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.
- 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.
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
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.
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)
- 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.