish of the match with a damaged kidney, which would later rule him out for the remainder of the tournament.
France, playing an open and fluid brand of rugby during the first half, raced into a 13-5 lead through a Gael Fickou try plus a conversion and two penalties from Camille Lopez, against a Stuart Hogg try for the Scots.
Against the run of play, two Finn Russell penalties reduced the gap to two points just before half-time, and the picture got brighter still at the startof the second half when Tommy Seymour broke up the right touchline, gathered his own chip ahead, and sent a rampaging Tim Swinson over the line.
It was a magical moment but slightly undone when Russell – fearing the referee Jaco Peyper was about to call on the TMO to investigate an infringement in the lead up to the score – rushed the conversion from right in front of the posts, sending the ball below the bar to pass up a simple chance for two more points.
That piece of slapstick seemed to knock the wind out of Scotland’s sails, and three more penalties from Lopez saw the French home.
The only change to Scotland’s starting backline from that match to this is at inside centre. Alex Dunbar tackled anything that moved in Paris, and his physicality is missed – but Peter Horne (recalled to the starting fifteen after impressing off the bench in Wales) brings a lot to the arty in terms of organisation and work-rate; and although he is not the biggest inside centre in world rugby, he is no shrinking violet in contact.