Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v France: Autumn Nations Cup 2020, Match Preview pt I

KO 3.15 at Murrayfield
Sunday 22nd November 2020

Live on Amazon Prime Video

Scotland have conceded an average of 11.9 points per game in 2020 – a figure which compares favourably to the 21.6 points per game they had averaged over the previous decade.

That parsimony has contributed to Gregor Townsend being one of just two Scotland head coaches since the game went pro to see their sides concede less than 20 points per match (the other was Andy Robinson whose reign saw 10 points per game fewer scored than in the Townsend era).

The defensive solidity demonstrated by the dark blues in recent matches will be severely tested on Sunday. France have rarely been contained at Murrayfield, even in defeat. The opening period at the national stadium in March has to provide the template. Scotland are the only side to restrict the French to fewer than a dozen first half points in the last 18 months – a spell where Les Bleus have averaged 18 points in the opening 40 minutes of their matches.

France Scouting Report

La Nouvelle Vague

This feels like retreading some of the same ground that was covered prior to the pre-lockdown beatdown at Murrayfield but given these sides have only played, respectively 3 and 2 games since then, there have been limited opportunities for drastic developments!

There’s no question that France have played some beautiful rugby of late. That panache and elan come with a hefty side portion of bloody-minded efficiency though and more than a soupcon of focus on forcing errors from the opposition, in order to allow the French attacking threats to take advantage.

Some key France stats from the most recent Six Nations:

  • Along with England they were the only sides in the competition to kick the ball more than 5 kilometres.
  • Threw the fewest passes in the competition (although interestingly the most offloads – much rarer at around 1 offload for every 10 passes but when it’s on they really want to keep the ball alive).
  • Made the 2nd fewest carries behind England – although encouragingly for Scotland the French had the highest rate of knock ons.
  • Attempted nearly 100 more tackles than any other side.

Scotland will be facing up to the pragmatism of a side whose pack think they can overpower anyone and whose backs kick into the positions they want themselves (or their opponents) to play from as well as the idealism of a team who will seize on any looseness to jouer, jouer, jouer.

Captain Fantastique

During the recent French revival much of the attention has, understandably, been focused on the highlights-reel worthy skills of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, plus the immense workrate of Gregory Alldritt. France’s skipper deserves an awful lot of credit as well though.

Despite being somewhat of a late bloomer in nailing down a starting shirt, Charles Ollivon has proved his mettle as a fine player in his own right. With 4 tries he was the top scorer in the 2020 Six Nations. Add to that his 4 assists (equal top for that stat) and he was involved in more tries than anyone else in the tournament – not bad for a forward!

His lineout prowess has allowed France to opt for more heavyweight options at second row who can put their focus on grunt work rather than worrying about the setpiece. With 25 takes, Ollivon was well ahead of the rest in this area too.

It’s his leadership that might prove to be the biggest contribution to the cause though. There have been some great one-off performances from French teams that seemed to be imploding but a bit of calm authority and everyone pulling in the same direction surely has to be the best option for bringing in long-term change. Ollivon is providing that and with the loss at Murrayfield the only defeat on his record as captain so far (with all his games against Tier 1 opposition) he’s made an extremely strong start to his tenure.


  • France conceded the most penalties in the Six Nations. In the last month they have shipped 30 in their games against Wales and Ireland combined.
  • During the championship, they conceded 11 pens for offside and another 11 at scrums.
  • 4 yellow cards and a red card crowned their ascension to being the bad boys of the tournament.

Previous results

This will be the 7th time the two sides have played at Murrayfield in the last decade. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 28 – 17 France

Significant stat
22 – kicks from hand by France, the fewest in any game they have played in 2020. It felt a little like the French got drawn into a more open contest and moved away from the formula that has brought them so much success. It will be fascinating to see if something similar happens this weekend or if they maintain the mindset that has brought them big wins against England, Ireland and Wales.

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


Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee 1: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Scotland’s record in games with Mr Barnes in charge has been, well, a bit iffy. Since 2011 they’ve ‘lost’ the penalty count in 10 out of 13 matches where he has been the ref. Results have definitely been a mixed bag as well.

On the positive side, the last couple of years have seen a marked improvement in the dark blues’ penalty count (single figures in their last 4 matches) and Mr Barnes hasn’t carded a Scot since he sin binned Ryan Wilson for committing all the offences against Australia back in 2017.

Scotland’s last 5 games with Mr Barnes as referee:

  • 2018 – lost to Ireland (A)
    Pens: 19 (For 9 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2018 – lost to USA (A)
    Pens: 19 (For 11 – 8 Against)
    Cards: USA 1 YC
  • 2019 – beat France (H)
    Pens: 16 (For 7 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Ireland (N)
    Pens: 14 (For 8 – 6 Against)
    Cards: Ireland 1 YC
  • 2019 – beat Russia (N)
    Pens: 7 (For 3 – 4 Against)
    Cards: none

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

11 Responses

  1. If, as appears likely, Fiji are unable to fulfill any of their Autumn Nations Cup pool fixtures then any win for Scotland on Sunday against France will see the Scots top Group B.

    1. Conversely, a loss may see us below Italy on points difference, and if we do play Fiji, this might be hard to make up…

  2. I’ll set the ball rolling ahead of GT’s squad announcement tomorrow.
    Assuming Brown and Ritchie are fit:
    Kebble, Brown, Fagerson, Cummings, Gray, Ritchie (otherwise Skinner), Watson, Thomson;
    Price, Weir, VDW, Johnson, Harris, Maitland, Hogg.
    Bhatti, Turner, Nel, Skinner (Toolis if Ritchie is out), Du Preez (or Fagerson if fit), Hidalgo-Clyne, Lang, Graham.
    It doesn’t feel too controversial but I prepare to be surprised.

    1. It’s a little controversial to suggest Jaco Van der Walt will break out of self isolation and replace Durhan van der merwe on the wing, who doesn’t even make the 23! ;)

      1. Haha! Is it more controversial than Duncan Taylor’s return from the wilderness though?!

  3. It’s a game like this where you need a steady hand in the midfield. The likes of Pete Horne is tailor made for a game like this and is nowhere to be seen.

  4. I disagree that he’s nowhere near international standard. He’s shown at 12, that he’s got good passing skills, puts others into space and can hit a good line. Russell often plays well with Horne outside him. However, Horne is prone to howlers and every international seems to include at least one.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion