Last week’s defeat has seen Scottish rugby engage in its favourite pastime of navel gazing. If, as Scott Johnson maintains, statistics are like a bikini then Scotland’s wins in the 6 Nations so far are a onesie – incredibly comfy but completely hiding all the dirty bits.
Scotland find themselves in an unusual position going into the last match of the tournament without the Wooden Spoon of Damocles hanging over them. However in an incredible twist of fate, the French are not so lucky and only victory over lowly Scotland will ensure they avoid coming bottom of the table for the first time since 1957.
As this is the last in the series we crowdsourced some views from the Twittersphere and cobbled them together with some of our own thoughts. So what do Scotland have to do to beat France in Paris?
1. Manage the referee
Scott Johnson has talked a lot about not wanting to blame Craig Joubert for the loss against Wales. For a man who doesn’t want to blame Craig Joubert for the loss against Wales, the answer to every question posed to the Scotland manager seems to be prefixed with “we’re not going to blame one man…” You wonder whether he says the same when Mrs Johnson asks what he wants for his tea?
Scotland managed the referee well against Italy and managed to influence him enough against Ireland to change his perception mid-game. Call it conning, gamesmanship or cheating, influencing the referee and persuading him you’re trying to work with him is a big part of rugby at any level. Scotland will need to work with Nigel Owens on Saturday to stand any chance of keeping the penalty count down.
2. Kick or Pass?
With Scotland free from the shackles of the Wooden Spoon some have suggested they go for broke and try to play attacking, creative rugby, getting the ball through the hands. Some of the comments following the result on Saturday even claimed Scotland had gone backwards under Scott Johnson in terms of attacking play.
Scotland need to walk before they can run. Like it or not Scott Johnson is trying to make Scotland hard to beat and succeeding. Even against Wales and England there was the sense that Scotland were still in the game late on. Scotland have a strong line- out and with Duncan Weir in the pocket are able to play for territory; until last week we were dominant in the scrum. Reverting to an Andy Robinson quest for tries by moving the ball across the back line will likely gain the admiration of the Paris crowd, but may not end well.
3. Stop Fofana
There are suggestions that current state of the French national team stems from an influx of foreign money and foreign players into the Top 14. Scotland, with two professional sides, might be forgiven for breaking out the world’s smallest violin. This French side can hardly be described as being short on skills but something is very wrong when a side that contains the likes of Clerc and Medard is struggling to score tries.
Wesley Fofana has been one of their brighter players and poses a real attacking threat despite the wider failings of the team. Matt Scott will have to maintain his excellent form in order to marshal him and Scotland would do well to target Michalak to cut the ball supply off at the source. Similarly, the worry of Bastareaud lurking one man out will have put paid to thoughts of swapping Lamont for someone less experienced.
4. Have a plan B, C, D…
Scotland looked all out of ideas coming into the last twenty minutes of the match against Wales. The scrum was an unholy mess, the penalty count was off the chart and Wales were stealing the ball from almost every ruck… and yet somehow Scotland were still in the game attacking the Welsh line. But nothing changed.
There were no unforced substitutions until the 68th minute, at which point the match was effectively over. The Scottish scrum was a mess for the entire second half but Cross didn’t come on until the 76th minute. The game was breaking up in the last twenty minutes with gaps appearing in the Welsh line but Jackson remained on the bench until the 79th minute.
The French have ably shown that pre-planned substitutions don’t work, but Scotland need to be able to change the game plan and adapt to the conditions during play. Sticking with players who are performing well is admirable but sticking with them when the game requires a different type of player smacks of bloody mindedness.
5. Win the tackle contest/breakdown
England won the contest and Scotland lost the match. Scotland won the contest against Italy and won it in the second half against Ireland and came away with two results. Scotland lost the contest against Wales and lost the match. The pattern is clear which is why this has been our regular point number five throughout the tournament – and will continue to be.
The debate around Scotland’s need for a genuine openside can wait. Scott Johnson has named his side, and injuries have limited his choices. Scotland need to regain the ferocity they showed against Italy and Ireland and runners need support to ensure they aren’t isolated in the tackle. Win the tackle contest; win the match.
Additional reporting: Scottish Rugby Blog Staff and Twitter followers!