Preview: Scotland v France

Fri, 07 Mar 2014 06:36
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Even after their heaviest Six Nations defeat in five years, France are still in the title race ahead of their trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland.

Even after their heaviest Six Nations defeat in five years, France are still in the title race ahead of their trip to Murrayfield to face Scotland.

But with points differential likely to determine the champion, France has the worst of the four teams tied for the lead plus one. Ireland, by contrast, was plus 42.

Following the dismal 27-6 loss in Cardiff, it is a wounded France which faces Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and a much changed one.

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre, with his job in doubt, turned over almost half the side. There are new loose forwards, three new backs, and a third-choice hooker after injuries ruled out tyros Benjamin Kayser and Dimitri Szarzewski.

No.8 Louis Picamoles was dropped for losing the plot at the end in Cardiff.

"If we want Pascal Pape to do his job as a captain, well, he needs to have 14 players around him who are focused on the game and who give everything for the team," Saint-Andre said.

France has beaten Scotland all but once this century, but the manner of its failure to fire at Millennium Stadium throws some doubt on its ability to rise to the occasion in a second straight road game.

"This is typically French; as soon as we start winning, you think you are someone important and you fool yourself," said recalled winger Maxime Medard, who has three tries in four games against Scotland. "So now we have go back to reality, make sure we have a strong scrum, that we are good on the sidelines, and as soon as the forwards actually start pushing forward, it makes life so much easier. That's where we are at."

France has conceded the most turnovers so far, while Scotland has conceded the fewest, a credit to their phase play. But against that, the Scots have given away the most penalties. France goalkickers Jules Plisson and Maxime Machenaud aren't known for their accuracy.

"The key is to be very strong in defence, hold on physically and force them to lose ground," centre Gael Fickou said. "We also need to be disciplined, because obviously (Scotland) is very strong in ball possession, as we saw in their game against Italy. They can run too, they can do anything, they can be full of surprises. That is what they are good at. So we are getting ready, to try and make them uncomfortable."

Scotland ended a four-loss run by pipping Italy in Rome 21-20 on Duncan Weir's last-minute drop-goal. That brought massive relief, and the Scots insist they remain grounded.

"We don't just want to be the team that can beat Italy," hooker Scott Lawson said. "Yeah, it was great and an amazing feeling when the final whistle went, but we want to win the next game and then the one after that."

Lawson said they deserved the flak for their non-performances in the first two losses to Ireland and England.

"The Scottish public is right to be aggrieved about that," he said, "but even if we had not got that last-minute drop goal (against Italy), you could not have questioned the boys attitude and commitment to the cause."

Scotland made four changes, bringing in tighthead prop Geoff Cross for his first start in a year, and switching up the loose forwards to send out John Beattie, recalled skipper Kelly Brown and David Denton. The backs are unchanged.

Players to watch:

For Scotland:
Livewire fullback Stuart Hogg is always a threat when given space, and centre Alex Dunbar is coming off an impressive performance against Italy so they could spark something if given the chance. Flyhalf Duncan Weir slotted the winning drop-goal against Italy so he could punish France if it is a tight game. Kelly Brown is back to captain the side and alongside the dynamic Dave Denton will look to disrupt France at the breakdown. Up front lanky Richie Gray and the solid Ryan Grant will ope to have the ascendency in the set-pieces.

For France: Fullback Brice Dulin and wing Yoann Huget have been in good form and will be hoping to continue at Murrayfield. Jules Plisson will pull the strings at flyhalf and at the back of the scrum Damien Chouly has big shoes to fill in place of Louis Picamoles. The experienced duo of captain Pascal Pape and tighthead Nicolas Mas will look to get the edge up front.

Head to head: Brice Dulin and Stuart Hogg are both exciting runners who are good under the high ball and dangerous on the counter-attack. At outside centre the clash between Alex Dunbar and the physical Mathieu Bastareaud should be intense. In the forwards, Richie Gray and Pascal Pape's line-out duel should be good whilst the scrum battle between Ryan Grant and Nicolas Mas will be just as key.

Prediction: Scotland will play with plenty of passion at Murrayfield, but France have too much firepower so we are expecting them to win by seven points.

Teams:

Scotland:
15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (captain), 6 Johnnie Beattie, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Moray Low, 18 Euan Murray, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Chris Cusiter, 22 Duncan Taylor, 23 Max Evans.

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Maxime Médard, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Alexandre Lapandry, 6 Sébastian Vahaamahina, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 18 Guilhem Guirado, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Antoine Claassen, 21 Jean-Marc Doussain, 22 Remi Tálès, 23 Gaël Fickou.

Date: Saturday, March 8
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT; 18.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Overcast, 20% chance of rain, high of 14, wind 40 kph
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ire), JP Doyle (RFU)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wal)

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Team P W D L Pts
England 5 4 0 1 19
Ireland 5 3 0 2 14
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Scotland 5 3 0 2 14
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Italy 5 0 0 5 0