Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


France v Scotland, Six Nations 2021: Match Preview pt I

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

Hulk Smash

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.

Offloading Outcomes

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…

Danger Man

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.

Previous results

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:


Most recent meeting at the Stade de France:

France 27 – 10 Scotland

Significant stat
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)
    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
  • 2020 – lost to France (H)
    Pens: 25 (For 9 – 16 Against)
    Cards: none

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on later in the week following the team announcement.

56 Responses

  1. No ve cases reported for 2nd day in a row (Tues) so can see the fixture getting the go-ahead for this Sunday at tonight’s 6 Nations Meeting. Hopefully tests will continue to show negative results for rest of the week.

    1. So it is canned. Scotland need to refuse the revised date if they do not have the release of all their players. Otherwise it makes a complete mockery of the decision.

  2. BBC reporting that the game is on for Sunday. 6N stating they plan to stage the match as planned and that “We continue to monitor the situation very closely and are in regular contact with both unions,”
    Fingers crossed we don’t have another barrage of positive tests in the French camp.

  3. Great news about the game being on. Difficult one to call as the old adage “you never know which French team will turn up” is, quite literally, true this year.
    Sincerely wish all the best for those in the French camp who have tested positive.
    That being said, we’ll NEVER get a better chance than this to get the Paris monkey off our back. No crowd, French 2nd XV who have only been coached remotely, without their stars and captain, a near full-strength side for us. Bring it on.

      1. We’d like to think the Refs have their own review committee, no judgement, just lessons learned. We have demonstrated the correct mindset and tactics before but, sometimes, it’s thrown out without using nous. We don’t have players like Exeter to push and drive, so why continue when we’re pushed back. Why can’t we be smarter? We know we can, don’t we?

      2. Not my favourite ref but no issue with Barnes. I think he generally has got things about right in the past.

  4. It would be good to think we can improve on our strike rate from the previous games. Hopefully the team have come up with a plan B when endless pick and goes isn’t working. Perhaps a couple of passes out to a flying DVDM.

    We also need: to not give away compounding penalties like we did against Wales; not switch off if we manage to get ahead on the score board (or in the 5/10 minutes either side of half-time).

    Even with France missing some of their first team players we will still need a complete performance (like England but with better attack) to win.

    1. Good post James….I really wish to add to this that when we have pen advantage Russell wouldn’t try to 1% play by kicking etc everytime but try going wide or something that has a better strike rate…

      I think last time out was the first time in this new defensive emphasis that we scored multiple tries which is important which is a positive and first time in years we’ve scored a try while a man down…

      This team is doing things we’ve not seen for generations but we do need to take certain things more seriously to become contenders…Sun is a real chance to go into new territory once again…

      England best Wales Sat…..we beat France….we are right in the mix…

  5. i’m delighted to see Rob Harley back in the squad, it seemed after the 2019 Ireland game his international career was all but over but he been great since and deserves this recognition.

    1. Rob Harley is by Peter Wrights description the most annoying player to play against…he is just a nuisance…think he does so much that is unseen by the layman

      1. Agreed. How many times have we seen he’s held the ball up against all odds and secured turnover. Doesn’t need to play a lock, can be back row. More oomph than GG. Doesn’t appear to tire. A complete dog.

  6. As Kevin has pointed out, the key to this French team is in the pack. Last time around I was worried about Dupont, but in the end Alldritt stole the ball and the game from us and the backs had just to ice the cake.

    Ollivon obviously is a big loss, but their pack will still be very hard to deal with.

  7. Probable France team:

    Bouthier; Penaud, Fickou, Danty, Thomas; Jalibert, Serin
    Aldegheri, Bourgarit, Atonio; Le Roux, Willemse; Jelonch, Woki; Alldritt
    (Baubigny, Kolingar, Bamba, Geraci, Cretin, Bezy, Ramos, Barassi)

    Frightening side. I don’t really think we’ve got that much of a chance…

    I don’t know who the captain will be. I’d guess it’s between Fickou, Serin and Le Roux.

    Probable Scotland team:
    Hogg (C); Maitland, Harris, Johnson, van der Merwe; Russell, Price
    Sutherland, Turner, Nel; Cummings, J Gray; Ritchie, Watson; Fagerson
    (Cherry, Kebble, Berghan, R Gray, Bayliss, Steele, Hastings, Jones)

    1. Penaud and Thomas are pretty weak by international standards under the high ball, i would be having Maitland and Duhan chasing kicks at them all day (risk the danger of their counterattack though) i don’t know much about Bouthier.

      We can tangle with that french pack in the wrong areas of the pitch, need to play it smart and we have a chance.

  8. Bouthier, Penaud and Thomas were 1st choice back 3 last year. From memory, Bouthier has a massive boot, so would expect targeting of the wings rather than him. Agreed that both wingers aren’t great under the high ball. My wife (French) made exactly the same point during the French/ Ireland game.
    It will be a strong French team, but as you say, if we play smart, with more discipline than last time out, we’ve got a decent shout.

  9. Another fresh covid positive this morning (Thursday). You have to think that’s the match cancelled now. Very disappointing.

    1. If it needs to be cancelled then so be it. What they can’t allow is for it to be played next week and Scotland losing half the team.

      Either next week if player release can be arranged (although even then it’s a big ask to have 3 in a row), postpone to later in the year or give us 5 points.

      1. You would hope that the SRU has been in touch with the clubs to sort this put. I’d be seeking a quid pro quo – you get them this weekend instead of next.

    2. TBH, this is something that is an abject failure of the CV19 protocols within the French camp. I’m now of the view that a 28-0 loss is fair and no reschedule.

  10. My wife has gardening lined up for me on Sunday afternoon if the game doesn’t go ahead. PLEASE don’t cancel or postpone the game. There are more important things than the risk of Covid.

    1. It does say it is unlikely to be next weekend on the French page I found – presumably might end up with the other half of the French team unavailable for then anyway, not to mention the Scottish release issue.
      God knows what other date they will come up with.

  11. Surely common sense would prevail and Scotland would not be penalised for French shortcomings in their Covid protocols.Any dates rearranged must be based on the availability of players to turn out for their national teams..

  12. The ironic thing is that President Macron was the one who demanded to see COVID protocols from 6N organisers before agreeing to let the France team compete and it was his own squad who couldn’t get their house in order.

    You would like to think that the other home nations would support our case in not having to play next weekend if we were missing 10 key players. The only two viable options are finding a date in March/April and hoping the clubs will agree to releasing our players or awarding us a 28-0 win.

  13. If Scotland are forced to play this game without a single player due to the changed date it will be the smoking gun proof on the anti-scottish agenda within the governance of international rugby and destroy any remaining semblance of sporting integrity.

    1. Scotland should at the very least be allowed to dictate when the match date is scheduled ensure they have their best team available. If not shows complete disrespect for Scottish rugby…and Scotland would be penalized for doing the square root of zero wrong.

  14. Allegations in french press that Glasgow repeatedly broke covid bubble including failing to isolate after testing positive (observing training from stands).

    This story is going to run as Top14 bosses not happy at all.

    1. Also BBC article suggesting fallow weekend now no longer being consider as entire french squad now in isolation so not available.

      There is some seriously misguided decision making going on here.

      1. Sorry, I don’t know what happened there. Galthie!!!!

        Allegedly he was in and out of a supposedly secure bubble, not just the widely publicised award dinner, and even when in ‘isolation’ was observing training from the stands (so physically distanced but not in isolation).

        Rugbyrama article says he is alleged to be patient 0, although team management have said it is a member of the physio team.

        It is a serious allegation – the French union’s relationship with the government is in jeopardy, the grand slam challenge is in the line if the game can’t be completed and it could cause significant commercial damage. Laporte has promised an investigation but already is seen to be minimising potential for an unfavourable outcome. It could be a major scandal if it is proven to be true.

  15. As much as I would love the game to be played, 6N organisers should be ordering an investigation into COVID protocol breaches (or at least piggy backing an independently led French one) and if it proven that there was a breach then the logical outcome is to award a 28-0 win for us. It would take away the headache of trying to find a date to play the fixture. As I said I would prefer the game to be played but I do think France should bear consequences for any protocol breaches which all nations should have signed up to.

    1. I agree on all your points. Maybe this is Scottish paranoia, but I suspect if the outbreak had been in the Scottish camp it would have been a 28–0 win to France since last Monday.

      1. According to article on rugbypass french government has threatened to reverse french authorisation to play in 6N unless the outbreak is properly investigated. Some pointed comments highlighting that french players reportedly went out to an restaurant in Rome to eat waffles after their game there. Trouble brewing.

        Also, really hope England beat wales or they’ll win the cheapest ‘grand slam’ of all time.

      2. Article in french government threat:

        Also, rugbyrama reporting three current alternative dates being looked at, the date of the HC final, the weekend after the 6N is scheduled to end, and the Tuesday before the last weekend.

        All are pretty mad and show how difficult it’ll be to reschedule. Ultimately without English clubs agreement we’re going to end up with a date that horribly distorts the tie and e championship in one way or another.

        This is where it gets really political because if credibility is given to accusations that the french outbreak was their own fault I think momentum for a cancellation will grow.

  16. Comment at half time in the Wales England game.Knock on rule states that if the ball comes off a player and travels forward then it is a knock on unless the player himself catches the ball before it hits the ground.if a player knocks on but kicks the ball before it reaches the ground then it is still a knock on as he has not caught it therefore Williams try should have been disallowed

    1. I thought the first try was a shocking decision, but our ref against Wales was equally as harsh on us as this one was to England.

      There must have been about 30 or 40 times during the coverage when the BBC team complained about the refereeing. Last week their attitude was that in the end of the day the referee is always right.

    2. Tee Cee : I have yet to see that law in such simple and easy to understand terms. Is it Law 11 your are reading and where can I locate it written in such crystallised text ?

  17. It’s official…England are currently guff! Jones locker room peg must be hanging by adhesive tape.
    The worst Wales team to win a 6N??

  18. So Wales maintain their one man advantage in all three games. They played 14 men in their first two games and had 16 men today. I can’t believe they are 3/3. England on the other hand might well finish with just one win if France and Ireland beat them. Six nations organisers will be more reluctant to hand us a 28-0 win against France if Wales have a potential grand slam decider with them in the last week.

    Now Gatland has the perfect excuse to pick half of the Welsh squad for the Lions.

    1. Wales played to the calls made by the ref and the TMO today.
      We’d do the same.
      England’s indiscipline was shocking and if I were an England fan I’d be pretty angry about that aspect of their approach today.

      1. Have the ref’s in charge of Wales matches been down the bookies?
        Wales fortuitous at the very least….

      2. yeah what does Wayne Pivac have pictures of all the refs in a big orgy or something?
        On the plus side having listened to all the english pudits banging on about respecting the refs decision and not moaning about the ref from a scottish perspective it is quite funny to now watch them stew.

      3. Doesn’t excuse the fact that the ref was 100% wrong on both occasions and therefore hugely influenced the match in Wales favour.
        I don’t understand the pundits at half and full time not understanding the knock on rule.they could have looked it up as I did and, as I posted at half time, is basically word for word what Nigel Owen said .if the ball goes forward off your hand and you don’t regain possession before it hits the ground then it is a clear knock on no matter what happens after.
        I would have thought it was basic stuff for referees.
        Ps I have no love for either team just a dislike of injustice

      1. Listening to TMO’s comments, he seems to suggest that the ball didn’t go forward from RZ and therefore presumably discounted knock on on those grounds. I really can’t see how the ball went anything other than forward and as Tee Cee has said, if you don’t catch it before it hits the ground, knock on it is. Wales have been unbelievably lucky and really don’t think they’re that good a team but maybe there’s a lesson; if you believe & keep plugging away, things might just go your way. In many ways it makes the loss 2 weeks ago even more sickening.

  19. Knock ons have got my interest piqued for some reason! From a laws of rugby website- probably not the official one whichever that one is admittedly! – Knock-on: When a player loses possession of the ball and it goes forward, or when a player hits the ball forward with the hand or arm, or when the ball hits the hand or arm and goes forward, and the ball touches the ground or another player before the original player can catch it.
    In case of RZ, touches the ground or another player before before the original player can catch it is the crucial phrase. It went forward from RZ, hit the back of his leg and then hit the leg of an English player without RZ catching it = knock on.
    Jeez, with dodgy on-field decisions and then the lottery of disciplinary tribunals, rugby is in danger of losing a whole shed load of credibility as a sport. Yes, by nature it’s bloody hard to referee consistently and fairly – stop the play back at any breakdown, scrum, line out and you can argue for at least one infringement every time for either side probably – but it’s beginning to get too subjective right now and officials lacking knowledge in key areas that the game could degenerate into a total lottery. And that’s before taking COVID into account….

  20. The ball was going backwards for RZ’s calf. What took it towards the England try line was it hitting the England player who was trying to tackle RZ. Optically it was a very odd but I think technically the right decision. The first Welsh try was from a very lockable penalty so if it was chalked off they would have come back to take 3 points. Wales have had some luck, but the red card against Ireland was spot on. I am still aggrieved about the red in our match bot reviewing the final move where what appeared to be a knock was in fact knocked backward by a Welsh player.

    1. As previously noted, you can hear Carley shout ‘knocked back by red, play on’ which then of course begs the question why Hogg didn’t ask for the tackle off the ball (foul play) to be looked at after Carley blew whistle (or TMO intervene) or why Carley didn’t consider Harris to be denied the ball by Zammit holding on.
      Can’t change it now, though.

    2. Think that you should have another look at the knock on rule Andrew.If you knock the ball on which is not in dispute then you have to regather before the ball hits the ground which he didn’t, anything else is not relevant

      1. My only question is whether, like the forward pass, this is now also judged as forward relative to the player?

  21. I’ve just watched the first half of the eng v wal game. Other than the tries which have been debated above (both seem very harsh), the ref seemed to have a spot of red colour blindness at the breakdown. Just before England’s try the Welsh defenders were all offside, plus biggar came in from the side at the ruck, and the ref and touch judges just seem to ignore it.

    But if an English player (or was it just itoje?) was a fraction of cm offside they were pinged. I thought the call where itoje sacked the welsh scrum half on the left wing was particularly harsh, as was the call where he ripped the ball in the tackle. Both such fine margins that you wonder how the officials spotted them when they missed so much else.

    That said, England didn’t play well in that first half (might be the ref’s performance got in their heads). Makes us handing Wales a triple crown (and possibly the championship if France don’t get their COVID issue sorted) all the more galling!

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