Saturday 24th August 2019
BT Murrayfield, Edinburgh
TV coverage – Premier Sports 2
(re-runs on FreeSports, Sunday 25th August at 10.00am and 10.00pm)
Scotland will be hoping that home comforts play their part in reinvigorating the side after a tough trip to France last week. Murrayfield has certainly been a fairly happy hunting ground for the dark blues in RWC warm-up matches this century:
- 2015 v Italy: won 48-7
- 2011 v Italy: won 23-12
- 2011 v Ireland: won 10-6
- 2007 v Ireland: won 31-21
- 2003 v Ireland: lost 10-29
- 2003 v Italy: won 47-15
France will provide some welcome variety from the Ireland / Italy duopoly that has emerged in these games. Les bleus will be making their first ever trip to play Scotland outwith the Five / Six Nations.
Key stats from France v Scotland
Double-headers like this have been a relative rarity for Scotland in recent years. Across the last decade, they have faced Japan (2016), Italy (2015) and Argentina (2010) in matches on consecutive weekends. In each of those previous cases, the Scots won their opening games. This will be a test for the management and leadership group, in particular, to step things up and show some significant improvement in key areas from last Saturday’s defeat.
Pack power up
Scotland’s forwards comprehensively lost the gain line battle to their French opponents in Nice. While their hosts were making 80 carries for 175 metres, the visitors returned 72 runs for just 99m.
Reinforcements should be coming for Saturday’s game but there’s no quick fix to size up the pack. In fact, the 8 that start the match at Murrayfield will probably be lighter than the one that kicked off the game in Nice. If this is the game where Gregor Townsend unleashes more of his first choice side though that gulf in size to the French pack should be diminished. After all players like Hamish Watson have long shown that attitude and aggression can be far more influential than a few extra kilos.
Scotland cannot rely on sheer bulk to bail them out so the forwards will need to be canny and 100% committed if they want to match up to the visitors’ pack.
During the Toony Test era, Scotland’s tackle completion percentage has slipped below 85% in 7 matches:
- France (3 times)
- Fiji (2 times)
- New Zealand
Setting aside the madness that took place at Twickenham (when the two teams combined for 80 misses) Scotland’s two weakest performances in terms of missed tackles have come away to France (35 during the Six Nations and 33 last weekend). There’s an element of the French strength showing through but it also seems Scotland’s systems struggle to contain sides who keep the ball alive with high numbers of offloads out of contact.
Cutting down on France’s opportunities to shift the ball will help to neuter their attack somewhat. It’s going to require a lot more intensity in defence though, with extra bodies in on the tackle to wrap up the ball carrier and shutting down passing lanes.
Finn Russell famously disagreed with Gregor Townsend over Scotland’s tactics at Twickenham. The maverick number 10 felt Scotland were simply kicking the ball away to their hosts and allowing them to keep continually attacking. What followed in the second half of the Calcutta Cup was not a change in approach though. After the break Scotland actually kicked the ball more. They just did it effectively.
Against France in the opening RWC warm-up match there was plenty of kicking from both teams – 26 for each side. The principal problem again for Scotland was the execution. At Murrayfield if what is (arguably) Scotland’s first choice half-back pairing of Greig Laidlaw and Finn Russell gets a run out expect to see no reduction in the quantity of kicking but an increase in the quality. They will try to win the territorial battle and control the space available to France’s dangerous backfield runners.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant 1: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant 2: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)
These games are also acting as the World Cup warm-up for the officials. Scotland are in the fortunate position of having the referee who will take charge of their first pool match against Ireland in 4 weeks (Barnes) as well as the ARs and TMO for the second pool match versus Samoa (Owens, Anselmi and Hughes). That’s not a luxury that’s been extended to either of the dark blues’ RWC opponents.
Hopefully, with this game fresh in his mind, in a few weeks’ time Mr Barnes will be able to call some of the Scottish players by their first names the way he does with the Irish lads…
Scotland have had issues with the being on the wrong side of the penalty count when Mr Barnes has been the man in the middle. Unfortunately, in the one game where the opposition were on his bad side last summer, it didn’t help Scotland out too much!
Scotland’s last 5 games with Mr Barnes in charge:
- 2014 – beat Argentina (H)
Penalties: 28 (For 13 – 15 Against)
Cards: Scotland 2 YCs (Rob Harley, Jim Hamilton); Argentina 1 YC
- 2015 – lost to France (A)
Pens: 26 (For 10 – 16 Against)
Cards: Scotland 1 YC (David Denton)
- 2017 – beat Australia (A)
Pens: 23 (For 8 – 15 Against)
Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Ryan Wilson); Australia 1 YC
- 2018 – lost to Ireland (A)
Pens: 19 (For 9 – 10 Against)
- 2018 – lost to USA (A)
Pens: 19 (For 11 – 8 Against)
Cards: USA 1 YC
(UPDATE: 21/8): The teams are out. Stuart Hogg is the only starter retained in what looks a lot closer (but isn’t’ quite) to a full-strength XV. Blade Thomson will make his debut at Number 8 and the bench looks strong too. All change!
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Chris Harris, Pete Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (capt); Gordon Reid, George Turner, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner, Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, Blade Thomson.
Replacements: Grant Stewart, Allan Dell, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, John Barclay, George Horne, Rory Hutchinson, Blair Kinghorn
France: Thomas Ramos, Damien Penaud, Gael Fickou, Welsey Fofana, Alivereti Raka, Camille Lopez, Antoine Dupont; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Rabah Slimani, Félix Lambey, Sébastien Vahaamahina, Charles Ollivon, Greg Alldritt, Arthur Itturia.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Baille, Setiano, Taofifenua, Camara, Baptiste Serin, Romain Ntamack, Maxime Medard.