Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


France vs Scotland Preview

Vern Cotter followed his first squad announcement with a match-day 23 that was a lot less controversial, and a lot easier to guess. The main area of debate was in the centre where for once a positive problem meant having to  pick two out of Matt Scott, Alex Dunbar and Mark Bennett. In the end a training injury to the shoulder took Scott out of contention and handed Bennett his first Six Nations start. Likewise injury to Sean Maitland made the back three choice easier with Tim Visser brought in to try and keep the tries flowing.

The only other difficult call came at tighthead with Euan Murray chosen over Geoff Cross on this occasion, although Cross will most likely start in the Wales game next Sunday.

It’s a strong looking first XV, but the quality of the bench has undoubtedly been hampered by injury with Scott alongside Henry Pyrgos and Sean Lamont all likely candidates left out through injury. It does give a chance to the in-form Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to earn a first cap should he be called upon, but outside him Horne or Fife are unlikely choices as game changers if some inspiration is needed late on.

One key tactic for the Scots maybe (against a big French side) may be to run them out of steam – can we do that and keep the first XV on the park?

Scotland team to play France: Stuart Hogg; Tommy Seymour, Mark Bennett, Alex Dunbar, Tim Visser; Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Blair Cowan, Johnnie Beattie. Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Peter Horne, Dougie Fife.

(RB: likely team from Hogg, Seymour, 2 from Dunbar/Scott/Bennett, Visser, Russell, Laidlaw(c); Dickinson, Ford, Murray, Gray, Gray, Harley, Cowan, Beattie)

Not considered through injury: Adam Ashe (neck), Chris Cusiter (knee), Chris Fusaro (ankle), Grant Gilchrist (arm), Tyrone Holmes (face), Ruaridh Jackson (knee), Sean Lamont (calf), Henry Pyrgos (knee), Matt Scott (shoulder), Tim Swinson (calf), Duncan Taylor (hamstring), Duncan Weir (arm).

France meanwhile have named a strong team – with one or two project players of their own. The tussle between Rory Kockott and Laidlaw should be something to savour.

France team: Scott Spedding, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Teddy Thomas, Camille Lopez, Rory Kockott; Alexandre Menini, Guilhem Guirado, Rabah Slimani, Pascal Pape, Yoann Maestri, Thierry Dusautoir (capt), Damien Chouly, Bernard Le Roux. Replacements: Benjamin Kayser, Uini Atonio, Eddy Ben Arous, Romain Taofifenua, Loann Goujon, Morgan Parra, Remi Tales, Remi Lamerat.

Stade de France, Paris, 7 February, kick-off 6pm local, 5pm GMT – TV coverage live on BBC1.

71 Responses

  1. Suprised the team annoucement is tomorrow. Thought it would be left to Friday maybe even Satuarday to give the guys coming back from injury extra time to to prove their fitness. Really hope Harley and Hogg are fit. Tonks is able but isnt test standard imo.

    1. Talk of Seymour training at full back this week. Agree Tonks isn’t international standard, and I feel Murchie can be a bit unhappy at being overlooked for the squad. Not a major attacking weapon, but rarely misses a tackle and is brilliant under the high ball, something that can’t always be said about Hogg. Tonks is more versstile though.

    2. Hogg is bloody awful under the high ball so expect lots of punts to him during the match. I will be chuffed to bits to see Rob Harley playing but i suspect Stroker might get the nod with Harley benched to cover the whole back row.

      If we can avoid getting crushed in the scrum and Russell and Dunbar stop them smashing up the 10/12 channel we can definitely beat this lot. However, i remember saying this a long time ago and a certain Olivier Magne almost single handedly beating us at Parc de Prince! Stop Wesley Fofana, stop France!

    3. I thought from earlier announcements that the management were pretty confident Hogg and Harley would both be back. I guess we’ll see soon enough. Don’t fancy Strokosch at 6 or Seymour at the back at all.

      Hmmm this seems to be having some kind of curative affect on Scottish optimism syndrome…

      1. Would have thought given form Seymour would not be moved position, Tonks a more likely candidate for 15 if Hogg not fit. Unless they’re planning to put Bennett on the wing and bring him inside if we’re attacking? #crazy

  2. Glad to hear that Nigel Owens is reffing this game. IMO he always tends to let the game flow which should hopefully suit our offloading game. Clancy for Italy sadly but Glen Jackson (NZ) for Wales whom I don’t know much about. Poite for England and another Frenchman, Garces, for Ireland.

    Regarding the Scotland selection I’m desperate to see the centre pairing. Would like to see Dunbar and Bennett, but Scott is already proven at international level so really won’t be unhappy either way. The rest tends to take care of itself really as posted above.

    1. It has to be Bennett. I am a big fan of Matt Scott but Bennett is Scotland’s most exciting attacker and made a huge difference to the Warriors when he returned from injury. Dunbar gives us some physical presence in the midfield, runs great lines and is fantastic over the ball. Scott does everything well but the blend of Dunbar and Bennett is perfect.

      1. Agree totally. Pyrgos also did well when he came back for Glasgow and would like to see him get a run out at some stage. His service is excellent and he tends to step things up a notch. SHC is also playing very well. Some good scrum halves putting pressure on Laidlaw.

      2. I’d be worried with anyone except Dunbar being pitted one on one against Bastereau. Agree that Bennet has more steps than an episode of ‘Strictly’, but possibly better as an impact player against tiring French backs.

      3. Dunbar’s defence is very good but I’ve seen him handed off twice by Liam Williams so not sure if it is worth selecting a midfield with less ability to break the line to marginally improve our first up tackling.

        Either way, we should seize the initiative which means picking according to our strengths and the way we want to play and not selecting on the basis of nullifying the French. Bennett it must be!

      4. FF both of those Liam Williams hand offs gave Dunbar very little chance, especially the recent one in the Scarlets game, it was a textbook handoff…which pains me to say as I can’t stand Mr Williams

  3. Agree with above team except it has to be Dunbar Bennett in centre if we are picking on form. Scott will be back but he is not the form centre. It is the bench that I want a crack at.
    Toolis (been playing great for edinburgh IMO)
    Watson (shuffle the starting 3 depending on who comes off)
    Pyrgos (still has edge on SHC, maybe not for long…)
    Tonks (FH/FB)
    Scott (centre/wing or move Bennett to wing if required)

    1. I think Pyrgos is still ahead of SHC. However, SHC is versatile. He has played at wing and even covered fullback for Edinburgh and until relatively recently his preferred position was FH, only converting to SH as an EDP. I’m not saying that should mean he gets the bench spot, probably not in fact, but he has genuine pace and is comfortable on the wing so it is worth bearing in mind.

  4. Maitland is conspicuous by his absence in this blog.
    What about him at full back? More chance of that than Seymour surely. I thought it was his preferred position?

    1. Injured his shoulder v Bath in the Champions Cup and so will definitely miss the France game, might be back for Wales though

    2. Supposedly moved to London Irish because they promised him the chance to play FB rather than wing and because he was never going to be considered primarily a FB at Glasgow.

  5. I don’t think you can put a fag paper between Harley and Stoker. They’re both blind side bruisers and we will need those dark arts on Saturday against this France pack. It’s a worry that Hogg is seen as vulnerable to the high ball – he never used to be, did he? It almost doesn’t matter which two of the three options are picked at centre, because it says something about strength in depth in the current Scotland squad that you have three (or more) to choose from. This is a huge testing ground for Russell, who really impressed me in the Autumn. There’s more than a touch of Gregor about him – the good and the bad – and that augurs well if we want to see a repeat of ’99.

    1. I would say that Harley is a distance ahead of Big Stroker these days. The big man has been a fantastic servant to Scottish rugby and I’m a big fan, but is now playing in the French second tier. Harley has been one of Glasgows most consistent players for some time now and has been conspicuous by his absence of late. Personally I would have had Kelly Brown in the squad ahead of Big Al. That said hope he comes on and proves me wrong!!

      1. Stroker tackles and that is about it. Harley tackles, is probably Scotland’s most disruptive player at the breakdown and jumps in the lineout. He could do with learning to use his size to carry the ball but you can’t always have it all. Both players share the same glorious pigheadedness and work rate that 6s need.

  6. I’d love it if Fraser brown was picked at open side. He looked to be all over the pitch in Glasgows game against Bath. That would be picking on form!!!

  7. So her is my prediction. Scotland will start quite strongly, go into an ealy lead and will probably be sluightly ahead by 2 or 3 points at half time. The half time team talk by PSA will be truely inspiring and the French will look like a different team in the second half. we will contain them through good defending but they will start to dominate the game and possession. Eventuallyu they will score a try with about 5 mins to spare. They will then take their footfeet of the gas and will will push for a match winning try but will fail. The score will end something like this France 20: Scotland 15. Sorry but I just can’t see us beeting France in Paris. Had the game been at Murryfield I think we would have had a slim chance. I still think we can beat Wales, Ireland and Italy but will fail by a 5-10 point margin at Twickenham and probably end up finishing 2nd or 3rd in the competition- maybe not brilliant but clearly much better than we have done in the past.

    1. I have to disgree with you. Last year we should have beaten the French at Murrayfield. This year, we are significantly better, France have probably gone backwards.

      The only thing that makes me doubt that we will win on Saturday is the typical French factor. If the right (for us) France turns up we will win and win well. If the mercurial, enigmatic, exciting France turns up we could get schooled!

      As for PSA being inspiring – I can’t see it.

  8. So what do people think about the Wilson situation- is it a sad loss that he is not in the team or morally right that he should be excluded. I just wonder what people think. If it happened to a non-sportsman, they would be prosecuted in a court of law, given a fine etc but it would not affect their employment. In fact, their employer wouold not even have to know about it. Yet why is this different in sport- I wonder.

    1. I haven’t and won’t give it a second thought. I’m just looking forward to the game on Saturday v France and the six nations without wondering what’s going on in the life of Ryan Wilson.

    2. Spent a few hours researching employment law earlier in the week. Wilson’s suspension seems fairly standard for the offence regardless of the industry and he can of course appeal.
      If you don’t tell your employer about your convictions they’d have strong grounds for dismissing you so I’m afraid that argument doesn’t hold much water.

  9. Regarding Wilson, it really depends what your employment is. In some professions his conviction is enough to have you struck off a professional register, rendering you unemployed. Other jobs have contractual clauses whereby the employee must report any convictions to the employer. He is an entertainer in a minority sport. The negativity surrounding his conviction may ultimately lead to a loss in revenue for both the Warriors and SRU. I personally would have let him go. His behavior was reckless; considering he is probably carrying 10-15kg more muscle than the average guy in the street along with all his mates backing him up – the damage could have been fatal. Examples should have been made. I wouldn’t pay up to watch him play, never mind cheer him in a Scotland shirt – my impression is of a bully, not young enough to use immaturity as an excuse.

  10. Bringing it back to the game… Squad announced:

    15 Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); 27 caps, 8 tries, 1 penalty, 43 points
    14 Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors); 13 caps, 6 tries, 30 points
    13 Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors); 2 caps
    12 Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors); 11 caps, 4 tries, 20 points
    11 Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby); 15 caps, 7 tries, 35 points
    10 Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors); 5 caps
    9 Greig Laidlaw (c) (Gloucester); 34 caps, 3 tries, 37 conversions, 70 penalties, 299 points

    1 Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh Rugby); 39 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
    2 Ross Ford (Edinburgh Rugby); 80 caps; 2 tries, 10 points
    3 Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors); 62 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
    4 Richie Gray (Castres); 42 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
    5 Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors); 8 caps, 1 try, 5 points
    6 Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), 10 caps, 1 try, 5 points
    7 Blair Cowan (London Irish); 6 caps, 1 try, 5 points
    8 Johnnie Beattie (Castres); 34 caps, 3 tries, 15 points

    16 Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors); 3 caps
    17 Gordon Reid (Glasgow Warriors); 6 caps
    18 Geoff Cross (London Irish); 35 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
    19 Jim Hamilton (Saracens); 57 caps, 1 try, 5 points
    20 Alasdair Strokosch (USA Perpignan); 42 caps, 2 tries, 10 points
    21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh Rugby); uncapped
    22 Peter Horne (Glasgow Warriors); 5 caps
    23 Dougie Fife (Edinburgh Rugby); 3 caps

    So, pretty much as good as we could hope for in the starting 15 with the only significant absence being Maitland IMO. Happy with the front row replacements, SHC, Horne and Fife are slightly surprising cover in the backs, though I’m happy with all. Hamilton and Stroker in reserve if things need to get nasty(er).

    Having set myself to expect a 5th place finish, FF’s optimism has been rubbing off and with this starting 15 I actually quite fancy this.

    1. Good team. Disappointing that Lamont and Scott are injured, to add to Maitland. Not sure Fife is an international winger to be honest but liitle alternative. Horne has evidently nudged Tonks in terms of covering fly half and may surprise people. Surprised Murray starts ahead of Cross, but otherwise happy with this team given our injuries.

    2. Apologies for that Matto – the optimism usually passes after 30mins or so of the first game so just sit tight and I’m sure you’ll feel better soon.

      I think on the basis of probabilities we’ll finish 5th. However, if you we’re a betting man I’d say we’d be worth a punt for the championship because there is the biggest discrepancy between our chances of winning and what we’re priced at. We are improved, we have a new coach so some level of unpredictability (teams always perform better with a new coaching regime), we have three games at home and France are massively overrated. You can find us at 40-1 for the championship so I’m going to stick a tenner or two on it.

      1. No worries, I am oh so used to having my bubble burst at this time of year.
        Standoffalot – I’ll hold off my judgement with Fife, let’s see how he goes. He’s being playing well for Edinburgh and is good at competing the kick chase, which may fit in well with the other backs. He’s maybe a bit slight, but he’s fairly brave in the tackle.
        FF – I would back that starting 15 to give any of the other squads a proper run, but I just don’t see that we have enough depth to really compete throughout the whole tournament. 40 – 1 though, ooft.

  11. Great team! Just sorry matt Scott is injured. Would love to see the dynamics with Scott off the bench.

  12. Team announced with no surprises. Seems to have picked itself given injuries to Scott, Pygros and lamont. Bench looks weak to me, particularly the backs.

  13. Another worrying thought is Horne being cover for Russell? He’s been pants whenever I’ve watched him at 10. Hasn’t progressed this season as far as I can see. Here’s hoping Finn can last through the game. Maybe Hogg offers an alternative.

    I think the starting 15 will hold their own and could keep us in the game, but thereafter not so sure.

    I think they missed a trick not picking Murchie who while not exciting, could have provided rock solid cover at FB and centre if necessary.

    Still excited with the starting 15 though.

  14. Most excited I have been whist seeing a Scotland team in a long time. Hope the back row has enough ball carrying ability (I recall Bettie getting knocked back on the gainline last time I saw him).

    I just wish we had an easier game than France at home to start though, sometimes we are guilty of starting a tournament slowly, and if we do that this year we will lose all of the momentum that we have built up over the autumn.

    Still…..COME ON SCOTLAND!!!!

  15. What annoys me is that we always have a tricky opening game! Let’s face it Italy is always the easiest fixture, and we haven’t had Italy on opening day since 2000, which flies in the face of the law of averages In fact, since 2000 everyone else has had Italy at least twice on opening day( Ireland have had them 5 times).

    Who is is that decides the fixtures, because it seems stacked against Scotland.

    1. Who do you think decides this? They want England and France to play the easiest teams first to boost their confidence. They ideally want a wooden spoon dogfight so they tend to leave Scotland Vs Italy to the last game or very close to the end. Lets just hope we can upset the odds. I’m pissed off with finishing 5th or 6th.

  16. The team has a settled feel about it following the AI’s, which is a good thing and typical of a Kiwi coach, e.g. look at how settled the All Blacks team has been over the years and similarly Warren Gatland’s Wales. I just hope Ford and Dickinson can reproduce their AI form, the front row is more important than ever these days. I hope we win all our matches but three victories in this tournament, a big step up from the AI’s, will be good progress, especially if we have established a settled team.

  17. I watched the Scrum V preview on the iPlayer last night and was astounded to hear Martyn Williams say that he thinks Scotland are being overhyped and that he doesn’t rate the Laidlaw-Russell partnership. Obviously he fancies Wales to beat us comfortably at Murrayfield.

    Upon hearing this I immediately went onto a well known betting site and lobbed some money on us to win the tournament at 33-1!

    1. Ambitious.I like it. Don’t forget Martin Williams is the Welsh Brian Moore. He has gone on record thinking Sonny Bill Williams wasn’t much cop.
      That side isn’t a side to front up to the Frenchsobvious physicality, but to go around it. Yes injuries have aided selection,but in broken play if the boys can mimic the warriors offloading game, this could be very interesting indeed

    2. Saw the same show Frazer. The only non- Welsh person on was Jeremy Guscott who’s eaten too much humble pie recently because of Glasgow performance v Bath, to be caught out again.
      You should expect that kind of inbuilt conceit, bordering on condescension, from a Welsh rugby show. Jonatahan Davies and Martyn Williams together, egg each other on to new heights of disdain to anything not Welsh. It makes the days of even handed rugby coverage of Bill MacLaren, seem almost historical. I would make the Scottish squad watch this as a way of motivating them.
      I do like the feisty Brian Moore, who is very even handed compared to the Welsh ‘Chuckle Brothers’.

      1. To be fair to JD he nominated Alec Dunbar as his ‘one to watch’ in an article on the BBC.

  18. It’s fair to say that the consensus is that our bench isn’t as strong as it could be, particularly regarding cover among the backs. As I’ve already stated I don’t feel Fife is an international winger, but I think Peter Horne is a good player who may surprise people, although admittedly not a FH. Horne has a great step and good hands, has an eye for a pass and is pretty strong defensively. The obvious criticism is that he is a bit small for an international 12 and gets held up quite easily. I’m confident though that he is good cover for the centres but not necessarily at FH. I suspect Hogg will cover there but then who goes to full back, which again begs the question, why no Murchie, or even Tonks for that matter?

  19. Pretty sure that Laidlaw and SHC offer some sort of cover at stand off. No ideal, but that is what we got at the moment.

    A looks a bit exciting, ready for the disappointment of playing well and somehow being robbed by something stupid, either of our own making or the officials, probably our own making.

      1. No. He wasn’t selected for the match day squads in the AIs and is probably no better than fourth choice number 8 behind Ashe, Beattie, Denton and come the RWC, Strauss.

  20. To be honest, I don’t think Martyn Williams is being condescending at all, just realistic. Scotland have been hailed as the “dark horses to watch out for” every year since I can remember in the 6 nations and they have consistently come 5th or 6th year after year. Wales have won 4 out the last 10 six nations, three with a grand slam. Wales have beaten Scotland almost every year during that same period, and scored 50 points against Scotland last year. Wales supporters would naturally expect another win against Scotland. Sure, Scotland could surprise them, but you can’t blame the Wales supporters for imagining that it will be business as usual can you ?

    1. Maitland picked up an injury during the Glasgow v Bath game and hasn’t trained since. He was certianly listed as injured in the aftermath of that game and hasn’t trained since.

    2. Maitland picked up an injury during the Glasgow v Bath game and hasn’t trained since. He was certainly listed as injured in the aftermath of that game so if he isn’t now it is just an oversight.

  21. Anyone here ever had any success getting an online stream for a Scotland match when they are abroad?? I’m in Australia just now and they don’t show it on TV until the following day and BBC doesn’t allow viewing from abroad. Any ideas folks? Very nervous that I will miss a Scotland 6 Nations match for the 1st time in a decade!

    1. Michael- please let me know if you find anything. I’m based in Saudi Arabia and the local channels don’t show the 6 nations. Maybe one of the readers can help.

      1. Best bet boys is to get a VPN subscription online, just search VPN connection and loads will come up. Usually costs about 4 to 6 quid a month. When you switch on your VPN, you can log into BBC iplayer and watch normal bbc programming. The VPN mimics a uk internet location and you can connect to any of the uk tv players as if you’re home. I use it to watch sky and bbc in Norway although I’ll be in the pub for this one.

    2. You might want to do this instead guys, download this programme called Hola “”

      It changes where your server thinks you are viewing from and it’s free.
      I use it for American Netflix etc and it causes no problems for me whatsoever. Very simple to use too

    3. works a treat. Download it and it sits in your browser. I have been using it with good success. It is free but you can pay fiver a month to get an even better connection. It’s awesome.

    4. In Australia 6 nations are on setanta / bein. You can subscribe on their site for online access or through foxtel. It’s month by month so no contracts

  22. I just wish that Paterson was still in the team. He could kick penalties from almost anywhere. Our present kickers are OK but nowhere near as good at kicking goal

  23. Just a thought. IN American football, players a brought on just to kick goals and leave the field immediately afterwords. I wonder if we could do that in rugby, given that you are permitted to make substitutions at almost any time- just a thought.

    1. Interesting notion but remember American Football teams play pure specialist position. If you go down that road where does the buck stop. Front row by coming on for scrums, scrum half only for feeding and set piece. Before you know it the boys will have helmets on lol

  24. I can’t argue much if at all with Vern’s selections given injuries and other unavailability. For me the first 15 minutes of this match will be crucial, as it often is in Stade de France. My bag is packed and I march on Paris today with the highest hopes since, well, the last time I travelled with the highest hopes to Paris.Tempted to have a punt as the bookies have over-priced us (as usual) for the win. But I’m terrified it will bring bad luck so will look for a horse instead. Come on, Scotland!

  25. Sorry I know this isn’t part of this thread, but Scotland made the quarter finals of the Wellington 7’s, beating Argentina (5th in the rankings overall) in the final game. Damien Hoyland scoring 6 tries on day one. Hopefully the start of a good weekend for Scottish rugby! : )

  26. Any idea why they’re so much better this season? They’ve really stepped up a level and with Glasgow an Twickenham to come they’ll be looking to end the season strongly.

    1. They do seem to have stepped up a gear. The current coach, Calum MacRae used to be a 7s player, only 34 years old too. Maybe a bit of a Gregor Townsend effect ie Fresh ideas, different style of play etc. Unearthing Damien Hoyland has also helped. Seems like a good prospect. Hopefully he gets some game time at Edinburgh next season. Got USA tonight, Carlin Isles and Co which will be a real test but who knows!? Good weekend of Rugby ahead. Here’s hoping for Scotland wins across the board!

  27. Come on as Scotland! I put a bet on for us before the nz match for us to take the six nations, odds were 100/1. AftEr the NZ match the odds went down to 25/1. I am very excited!!!!

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