Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v France, Six Nations 2020: Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Scotland v France
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

Of the French 23 for this game only Gael Fickou has ever experienced what it’s like to beat Scotland at Murrayfield (he played 12 minutes off the bench in 2014). It would be absolutely lovely if the dark blues could keep things that way for at least the next 2 years, please and thank you.

Tale of the tape

Tries   30
   Average weight   90kg
Total caps   137
6N caps   69
Average age   24.2

   Pack weight   922kg
Tries   11
Total caps   124
6N caps   58
Average age   26.5

Tries   9
162   Total caps   104
6N caps   51
Average age   23.9


3 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v Italy)

  • 2 – Brown for McInally [=]
  • 4/5 – Gilchrist for Toolis [=]
  • 8 – Haining for Bradbury [=]


Stuart Hogg (c)
Sean Maitland
Chris Harris
Sam Johnson
Blair Kinghorn
Adam Hastings
Ali Price

Rory Sutherland
Fraser Brown
Zander Fagerson
Scott Cummings
Grant Gilchrist
Jamie Ritchie
Hamish Watson
Nick Haining

Stuart McInally
Allan Dell
Willem Nel
Sam Skinner
Magnus Bradbury
George Horne
Duncan Weir
Kyle Steyn

ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV France

ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV France

ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV Scotland
ADV France
ADV France

Anthony Bouthier
Damien Penaud
Virimi Vakatawa
Arthur Vincent
Gael Fickou
Romain Ntamack
Antoine Dupont

Jefferson Poirot
Julien Marchand
Mohamed Haouas
Bernard le Roux
Paul Willemse
Francois Cros
Charles Ollivon (c)
Gregory Alldritt

Camille Chat
Jean-Baptiste Gros
Demba Bamba
Romain Taofifenua
Dylan Cretin
Baptiste Serin
Mathieu Jalibert
Thomas Ramos


Backs – advantage France

For nearly 25 years the Hastings family have been waiting for revenge on the Ntamacks. Emile’s late, late try in the 1995 World Cup pool stages was a dagger to the heart of big Gav’s final campaign for Scotland in the fight of the fathers. Can Adam Hastings triumph over Romain Ntamack in the scuffle of the sons?

While playing for Racing 92 this season, Virimi Vakatawa has cemented his reputation as one of European rugby’s most dangerous attackers. The big centre has had his moments for France too but he’s been restricted to 3 carries against England and 6 versus Wales. Scotland’s best chance of keeping the former 7s star quiet is to follow that template of stopping the ball getting into his hands too much.

Forwards – advantage Scotland

The French lineout is dominated by their back row – in particular, Francois Cros and Charles Ollivon. So far in the tournament, France’s starting locks have just 2 catches whereas the back row have taken 33 on their own throw, with the flankers pouching nearly all of those.

Given this, it seems likely that one of the work ons for Nick Haining when he’s been made available for Edinburgh during this Six Nations window has been his contribution at the lineout. Up to the start of February he had just a single catch at the setpiece for his club in the PRO14. Against Connacht he had 1 take plus 1 steal on opposition ball. Last week he won 5 lineouts versus Cardiff Blues. Expect him to be the third option for Scotland on Sunday.

Subs– advantage France

As Part I of the preview noted, France have given up a rake of points in the final quarters of matches during the Six Nations. Looking at the array of talent on their bench that seems somewhat counterintuitive but the subs have struggled to have the impact that their starters have managed early on.

Gregor Townsend has tinkered with his bench somewhat but seems to have settled on an interesting mix between solidity (Nel and Weir), muscular physicality (McInally and Bradbury) and explosive attackers (Skinner, Horne and Steyn). This group will almost certainly have a huge part to play in the outcome of the match, either chasing or (hopefully!) closing out the game.


– It’s been 1,085 days since Duncan Weir’s last game for Scotland and 679 days since his last appearance at Murrayfield (for Edinburgh). Will Duncy make a triumphant return to the national stadium on Sunday?

– Weir and Kyle Steyn will be the 75th and 76th players to feature in the Townsend era if they make if off the bench against France.

– Considering it’s the French squad that’s supposed to have undergone a major overhaul post-RWC the level of changes from these two sides’ Six Nations’ fixture in Paris 12 months ago are remarkably similar. Both teams have 5 players returning in their starting XVs. 12 of Scotland’s 23 also featured last season at the Stade de France. The equivalent number for the French is 11.

– At the start of the 2023 World Cup cycle, France have just 2 players aged 29 or older in their lineup (1 starter and 1 sub) who might be considered unlikely to make it to their home tournament in just under 4 years’ time. Scotland have 7 in the 29+ bracket (5 starters and 2 subs).

– France’s victory at the Millenium Stadium was their first away win against one of the old Five Nations sides since they beat Scotland at Murryfield in 2014. In the last 10 years of the tournament, the French have only won 4 times away from home against England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

– During the current Six Nations the sides who have named teams for 4 fixtures have made the following alterations:

  • Changes to starting XVs: England – 11; Scotland – 7; Wales 7; France – 4.
  • Changes to matchday 23s: England – 11; Scotland – 10; Wales – 10; France – 7.
  • Different players in starting XVs: England – 22; Wales – 21; Scotland – 20; France – 18.
  • Different players in matchday 23s: Scotland – 31; England – 30; Wales – 30; France – 29.

33 Responses

  1. You give the clear advantage to the French half backs over the Scottish ones. I’m not saying you are wrong but the key for us has to be Hastings and Price playing to their maximum potential and controlling the game well. If they don’t then we will be in trouble.

  2. I do not see Fraser Brown as the strongest player, I mean no harm, but his lineout work is poor and has cost us many times. Rambo should have been starting.

  3. That statistic, both sides have made as many changes since the last meeting is jumping out at me. a year on here is the freeze frame:

    1) One leads the championship the other second from bottom.
    2) One progresses at the RWC , one exists at ground zero.

    Win or lose tomorrow, it is obvious to me that change is inevitable. I would not write us off tomorrow and look forward to the game.

    Traditionally both sides play rugby and the concept of defensive rugby does not exist.

    A win tomorrow would be a great advert for rugby and bring hope for the players. Cardiff is no place to go without confidence.

    1. Good points Captain. However, don’t you think Scotland has played well defensively during this 6N? I am hoping for an inspired offense at home and holding the line defensively.

      1. It is back to basics, score more points than the opposition. It is a simple game plan is it not?

        Pick your best side , time and time again and they will deliver more than the sum of their parts?

        Just in case there is any misunderstanding, that is not pick and mix in response to the opposition, I mean back your players and let the other side respond. if anyone still doesn’t get it, ask Ben Toolis.

        Keeping them out is part of the equation , but as we all know that takes more out of you than attacking, so you need to be the ‘fittest team in the world’ and as we know from the RWC Toony has the fittest team in the world and he ‘has the stats to prove it’ !

        It really is the day for champagne or la guillotine.

        I believe we can and will win today. The players will do it.

  4. Yeah you missed the big one. France finally have a decent coach in Galthié , who is trying to get France playing to their strengths. Scotland have Townsend, god knows what we’re supposed to be doing.

  5. What I can’t understand is set piece can be a massive reason why teams win or lose yet Gregor drops the 2 most important players to our lineout Toolis and Rambo. Doesn’t take Einstein to notice that the lineout functions best when they play as well as other teams avoiding Toolis like the plaque on their own lineouts as he can steal ball easily if the throw isn’t perfect. This extra pressure allows us to defend the maul better and even if you don’t get a steal cause an error I.e. (last week on top of 2 steals/2 maul turnovers Toolis also forced an error which lead to Cummings kicking it deep into the 22 and we pinned them on their line). All I know is after last week if I was the coach or more importantly if cockers was coach those 2 would be starting but no… one is on the bench and the other not even in the 23 which baffles me.

  6. Really miss Finn Russell.

    Toolis absence a mystery.

    Need Hastings to step up today, has been ok but nothing to suggest he’s anything more than a bench man (still think he’s looked better at FB for Scotland).

    Physical team picked, flair guys – Jones, Hutchinson out – physicality preferred, will be very interesting to see what happens. Scrum should be a happy hunting ground

    Surely GT HAS to win today (or/& next week)!!!??!?

  7. The reality is Scotland with only 2 pro teams does not have the player resources to compete with the other five nations teams. Townsend has very limited cards to play and calls to change the coach are pointless. No matter who came in Scotland will still struggle v the others.

    1. Ireland and Wales have very limited resources in comparison to England and France yet have consistently gone toe to toe with them or better over the past 10 years.

      Stop making pathetic excuses.

      1. Neil, I’d argue Ireland have the perfect set up: four strong provinces (including two powerhouse teams) allows plenty of opportunity for youngsters to play top-class rugby from an early age but still few enough teams to be controllable by the Irish RFU (unlike the English Premiership and French Top14). Agreed we shouldn’t look to make excuses but we should also recognize these are important differences.

      2. Agreed. They embraced professionalism and are reaping the rewards. And only having four teams means that the players get lots of experience playing with one another. Also, Ireland and Wales had top quality coaching teams until recently.

      3. In Ireland rugby is the major professional sport.
        GAA which is the major participation sport is ‘shamateur’ while football is semi-pro.
        In Wales Rugby is the national game.
        Both countries have at least double our resources in terms of player numbers and pro teams.

    2. Couldn’t disagree more. That’s such a cop out and an easy excuse for a coach with no idea. Multiple times he’s continued to pick guys who play poorly in a loss yet drops others after playing well in a win… explain that to me? He also keeps cracking on about playing the fastest rugby in the world yet kept picking Laidlaw at 9 when you’ve got Price and Horne. There is a lot of talent in Scottish rugby especially young lads but Gregor has failed to pick the best 23 regularly. There is no way the team he’s picked for this weekend is the best available.

      1. When did Townsend last talk about the fastest rugby in the world? Did he ever even publicly use the phrase? I don’t particularly like his selections, but the best 23 players aren’t necessarily the best 23 for the gameplan being employed, and selection is generally a team effort with the assistant coaches providing a lot of input. Not saying Townsend isn’t accountable, but if Tandy et al. aren’t influencing selection and gameplan that would be very concerning.

      2. Yep he first said it in 2018 and if you type “gregor townsend fast rugby” in google multiple articles come up regarding the plan he proposed to his players. I honestly believe Gregor does things his way and ultimately as head coach he makes the final call. Obviously other coaching staff make suggestions etc but too many selections scream of I’m the head coach so what I say goes.

  8. Wow, the ref doesn’t have a clue about the law surrounding tip tackles. Lift, landed head it has to be straight red. No real room in rules for another decision.

  9. Hmm, Scotland winning by playing the slowest rugby in the world. Price is as slow as Laidlaw, but it seems to be the game plan.

  10. Excellent performance. Some luck but they stuck at it and played for each other and maybe the coach.

  11. Will take the win.

    Somewhat disappointing not to get a bonus point playing against 14 men for 50 minutes though ?

    Scrums a strength – Rory Sutherland has credit now.

    Mcinally just as bad at lineout as Brown is, Brown offering better all round game.

    Gilchrist was my MoM

    Haining delivered again.

    Hastings good.

    Harris opened space that allowed us to concede first try, apart from that was ok.

    Back-Three looks solid.

    Steyn offered something off the bench.
    Shame Horne was on the backfoot when he came on.

    Dissapointing 2nd half if you take out our luck, should we have done more against 14 men ?

    We were behind before the red card.

    1. Point of order: we were behind with a lockable penalty for the red card. I think had the ref not investigated we would’ve been ahead regardless.

    2. Most of what you’ve said is alright but standard level ‘Neil nonsense” when it comes to Harris. He played very well.

  12. Wonderful mature performance against a very good French team. Our defence is night and day and we built on it. Yes we didn’t play the old expansive game but then again we weren’t let down by defensive lapses. Ritchie and Watson were superb and Hastings had a far better game. All that without Finn and Darcy. Excellent

  13. Good aggression from all the starting pack, Townsend’s picks of Gilchrist, Brown and Haining all proving good selections. Brown would be some player if he could throw consistently as well.

    Backs all went well too.

    Good performance. Perhaps disappointing to not get the BP but France were clearly still effective and dangerous even with 14.

  14. A bit fortunate that France went to 14 early on….looked like it would have tough to win that one if France had 15 in the last 15 or so.
    That said …..Scotland are infinitely better in defense under Tandy. He is making our pack much more formidable than it has been for a long time.
    It also has to be said that Harris provides much more backbone in the centre than Jones does. Put in a huge shift.
    Gilchrist played better and more aggressive than he has done in memory and was all the better for that.
    Ritchie is simply an absolute stick on in the back row. Terrific back row player.
    Sutherland and Fagerson same…

  15. Don’t think the performance was any better than in the other matches but we were against 14 men for 55 minutes and had the bounce of the ball, the botched line-out and kind bounce for McInally’s try summed it up. 4 solid performances so far. I like Haining in the team, he’s aggressive and a bit of a dick, is good as winding up the opponent then laughing in his face which is what sparked the red card. Have seen him do this for Edinburgh several times. In him and Ritchie we have a couple of belligerent turkeys in the back row.

  16. Great win. Huge confidence boost. During this 6N Scotland have definitely improved their “championship minutes” either side of half time. wonder if that has been a focus. Good to see a clinical edge and compound opposition indiscipline by putting on points. And a big win without Finn changes that dynamic a bit. Roll on Cardiff.

  17. Credit where credit is due, excellent performance against a previously unbeaten French team.
    Tackled, got under their skin, rattled them to good effect, Hogg magnificent involvement in 2 tries.
    Gilchrist’s best game for Scotland.
    Harris strong & played well
    Haining is excellent, more natural rugby player than Bradbury.
    Fagerson & Sutherland both excellent & young, add Kebble & possibly McCallum to the mix.
    Most encouraging that Graham, VDM, Finn to return to the squad (not to mention Jones, Hutchinson).
    Said GT needed to win today & he did, well played sir

  18. So many posters wishing our most expansive game is lost. I sat there in Yokahama embarrassed by Russell and Hogg throwing it about in the first 15 where we lost the QF place due to our mistakes. Today was mature and smart. Japan with a 6 months preparation showed us our game. Which was made nonsense by SA who smothered Japan and absolutely hammered them. It was a daft naive myth. Today with Tandy and De Villiers France, yes that France on the back of 2 under 20 world cup winning sides, looked for most parts clueless. Thank goodness we have restored the pack with a ferocious back line. Factor in Finn missing, Darcy out and and Tandy just in the door plus De Villiers. The future is a maybe but in my view good. We have seen amazing tries etc. But out rivals just laugh. We always would be so porous and make a mess of it. What a defensive record.

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