Match preview: France v Scotland, 6 Nations 2017

KO 3.00 at Stade de France, Sunday 12th February
Live on BBC 1

Scotland will need to provide a couple of 6 Nations firsts if they are to overcome France. Since the tournament expanded the dark blues haven’t won in Paris and have never won their opening 2 fixtures since the tournament expanded to include Italy.

Starting XV stats:

  • Average age – FRA 27.1   SCO 26.5
  • Test caps – FRA 298   SCO 404
  • 6 Nations appearances – FRA 137   SCO 174
  • Pack weights – FRA 918kg   SCO 883kg

FRANCE
15 Spedding
14 Nakaitaci
13 Lamerat
12 Fickou
11 Vakatawa
10 Lopez
9 Serin
HEAD-TO-HEAD
ADV Scotland
EVEN
ADV France
ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
SCOTLAND
15 Hogg
14 Maitland
13 Jones
12 Dunbar
11 Seymour
10 Russell
9 Laidlaw (c)

1 Baille
2 Guirado
3 Atonio
4 Vahaamahina
5 Maestri
6 Goujon
7 Gourdon
8 Picamoles

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

1 Dell
2 Brown
3 Fagerson
4 R. Gray
5 J. Gray
6 Barclay
7 Watson
8 Strauss

16 Tolofua
17 Slimani
18 Chiocci
19 Le Devedec
20 Chouly
21 Machenaud
22 Doussain
23 Huget

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

16 Ford
17 Reid
18 Berghan
19 Swinson
20 Hardie
21 Price
22 Weir
23 Bennett

Overall
Backs – advantage Scotland
If both sides throw caution to the wind there’s the potential for a try-fest given the attacking talent on show. With the discipline and accuracy in attack of the Scots against the more off the cuff stylings of the French backline, this could be the game of the weekend.
Forwards – advantage France
The Scottish tactic of minimising the number of scrums could be a sensible option again this week. Dell and Fagerson both might be a little happier trying to hold off opponents who are just trying to use their weight to win a pushing contest though after the angles of attack from the Irish props had them in trouble last week.
Subs – advantage France
The 2 scrum halves seem the most likely ‘game-changer’ options for the respective coaches. Machenaud will bring more solidity but Price could be the man to unleash the Scotland backline if required. Elsewhere an early injury to Josh Strauss could lead to the visitors’ effectively playing with 4 opensides in their pack! (Barclay, Watson, Hardie and Brown.)

Team Talk

  • Just one name missing from the starting lineup that beat Ireland – Ryan Wilson’s infected elbow sees him replaced by John Barclay with John Hardie returning to Scotland duty on the bench.
  • Coincidentally France’s only change to their XV is also at blindside with Chouly and Goujon swapping jerseys 6 and 20 from the game against England.
  • Simon Berghan has a second chance to become Scotland cap number 1080 after picking up splinters last week.

France Scouting Report:

  • Inaccuracy and what appeared like running out of ideas after a few phases characterised the French attacking play in the first half against England. Despite dominating possession and territory the visitors somehow conspired to let the English go in level at half-time.
  • They offload more than any of the other sides in the 6 Nations. The Scottish defence will need to try and tie up man and ball in the tackle or be ready to reorganise rapidly.
  • After the freakishly disciplined Irish last time out Scotland will be happy to face a French side who coughed up 15 penalties and a free kick against England. The best way to take advantage of this will be to pin Les Bleus back in their own half where any offences will give the Scots scoring opportunities.
  • French props are really just there to hold the scrum up. Of the 4 that played only Baille (with 6 carries) made any consistent impact in attack and only Slimani (6 tackles) did the same in defence. Scotland need to minimise the importance of the setpiece, keep the ball in play and exploit the lack of mobility in the opposition front row.
  • Gael Fickou threw 10 passes from inside centre last week and acts as a second distributor and decision-maker. A more creative player than Lopez at 10, it’s important that Scotland’s line speed shuts Fickou down before he can unleash his back 3.
  • Louis Picamoles is another monster ball-carrier for Scotland to deal with. Unlike CJ Stander last week Picamoles doesn’t have a couple of similar buddies in the back row to provide other options. What he does do though is hold width, meaning he is often taking the ball up against backs, rather than through the heart of the pack as was the case with the Irish carriers. From 10-15 the Scottish defenders are going to have to find a way to bring Picamoles down as quickly as possible.

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the 2 sides have met at Stade de France in the Six Nations with the head to head looking rather unpleasant from Scotland’s perspective:

L L L L   L L L L

Most recent meeting in Paris:

France 15-8 Scotland

Just 20 of the 46 players return from that fixture – 10 for each side – with Vern Cotter ditching his pack, bar the Gray brothers, from what was his first trip to the Stade de France. Among those that are missing from the game in 2015 please give a moment in your thoughts for a second row who, if not for a vicious face brushing by Edinburgh’s Phil Burleigh, would surely have been playing today #PrayforPascal.

Officials:
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant 1: Johnny Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant 2: Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)

This will be the 7th time Mr. Peyper has refereed Scotland since making his Test debut during their win over Australia (in a monsoon). The dark blues have only lost 1 of those previous matches. They’ve also been on the right side of the penalty count 5 times out of 6 – but the South African whistler has sin binned 4 Scots. Any kind of card on Sunday could be fatal to any ambitions for an away win.

The presence of Mr. Lacey and Mr. Fitzgibbon among those assisting the referee means that two thirds of this collection of rampant maleness is present and correct. Hopefully Mr. Mitrea is available for a photobomb…

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