Scotland v France: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

KO 3.00 at Murrayfield
Sunday 8th March 2020

Live on BBC1

Scotland are aiming for a third consecutive Six Nations’ win at Murrayfield against France. That may not sound like much but it’s something that the dark blues have only achieved once before in the post-war period.

Scotland’s post-war Five/Six Nations winning streaks against France at Murrayfield:

  • 1980 – 1992 – 7 wins
  • 1972 – 1974 – 2 wins
  • 1956 – 1958 – 2 wins
  • 1948 – 1950 – 2 wins

Getting that third win is going to require either Scotland’s improved defence standing up to a battering or a flurry of points for the Scots themselves. France average 21 points a game at Murrayfield in the last decade and managed 26 and 18 even in the two recent defeats.

France Scouting Report

Puis-je le botter? Oui, vous pouvez.

For all the excitement that the ‘old’ France are back and here to entertain us, there’s still a healthy dose of pragmatism in their play. They’ve kicked the ball 102 times. The only reason any other team in the championship comes close is that England’s tally of 100 kicks is inflated by booting the ball 43 times in a gale at Murrayfield in Round 2.

In the right circumstances, the French will definitely jouer, jouer, jouer (see for example their disallowed try against Wales) but when faced with the option to kick, pass or run they have opted to toe it 18% of the time – the next highest for this stat is England at 10%. That number is also influenced by the fact that France pass the ball less than any of the other teams – they’re the only one of the Six Nations with fewer passes than carries, which points to a lot of pick and goes and close in rumbles.

Essentially the French are happy to get the ball in front of them and try to force mistakes from the opposition. That’s lead to them attempting more tackles than any of the other sides – 688, which is over 200 more than Scotland. Shaun Edwards’ defence or not, that’s put a strain on the thin bleu line and their tackle completion is only marginally ahead of Italy’s.

All this means Scotland will get chances to win possession and attack. First up they need to compete well in the air. Then once the ball is secured, try and find where the French chase is thinnest. Unlike at club level the quality of scramble defence is so good that one line break won’t necessarily mean a try. The Scots need to keep going until they’ve finished the job and not get bogged down in the 22 as has happened so many times already this season.

Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow

French defensive work has lead to some of the slowest ruck ball around for their opposition. They’re a bit behind England in this area but they’ve pushed 48% of breakdowns beyond the (seemingly) magic 3 second mark between the ball going to ground and being moved away from the ruck.

There’s no real, traditional jackal in the French back row but they’re an exceptionally powerful unit who will slow things up in the tackle and make life incredibly difficult for securing the ball on the ground.

It’s not just their opponents’ rucks that are slow though, with French ball averaging 4.50 seconds per breakdown – the highest figure in the tournament. Put simply for the majority of their game France don’t necessarily need quick possession. Their aggressive carriers can hold their own even against a packed defence and, as mentioned above, there’s a decent chance someone will be kicking the ball away anyway!

Scotland’s game plan still needs quick ball to function at its best. The precision hasn’t been there at times, leading to lost possessions so far this Six Nations – that has to improve if they’re going to break down the French. Equally the dark blues are going to have to find a way to disrupt a French setup that’s only lost 7 rucks in 3 games. Not easy when Les Bleus taking few risks when the game is in the trenches.

Miscellaneous

  • France have conceded 29 points during the final quarter of this season’s Six Nations matches. Only Italy (30) have conceded more in this period.
  • On the other hand, the French have scored 38 points in the opening quarters of the same games. That’s just 7 points fewer than the other five countries combined.
  • The French scrum has the worst rate of offending in the tournament. They’ve conceded 9 penalties and free kicks while winning just 2. That -7 differential overall compares to +2 for the Scottish setpiece.

Previous results

This will be the 11th time the two sides have played at Murrayfield in a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L L W L L L L W W

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 32 – 26 France

Significant stat
18 – points scored by Greig Laidlaw in the second half. Le Petit General took the game away from France after they’d hammered out a fast start and a 20-14 advantage at half-time. With the current French team’s strengths seeming to lie in the early exchanges, Scotland may well need some cool heads like Laidlaw’s if they are to find an advantage in the latter stages.

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.

Officials

Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee 1: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)

It’s tough to call what Mr Williams’ approach is likely to be. In his previous Scottish sojourns he’s hammered Italy, then seemed unimpressed with Scotland on their own patch and finally let the teams crack on with it, dishing out minimal penalties in the 38-38 thriller at Twickenham last season.

Scotland will be hoping for a slightly different Kiwi ref than they had last time round. Mr O’Keeffe was very hot on the tackle and breakdown but didn’t really police the offsides or latterly the scrum. With the French line speed if they can push up past the back foot of the ruck it will make it very difficult for the Scottish attack to get going.

Scotland’s last games with Mr Williams in charge:

  • 2017 – beat Italy (N)
    Penalties: 26 (For 17 – 9 Against)
    Cards: Italy 2 YCs
  • 2018 – beat Argentina (H)
    Penalties: 17 (For 7 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – drew with England (A)
    Penalties: 11 (For 5 – 6 Against)
    Cards: none (somehow, despite Owen Farrell popping Darcy Graham in the heid…)

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week, after the team announcements.

Tags:

When he's not watching Glasgow, Scotland (and even Edinburgh) Kevin can usually be found with his head in a spreadsheet working out the most obscure Scottish rugby related stat he can put out on Twitter.
Follow Kevin on twitter @topofthemoonGW

28 comments on “Scotland v France: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

  1. Stuart on

    Thanks Kevin. Excellent analysis. Very interesting to see how much France kick and just how quick they have been out of the blocks

  2. Journeyman on

    In his selection for this game, Townsend needs to think very carefully about how he’s going to bring some penetration to his attack, especially in midfield. There will be reluctance to tinker for fear of undoing the improvement in defence but we need to create opportunities through generating quick ball and running harder, smarter lines – the current incumbents aren’t delivering on that front – suggestions?

    • Stu2 on

      I suspect he’ll not make any changes – but as we can see from Kevin’s analysis, France will give us plenty of ball.

      We need some creativity and Hogg will be well marked.

      • Tam tm on

        Sad that Graham is not fit, he’d of loved this one. A recall for Huw Jones possibly – what do you think?

    • Scrummo on

      Given that we’ve generally really struggled against suffocating Shaun Edwards defences in the past I worry for us on this score regardless of who we pick.

      I think our best bet will be our own defence keeping the scoreboard low and relying on an intelligent kicking game from Hastings and Proce to get us into their 22. From there having some sort of clever set plays up our sleeve to sneak a try or two may be our best bet. Something like the Dunbar line out trick or something. I really don’t fandy us to break down the ‘bleu wall’ in open play.

  3. Tryhard on

    Great article as always, Kevin.

    Selection-wise, I would go:

    Hogg, Maitland, Harris, Hutchinson, Kinghorn, Hastings, Horne, Sutherland, McInally, Fagerson, Cummings, Toolis, Ritchie, Watson, Bradbury

    Brown, Dell, Nel, Skinner, Haining, Price, Weir, Jones

    Don’t have too much to change from last week but something needs done about our attack and a bit more impetus from the bench.
    Attack – dual playmaker the way to go. I’ve also seen nothing from Price to make me think that Horne wouldn’t be the better option.

  4. Harvinder Tilakirathna on

    Excellent preview as usual.

    I reckon GT will stick with his risk averse defensive strategy that got him through the Italy match so we’ll have Johnson and Harris again in midfield. In fact I doubt there will be any changes to the 23 unless there are injuries. Not expecting any fireworks as ranking points are likely to be on the coaches mind more than champagne rugby.

  5. Big Al on

    I don’t think the tombola will be in action this week and we will likely see the same starters again. Not sure anyone who played in the Pro 14 last weekend advanced their case for inclusion and arguably those who visited Leinster have gone backwards.

    Hopefully Russell’s coaching insights on the French players and potential attack shape against them will prove fruitfull. Maybe his route back in to the squad is as attack coach.

  6. Nessie on

    I suspect Toonie will play safe & tight with Johnson & Harris. We should be fitter and if we can stay in game then hopefully unleash some more creativity/attacking threat in final quarter.

      • TeamCam on

        We have. Our attacking passing game against Ireland was great, we just kept either getting (illegally) turned over or decided to try trucking up in the forwards.

  7. Journeyman on

    That’s the point, no-one starting or off the bench has provided any midfield spark / creativity in 3 games – I’d take a punt on Matt Scott (off the bench at least) as he’s the only centre who has consistently made line breaks all season thus far…..

  8. Wilma Fingerdo on

    I’d also take a punt on Scott and remind the ref beforehand that just because Edwards is in charge of the French defence doesn’t mean that the offside rule changes.

    • Tasmanian Tiger on

      There is as much chance of you guys playing as Scott. For whatever reason Townsend doesn’t rate him, which means he is the form centre. It will be Johnson and Harris again with Hutchinson getting a cameo and the usual suspects criticising him (Hutch) for not turning the game around and scoring a brace…

  9. Take the points on

    Some very surprising insight, I guess that’s why one of us has a great rugby blog whilst the other bores the pub with rehashed analysis. I for one think we have to open the taps a bit this weekend. The reviews across the board for Scotland’s performance in Rome were scathing one could say patronising. If we are going to play Harris in a conservative formation then we need changes in the backs early onto exploit the French poor last quarter. Kinghorn needs a good game he’s been invisible any chance of Matt Scott showing up he’s been superb for Edinburgh.

  10. FF on

    Thistle rugby podcast source has Haining and Gilchrist to start (not said who they will replace – I’d guess Bradbury and Toolis).

    • Andy_N on

      Kinghorn and Bradbury have been hugely underwhelming. I expect Kinghorn to keep his place for want of a suitable replacement, but Bradbury ambled through the last two games and will be lucky to stay in the 23. If he was match fit, would love to see Skinner team up with Cummings.

  11. Captain Chaos and his band on

    There is always the chance the French will not travel well and that kicking statistic is intriguing.

    Good sides have had their berets on a shooglie peg at Murrayfield before.

    Besides, 3 years into his role, Townsend should be winning home games. I am right behind Toony,this weekend , about the length of Princes Street behind .

    Like Teamcam always says :
    we nearly beat Ireland,
    we nearly best England,
    we nearly got a bonus point in Rome, but we settled for nil-ing them.

    So why on earth would we not expect to win this weekend !

    If this is a side , arrogant enough to kick the ball at us in front of a Murrayfield crowd, why not just show them the back of our shorts and go for it, it is a game for no tactics and sheer Finn-sanity.

    In all seriousness, I think Murrayfield is an advantage , but as you can tell, I have no confidence in the preparation and will put all the credit with the players should we do it.

    • Sam Benedict on

      Hutchinson won’t be in the 23. He’s starting for Northampton Saints tomorrow at outside centre.

      Suggests either a 6/2 bench split, or Duncan Weir in the #22 shirt.

      • The Fife Finn Russell on

        Potentially Hogg covering the 10 shirt if hastings goes down in a 6/2 split. Wonder if Toony would see Matt Scott in the same vein as Hutch as 10 cover?

  12. Tam tm on

    What’s the odds on Matt Scott getting called up. Though I hear he got a bang to the head in the recent Edinburgh game I see he is in full training. He’s on good form and has been throughout the season. However, I don’t see him taking the last bench spot to cover the back 3 position. Hogg covering 10 on the other hand and Harris covering the wing positions?

Comments are closed.