KO 3.00 at Stade de France
Sunday 28th February 2021
Live on BBC1
Wins on the road against both Wales and England in the last six months mean that Scotland’s drought in Paris is by some distance the longest running of their away day blues in the Six Nations.
Throw in victory in Rome in February and Scotland have won 3-in-a-row away from home having never even managed back to back road wins at any point since the inception of the Six Nations.
The dark blues have as many away wins in the championship against the old Five Nations’ sides in their last two games as they managed in their previous 41 attempts dating back to 2000.
Scotland’s most recent away wins in the Six/Five Nations:
England 6th February 2021
Wales 31st October 2020
Italy 22nd February 2020
Ireland 20th March 2010
France 10th April 1999
France Scouting Report
There have been highlight reel moments in recent years but the foundations of France’s play with ball in hand is far more prosaic. Across the first two rounds of this season’s Six Nations no side has a lower ratio of passes to carries than the French.
That means a lot of plays by forwards picking and going or players carrying up the guts off a single pass from the scrum half. The French pack are happiest when they are trying to overpower their opposition. If it doesn’t gain enough ground or create the situation they want then the petit generals at 9 and 10 are just as happy to put boot to ball to allow their side to try and overpower the opposition with aggressive defence.
Basically, Les Bleus will be smashing bodies all day long. Gregor Townsend will be hoping there is no postponement and his side still have a rest weekend to recover from this one before tackling Ireland.
The satin to go with the steel mentioned above comes when France do find a situation they like the look of. This will often come from transitioning between defence and attack – from a turnover or a kicking contest – but as soon as there is a sniff of the defensive line being broken the intensity goes up. If it’s on then yes sir, they can jouer.
Crucial to this is continuity and keeping the ball alive, preventing the defence from resetting. Charles Ollivon’s try against Ireland featured four offloads out of the tackle – three of them in quick succession from Jalibert, Marchand and Dupont.
That ruthlessness and speed of thought was in stark contrast to the power-based play that made up most of their attack. The French have so many weapons at their disposal though and being a bit more controlled simply reflects the realities of the modern game which doesn’t really favour hanging on to the ball without real purpose to it. Pick the right moment though and spectacular things can still happen…
During the recent French resurgence, much of the attention has (rightly) focused on Antoine Dupont and the sparkle he adds in attack. There is another name though who deserves just as much attention although his contributions might not be quite so spectacular – Gregory Alldritt.
The French number 8 has only been playing Test rugby for a little over two years but Scotland’s players would be rightly justified in being heartily sick of the sight of him already. It began when he came off the bench during this same fixture two years ago. Despite only appearing in the 69th minute he managed to barge over for two tries.
Although Sunday’s game will be just his 21st cap it will already be the sixth time Alldritt has faced the dark blues. He’s never been less than an absolute pain in that time, banging out the most carries for his side and consistently breaking the gain line. Given the core of the French game plan is to dominate the contact area, the La Rochelle man might well be one of the most important players on the pitch.
- France have averaged 40% possession in their first two Six Nations’ games. Scotland should see a fair amount of ball – they need to be efficient in how they use it though.
- Conditions played their part but France coughed the ball up pretty regularly against Ireland – once every 11.5 carries. That’s compared to once per 25.7 carries for Scotland in the opening rounds.
- The French have kicked the ball 65 times in their first two matches. Brice Dulin at full back has accounted for 22 of those kicks in 160 minutes – the same number as France’s scrum halves. The Scottish back 3 should be in for a busy afternoon.
This will be the 11th time the two sides have met in Paris for a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:
L L L L L L L L L L
Most recent meeting at the Stade de France:
France 27 – 10 Scotland
558 – metres made with ball in hand by Scotland. Despite all that ground gained the dark blues only managed a single, late consolation try. By comparison in the other 7 games in the Townsend era when Scotland have made more than 500m they have scored 47 tries at an average of 6.7 per game.
Plenty of Scottish attack was able to make breaks and work the ball upfield into good positions. Time after time though they failed to convert this into points. This is something that’s been an issue in the early rounds of this season’s Six Nations as well. The French defence is an incredibly tough one to put this right against but it does feel if Scotland can make better decisions there is going to be a game where they really break loose in attack.
The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant Referee 1: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Andrea Piardi (Italy)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)
Scotland have struggled somewhat to find the right approach with Mr Barnes. In 14 matches across the last decade when the English whistler has been in charge, the dark blues have ‘lost’ the penalty count 11 times.
The ruck was a problem area last time round against France at Murrayfield in the Autumn Nations Cup when Mr Barnes dished out a dozen penalties at the breakdown (6 against each side). An off day at the scrum saw Scotland penalised 3 times and they really cannot afford to be on the wrong side of the ref at the setpiece on Sunday.
Scotland’s last 5 games with Mr Barnes as referee:
- 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)
- 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)
- 2020 – lost to France (H)
Pens: 25 (For 9 – 16 Against)
Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on later in the week following the team announcement.