KO 8.00 at Stade de France
Friday 26th March 2021
Live on BBC1
On 25th February France v Scotland was cancelled after a virus ripped through the French squad.
29 days later…*
Scotland finally travel to play at the Stade de France in what will now be the 15th and last game of the 2021 Six Nations. Changing circumstances mean a few updates are required to Part 1 of the match preview. The original is here. For the update, read on…
The Scots are looking for their fourth consecutive away win in the championship, a feat only achieved twice before in Scottish history – between 1889-1892 and 1925-1927. On both occasions, the dark blues went on to win 5 in a row before their streaks were ended.
France Scouting Report
All of the points from the original match preview remain relevant – just maybe not as relevant as before given France have to really open up and go for it if they want to win the Six Nations. The second half of the match against Wales probably provides the template rather more than the 3.5 games that came before it. This fixture will be a bit of a one-off…
There was a definite switch in the balance of France’s play the further into the Welsh game they got. Kicking numbers were way down. Possession stats were way up. The French backline were involved more and more. At the heart of that were Gael Fickou and Virimi Vakatawa in the centres. Between them they carried the ball 25 times – more than double their combined average carries for the rest of the tournament.
That increase in the French backs’ activities (backtivities?) put a huge amount of pressure on the Welsh defence. There were 19 missed tackles by the visitors’ backs. The home side were far more stingy when playing without the ball, missing just 5 out of 61 tackles themselves. (With the French forwards only missing 3 tackles the remarkable thing is how Wales managed to parlay that lack of penetration against a stifling defence into 30 points!)
Fickou often gets praised for his elegant attacking style but his defence has been equally effective. Through this season’s Six Nations he has missed just a single a tackle from 41 attempted. Vakatawa is a little less steady defensively but he was 100% from his 7 tackles against Wales – and he’s also a serious jackal threat in the wide channels.
So how does Gregor Townsend play it? Restore Chris Harris and try to use strong defence to contain a French backline that will throw caution to the wind? Or embrace the madness, retain Huw Jones in the 13 jersey and, for one night only, bring back the fastest rugby in the world with free rein for all of Scotland’s key attacking threats?
The original Match Preview highlighted the contributions of Gregory Alldritt and he remains the most under appreciated part of the French renaissance. Understandably it’s the razzle dazzle, the elan, the flair that people are tuning in for – the areas of the game that can be packaged into 60 second clips for social media. It’s precisely because of the graft of Alldritt and others though that those moments exist in the first place.
Not only is Alldritt in the exclusive 50+ carries and 50+ tackles club (fellow members Taulupe Faletau and Sebastian Negri) he is also given the responsibility of being France’s primary turnover threat at the breakdown. The main focus of Sean Edwards’ system is to have as many bodies as possible in the defensive line. That puts extra pressure on Alldritt as a decision-maker about when to attempt a jackal and when to bolster the line – and then to take the battering that comes with putting his body in those positions on top of his already voluminous workrate.
Scotland’s own number 8, Matt Fagerson, is a bit of a workhorse himself with 56 carries so far in the tournament (16 against France would see Zander’s wee brother equal CJ Stander at the top of the charts for this stat). He’ll need to be on maximum overdrive in order to try and match his hyperactive opposite number in as many facets of the game as possible if the Scots are going to keep their hosts close on the scoreboard.
- France averaged just 40% possession in the Six Nations up until half-time against Wales. That shot up to 64% in the second period in Paris. This seems more likely to be representative of how they will want to play against the Scots, who have to find a way to disrupt and deny the French possession and field position.
- Possibly inspired by their fear of Sean Edwards, France have conceded the fewest penalties in this season’s SIx Nations – less than half the number coughed up by England (admittedly with one more game to play).
- The French have kicked the ball more than a kilometre further than Scotland so far in this tournament. Even amidst the running rugby that will undoubtedly ensue the Scots cannot afford to let themselves get pinned back in their own half the way Wales did late on. Effective clearance kicking will relieve pressure – as long as it avoids giving the dangerous French back 3 the chance to return the ball. Nothing’s ever easy in this game…
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 8 games in the Townsend era when Scotland have made more than 500m they have scored 55 tries at an average of 6.9 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 much of the current 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 then this could 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 Friday.
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)
* Although unlike Danny Boyle’s classic movie, in this case the only Rage involved is among Scottish fans wondering why the dark blues don’t have access to all of their English-based players…
Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on later in the week following the team announcement.