Match preview: Scotland v France, 6 Nations 2016

KO 3.00 at Murrayfield Stadium, Sunday 13th March
Live on BBC 1

With their 6 Nations winless streak ending in Rome the time is now for Scotland to repeat the dose at home. At kick off it will have been 3 years and 17 days since Murrayfield last witnessed a victory in the Northern Hemisphere’s premier international tournament. A nation of success-starved rugby fans waits with bated breath…

Teamsp

SCOTLAND
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Duncan Taylor
12 Alex Dunbar
11 Tim Visser
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw (c)
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV France
EVEN
EVEN
EVEN
ADV Scotland
FRANCE
15 Scott Spedding
14 Wesley Fofana
13 Gael Fickou
12 Maxime Mermoz
11 Virimi Vakatawa
10 F Trinh-Duc
9 M Machenaud

1 Alasdair Dickinson
2 Ross Ford
3 WP Nel
4 Richie Gray
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay
7 John Hardie
8 Josh Strauss

ADV Scotland

ADV France
EVEN
EVEN
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
EVEN
EVEN

1 Jefferson Poirot
2 G Guirado (c)
3 Rabah Slimani
4 Alexandre Flanquart
5 Yoann Maestri
6 Yacouba Camara
7 Wenceslas Lauret
8 Damien Chouly

16 Stuart McInally
17 Rory Sutherland
18 Moray Low
19 Tim Swinson
20 Ryan Wilson
21 S Hidalgo-Clyne
22 Peter Horne
23 Sean Lamont

EVEN
ADV France
ADV France
ADV France
EVEN
ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV France

16 Camille Chat
17 Vincent Pelo
18 Uini Antonio
19 S Vahaamahina
20 Loann Goujon
21 Sebastien Bezy
22 Jules Plisson
23 Maxime Medard

Overall
Backs – even.
There is one hell of a battle to be had between these 2 backlines – but only if the ballmakes it wider than the 10 channel on a regular basis and doesn’t get stuck in an arm wrestle between the 2 packs.
Forwards – very slight advantage Scotland.
The Scottish scrum has been going well, the lineout was better against Italy and the breakdown work of Richie Gray (not Jonny’s brother – the other one) seems to be increasing dynamism in this area. Mauls are still a big weakness though – and one the French are well set up to exploit…
Subs – advantage France
It’s the same old story for Scotland in this championship. While the starting XV is not far away from their opponents’ level there’s a big drop-off to the reserves.

Team Talk

  • Scotland have 11 of the starting XV from their championship opener against England still in place.
  • There’s been a higher turnover for France with less than half the team that kicked off in Paris versus Italy running out at Murrayfield.
  • Greig Laidlaw will earn his 50th cap and lead the side for a record-equalling 25th time.
  • Alex Dunbar will be back in a Scotland shirt for the first time in more than a year.
  • Josh Strauss will be making his Murrayfield bow for the national team with all his previous appearances coming outwith Scotland.
  • Sean Lamont is the only player in the home 23 who has been on the winning side against France.

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the 2 sides have met at Murrayfield in the Six Nations with the head to head looking like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L L W   L L L L

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 17-19 France

22 players return from that fixture – 11 for each side. For all the talk of Guy Noves drastically overhauling the French side their turnover in players has been consistent with most 6 Nations sides. The Beattie (at 6), Brown (7) and Denton (8) back row that featured in that game must be one of the most poorly balanced units to take to the field for the dark blues in the 6 Nations. Ultimately Scotland had only themselves to blame after snatching defeat from the jaws of what should have been a comfortable victory.

Significant stats
Possession:
Scotland 58% France 42%
Given that both these teams often seem happier to play without the ball it will be interesting to see how the possession goes on Sunday. Unless there is a clear chance of a turnover the French players will not contest the ball at the breakdown but will instead spread as many bodies as possible across the pitch. Scotland certainly found France’s defensive alignment stifling in 2014, only making a single clean break in the 80 minutes. Anything but the quickest of ball from rucks will see any chance of space for strike runners like Hogg and Seymour evaporating in an instant.

Lineouts:
Scotland 5/7 (71)% France 6/14 (43%)
The French lineout imploded spectacularly last time out at Murrayfield. Under the guidance of skipper Guilhem Guirado it was flawless against Wales in the last round (definitely the only flawless element of their play) but with the Grays again in tandem this is another area Scotland need to target to turn over ball and disrupt Les Bleus’ attacking momentum.

Penalties:
Scotland 13 France 5
Discipline. It’s easy to pay lip service to the concept, planning to go out and give minimal opportunities for the ref to hand out penalties, much harder to execute when under pressure. Scotland are fortunate to have veterans in the key positions most likely to fall foul of the officials. John Barclay, Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel have seen and done it all before. They will be able to very quickly assess what the referee wants and try and at least present the right image to stay on his good side.

Officials:
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZR)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (RFU), Marius Mitrea (FIR)
TMO: Ben Skeen (NZR)

Scotland have only had Mr. Jackson as a referee twice before – losing both games. After last season’s shenanigans against Wales hopefully someone has reminded him that a match lasts 80 minutes! Mr. Jackson tends to award slightly more penalties than other elite refs. One area where Scotland might take advantage is that his games will see more turnovers than average and he also tends to give more penalties for holding on the floor – John Barclay will be keen to attack the ball at every opportunity.

In his role as TMO Ben Skeen will need to hot foot it from Twickenham on the Saturday evening where he takes on the same task. By the end of the weekend he’ll have eyestrain worse than a teenage boy at a Rihanna concert…

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