Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v France: Match Preview Pt I

Stuart Hogg
Stuart Hogg in action for Scotland pic © Alastair Ross / Novantae Photography

KO 3.00 at Murrayfield Stadium
Sunday 11th February

Live on BBC1

For the 17th time in 19 seasons of the 6 Nations Scotland enter their second match of the campaign off the back of a defeat. Bad omen: on 12 of those occasions they have doubled down with another loss and effectively ended any interest in the Championship before even reaching the first rest weekend. It’s essential that Gregor Townsend’s men put Round 1 behind them and get to work on a powerful but limited French side.

France Scouting Report

  • Tackle, tackle, tackle
    France head coach Jacques Brunel has talked about the limitations imposed by only having 2 weeks to work with his men. Defence is an area that it’s easier to drill players into a structure and there were signs of the French side’s ability to suffocate in their last outing. While they might have been helped by Ireland playing very narrowly, 253 tackles made with only 15 missed (for a 94% completion rate – the highest of the weekend) is pretty incredible. Scotland will need to work hard to manipulate the French defensive line to find space.
  • Offensive limitations
    Setting up with the youthful Matthieu Jalibert at 10 in Round 1 might have suggested France were looking to play with more variety in attack. As it turned out the young standoff was injured early on (HIA/leg) and with little territory or possession to work with the French offence was stymied. During the opening matches of the 6 Nations France had the lowest returns across all the main attacking stats – passes, carries, metres run, defenders beaten. The only figure they didn’t come bottom on was clean breaks where a paltry 2 was more than Ireland’s nil.
  • Centre of attention
    Remi Lamerat and Henry Chavancy were the epitome of France’s solidity in defence and blunt attack. The centres combined for 24 tackles attempts, only missing 1. Chavancy in particular was a peripheral figure when Les Bleus had the ball in hand though, carrying 4 times for just 1 metre. If he maintains that level of not being a credible threat going forward it will make it easier for the Scottish defence to target the men inside and outside him.
  • Twin Threats
    With the French attack misfiring somewhat, their primary outlet became ‘chuck it to the wingers’. Of the 15 Irish defenders beaten 11 came from Teddy Thomas (6) and Virimi Vakatawa (5). The Scottish defensive line speed may not be as stifling as Ireland’s but they need to know they cannot afford to give France’s dangerous wide men any space.
  • Sebastian Vahaamahina
    Hailing from the very Scottish sounding archipelago of New Caledonia, Vahaamahina may only have 29 caps but that makes him positively a veteran among the French pack’s back 5. His relative experience will have made it even more frustrating for his coaches that he was the main offender in conceding penalties to the Irish with 3 (and to be honest if Nigel Owens had been less lenient at the breakdown there could have been a few more). The big lock is keen to make an impact at the ruck but his sheer size can make it trickier for him to get down into a good position or move away quickly when he goes to ground. Scotland will no doubt be looking to take advantage if the Frenchman doesn’t get things quite right on Sunday.

Previous results

This will be the 10th time the two sides have met at Murrayfield in the 6 Nations. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L L   W L L   L L W

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 29 – 18 France

Significant stats
Stuart Hogg – 6 carries for 10m
The French chose to try and negate Stuart Hogg’s influence by not kicking the ball to him. This stopped him picking up those easy metres (and more importantly a head of steam) before challenging their defensive line. With Wales successfully having focused on blunting Scotland’s attacking play from lineouts by keeping the ball in play France have a choice to make. Which would they rather face – Hogg in broken field or the Scottish backline playing off the setpiece?

Scotland – 4 turnovers conceded
A major reason for Scottish success in that last encounter was how few times they gave up the ball. There was a lot of discipline and control when they had possession (compare and contrast to the 18 turnovers given up last week against Wales). One of the corollaries of this was that the French only had a single scrum on their own ball in the entire 80 minutes – which is definitely one way to go about neutering the visitors’ power in this area.


Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant 1: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant 2: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Rowan Kitt (England)

Mr. Lacey has not always enjoyed the best of reputations with Scottish pro team fans. His long history of refereeing Glasgow and Edinburgh matches – he first took charge of a Warriors match the best part of a decade ago in January 2009 – have allowed resentments to build up and fester. The numbers for his matches in charge of Scotland might surprise then, with the dark blues definitely getting the best of the crime count. More of the same on Sunday will definitely help the Scottish cause.

  • 2013 v Samoa (N)
    Total penalties: 20 (+8 in Scotland’s favour)
    Cards: none
  • 2014 v Argentina (A)
    Pens: 20 (+4 for Scotland)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 v Japan (N)
    Pens: 20 (+2 for Scotland)
    Cards: Japan 1 YC
  • 2016 v England (H)
    Pens: 21 (+3 for Scotland)
    Cards: none
  • 2016 v Australia (H)
    Pens: 21 (-3 against Scotland)
    Cards: Australia 1 YC
  • 2017 v Wales (H)
    Pens: 24 (+4 for Scotland)
    Cards: none

N.B. For the avoidance of doubt the Paul Williams who is AR2 is not New Zealand born Samoan international Paul Williams. Probably fortunate given that AR1 Nigel Owens sent off the player Paul Williams in a match a few years back… Nor is he the dapper Welsh rugby journalist!

Part II will follow the team announcements tomorrow.

29 Responses

  1. Spare ticket still going if anyone hasn’t sorted themselves!
    W30, Gold. Face value – £100.

  2. I expect France to be better than in 2016 although you never know how they will go on the road. I wouldn’t read too much into their attack stats last weekend either, it wasn’t great weather in Paris. God knows how many handling errors we could have conceded in Cardiff if the roof had been open and the ball wet. 18 turnovers is pretty bad as it was.

  3. You make a very interesting point about Remi Lamerat and Henry Chavancy. If they consistently look to double up for tackles they will be susceptible to offloads and there will be a bit of space in their midfield for our backs to manipulate. Hopefully Tooney has spotted that and has a plan for it.

  4. Thanks, Kevin. This is a good piece.

    One thing strikes me from the 2016 game: just how solid and relatively injury-free our side was in 2016. Richie Gray, WP Nel, Duncan Taylor all playing. All big game influencers.

    Can you just clarify the penalty count statistics? I find them a bit confusing. If there are 20 penalties and Scotland are +8, does that mean there were 14 penalties to Scotland and 6 against? It might be more helpful if you said “20 penalties conceded (Samoa 14 – Scot 6).

  5. Realistically, how many players will be dropped for this weekend??

    I reckon 4 from the starting XV.

    Gilchrist for Toolis
    Wilson for du Preez
    Dunbar for Harris (Jones to 13)
    Maitland for McGuigan

    The rest will get another chance to make amends for last week. If they fail, then I’d expect more of a cull.

    Bench changes:
    Berghan for McCallum
    Toolis for Gilchrist
    Denton for Wilson
    Bennett for Maitland

    1. Are Dunbar and Bennett both fit? If so I think you’re right about the centres but I’m not sure whether dumping Toolis is warranted. One (relatively) poor game and Gilchrist didn’t really shine.
      However, I think Laidlaw will start and Ali Price moved to the bench. Ali’s decision making last week was suspect and, combined with DuPreez at 8 and Russell at 10, meant we didn’t have a steadying hand to make the decisions to calm down and not play headless.

    2. I think those changes would largely strengthen the team, although I don’t think Toolis necessarily had a drop-worthy performance. The overall strategy for the forwards looked poor. Would be very happy to see Bennett back in the fold, but would also be happy with Kinghorn. That said I’d also be happy if Kinghorn doesn’t feature here, but figures highly in the summer tour along with the likes of Hastings, Horne Jnr and a number of the up and coming forwards.

      1. Also, I don’t like putting the boot into individual players…. ‘but’ I was really disappointed with Du Preez. I’m a fan, but that was such a nothing performance. You can’t expect to hold a place in the team with such a paltry contribution. That lack of involvement is particularly inexcusable for an 8. It’s one of, if not ‘the’ position(s) where it doesn’t really matter what type of game it is – you really should be involved one way or another. I do think he’s a very good player, so very disappointing indeed.

    3. Probably not far off – Berghan may even start.
      Personally I wouldn’t drop Price – he is a good player and will know he had a bad game last week and I suspect he will be very fired up for this one. Laidlaw is currently good to have on the bench to steady things or close a game out, but he can’t be the answer going forward.

      1. Who cares about ‘going forward’??? We simply have to beat France and Price was one of last week’s worst performers.

      2. Matto, exactly my thoughts re DuPreez, is it inconceivable that he is embarrassed & has something to prove? An on form/firing DuPreez would be great fillip on Sunday

      3. The man talks sense, Price was overwhelmed on Saturday. Barclay lost control, game suffered. Laidlaw plays in France. The odd box kick would have halted the rush defenses. Laidlaw starts , but , who will captain.

    4. Not much between the 2nd rows. Could he go for the Edinburgh second row and bench Gray? I see Gray and Gilchrist for workmanlike carries but Toolis on a good day, for lineout. Safest option is Gray and Gilchrist as I feel Toolis will be easier intimidated and ultimately agree with your selection. France is probably just the wrong game to retain him if not 100% confident in his stability. By far the toughest selection conundrum this week

  6. CDP out of 23. Has to be Wilson for France. Likely to be injuries, would Toony consider Harley over Denton to give 2nd and back row cover.Stable and dependable guy , no star but is able to cope with thugs and a calming inflence. Every team needs a Harley no team needs too many Divas.

  7. France will stifle us and we had better have a plan for it. That’s kind of what Wales did, they gave us no space to play in so we ended up playing further and further behind the gain line flinging the ball about aimlessly then dropping it. Russell’s kicking wasn’t accurate enough to to pin them back and we were unlucky with a few bounces too. We were constantly static or back peddling, the forwards couldn’t hit the ricks with any force and the centres were getting constant hospital passes, and that’s just when we had the ball. Our defence was shocking, it was far too easy for them to make ground, especially in the midfield and out wide, I said before it was literally like we were a man down the whole game. I’m fine with conceding loads of points so long as the same tactics yield loads of them for us but there has to be a plan B for when nothing is working. I don’t think France will offer the same ball in hand threat as Wales but they will smash us if they suck us into an arm wrestle. So many things went wrong at the weekend it’s difficult to say what needs to happen to improve it, it was like a vicious circle of gashness. A quantum leap in aggression and determination would be a good starting point. I think the guys were shell shocked by the two soft tries and that nothing was working in the first half, it’s annoying because apart from the two soft tries we didn’t play that badly in the first half, out played yes but not completely outclassed, things weren’t working and we looked to be rattled by that.

    Why can’t we be more like France, inconsistent as hell but can give anyone a good tanking when it goes right. We’re just constantly dire or annoyingly close to being really good.

  8. Just to continue the obsession with Paul Williams…He’s actually going to be reffing the Edinburgh v Leinster game at Myreside on Friday as well so he’s in for a busy weekend in the capital. Maybe the Edinburgh faithful could go easy on him so we don’t get on his bad side…

  9. I would go with something like this;

    1. Reid
    2. McInally
    3. McCallum
    4. Toolis
    5. J.Gray
    6. Barclay
    7. Watson
    8. Wilson
    9. Price
    10. Russell
    11. Seymour
    12. Dunbar
    13. Jones
    14. Maitland
    15. Hogg

    Replacements: 16. Lawson 17. Bhatti 18. Welsh 19. Gilchrist 20. CDP 21. Laidlaw 22. Horne 23. Kinghorn

    -The scrum seemed to go downhill when Bhatti came on so Reid keeps his place.

    -McCallum came on and put in a great couple of carries in the lead-up to our only try and get stuck in elsewhere unlike our other props and I feel we will need a bit of that against France.

    -Toolis was below his best on Saturday but he is a far far better player than Gilchrist so calls to drop him are just ridiculous

    – Price and Russell were hailed as the best things ever before Saturday and now after one bad game they should be suddenly be dropped. At least give them another match to redeem themselves and see if the bad form persists

    – Seymour was our worst winger on Saturday and that’s saying something considering how bad McGuigan was but Kinghorn starting on the wing slightly out of position in a must win match is not the best circumstances to be making his debut. If Seymour continues to under-perform he will come under a lot of pressure to keep his place.

    – If Dunbar is unavailable Horne starts at 12

    – CDP was woeful on Saturday so is dropped for Wilson but he is still a far superior player to Denton so remains in the 23 on the bench

    – Kinghorn has 8 tries this season, has gained the most meters and beaten the most defenders in the pro 14 this season. Great option on the bench who can play at 15, 10 and potentially on the wing. Surely has to be in the 23 against France

    Come on Scotland!

    1. Price is often said to be so much better than Laidlaw, but only when the opposition let us play the fast and furious game. He shines against the likes of NZ who also like to play fast and loose or against Oz when they are a man down, but we nearly lost to Samoa when he played, because of that style. Not Rocket Science says it was his first bad game – I think his game against England last year wasn’t a humdinger, nor was the aforementioned Samoa match.
      It’s not his play (quick pass, great acceleration, eye for a snipe) that is in question for me, but his decision making. Box kicks and pops to forwards are the standard fare in the six nations, and if you don’t use them you’re ignoring the basics of rugby.
      Remember Price was second fiddle to Laidlaw this time last year before Laidlaw was injured against France and it was Laidlaw that was on for the whole match in the win against Ireland. Price is definitely the man for the future (although I think young George Horne may overtake him by the RWC) but the six nations is not a time for experimentation.

    2. “Seymour was our worst winger on Saturday…”

      Totally disagree, from what I saw he was back to being great in the air (except when Wilson clattered into him), solid in defence and did as well as can be expected with the ball in hand. Seymour and Hogg were our best backs against Wales.

      Also, I’ve not seen CdP put in a good performance for Scotland. I’ve seen Denton put in great performances for Scotland in the RWC, so I can’t see your evidence for saying CdP is the far superior player.

  10. We need to be more ruthless. If Price is deemed to have been well below par against Wales and there is a ready replacement in the wings (Laidlaw) then the switch should be made. As with CDP, how many chances do you give? Would Ireland or England accept such a woeful performance? This isn’t a league with 20 teams playing home and away. We have 5 games (4 now) to make 2018 a successful year for Scottish Rugby. With games against the best two sides to come after the weekend, we can’t risk players not turning up. We need absolute confidence in the XV that take to the field. That may mean Price, Russell, CDP but I would be surprised if it is all of them. I don’t know how they have responded this week in training and whether they are appalled in themselves. If, however, the attitude is a blase ”we’ll just go again” then I am sorry but I can’t accept this. Sunday is must win. And win well. If I am selecting I want the most reliable XV that won’t let me down, even if that means sacrificing ‘mercurial’ talents that are hit, and all too often, miss.

  11. Kinghorn is in great form and will play for Scotland before long, but who do you drop to get him in? Hogg? Never gonna happen? Finn? He had a bad game but ditto. One of the wingers? Possibly, but has Kinghorn ever played there before?

    I reckon he’ll play a part in the summer, but unless there are a few injuries I can’t see him featuring in the 6N.

    I wouldn’t change much with regard to the line up from Wales – the lads will want to make up for their performance. That said I would drop Harris and du Preez for Dunbar/Horne and Wilson, but other than that I would keep the same XV.

    Edit: team just named, Berghan, Gilchrist, Wilson, Greeg, Horne and Maitland in; Kinghorn on bench.

    1. Berghan is another player who, for me, hasn’t cut it so far internationally. I don’t think he carries or scrummages well.

      Interesting to see that Toonie is still eschewing the idea of restraint or continuity. Debutant on the bench, Harris still inexplicably in the 23, swapping scrum-halfs, bringing Berghan back in despite a huge lack of game time or form, starting two utility back rowers and leaving the big bruiser on the bench… It might be disappointing, but at least it’s not boring!

  12. I’m assuming my team announcement post was deleted so the editors can claim the glory of announcing it??

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion