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.
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
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)
- 2014 v Argentina (A)
Pens: 20 (+4 for Scotland)
- 2015 v Japan (N)
Pens: 20 (+2 for Scotland)
Cards: Japan 1 YC
- 2016 v England (H)
Pens: 21 (+3 for Scotland)
- 2016 v Australia (H)
Pens: 21 (-3 against Scotland)
Cards: Australia 1 YC
- 2017 v Wales (H)
Pens: 24 (+4 for Scotland)
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.