Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


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

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 of course are still title contenders. The remaining permutations for each side as to where they might finish in the table can be found here (for Scotland) and here (for France).

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…

Backline All-rounders

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?

Danger Man

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…

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 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)
    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

* 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.

38 Responses

  1. Rufus McLean looks a bit special.
    Wonder if he’ll feature in the squad now Maitland is out?

  2. As noted in another thread , Maitland isn’t “out” or “dropped” he is excluded as a direct consequence of the release agreement , only allowing Scotland 5 English based players for this match.

    So much for sporting integrity , can we pick somebody who has started 3 matches for France to “exclude” in the cause of fairness ? There would be a starting point , but no , back in your box and wait to be ritually “thumped” ( thanks BBC ) by France .

    1. France breach Covid protocols but it’s Scotland who suffer?

      It’s an utter farce that makes a mockery of the ethos that lies at the core of rugby union (or used to).

      And on the topic of sporting justice, has Genge being cited yet for his assault on Sexton?

  3. Premiership rugby just defending its commercial interest. the French FFR could pay for release.
    We’ll have 5 players, we’ll survive.

    1. Given Maitland plays for Saracens, who are in the Championship, I would have thought he would be exempt from the five player cap – as this was negotiated with the Premiership.
      Seems harsh on Sean as he is one of our best players and vying for a Lions spot. I don’t think Graham would have been in the 23 if Maitland was available, and certainly not McLean, despite a great try at the weekend.

      1. The deal was made with the premiership stakeholders PRL, which are the 12 prem teams Saracens.

        Agreed it’s ridiculous that Maitland may be turning out against Richmond instead of France though.

        Also strange that Townsend essentially picked an Alex Craig and Darcy Graham combo over Richie Gray and Maitland.

  4. I wonder if we’ve devised a plan to get through an Edwards defensive system as we’ve not been that successful against it in the past. Maybe we will see Jones and McLean for all out speed and attack or perhaps we’ll go defensive from the start with Harris at 13. I can foresee lots of Russell and Price chipping over the defensive line so that might favour speed.

    Current forecast is for rain showers on Friday evening in Paris so that might have an impact on an attacking plan.

  5. If we play anything like we played for 80 minutes at Twickenham and for at least the first 35 minutes against Wales, we’re in with a good shout on Friday night.

    There really isn’t much difference between the top five sides in this 6N and home advantage counts for nothing in these BCD matches.

    I expect France to start the Test with a frenzied attempt to justify the stupid BBC comment about a thumping. And who could blame them for attempting that in their search for the title this year?

    The same approach was expected from the England ‘white wave’ a few weeks ago and we all saw how that turned out in the face of one of our best performances for years.

    The first 15 to 20 minutes of this match will I think determine the whole pattern of the rest of the Test. Get at least parity with France in that opening stretch and it’s absolutely game on.

    France are a very good side, not without faults. So are we.

    So bring it on.

  6. bet365: france 1/9 scotland 6/1

    world rankings france 3rd scotland 9th

    its a monumental task.

    1. These are not good enough reasons to think the ‘task’ will be ‘monumental’. We were unfortunate to lose to Wales and Ireland. Small margins. Fridays game played by France will be likely high paced and possibly all over the place. They need to win by x anmount.We’ll thrive on that. Don’t believe in all that rankings and betting odds nonsense!!

      1. if bookmakers odds were incorrect they would lose an awful lot of money. In fact an odds maker with a bookmaker is a highly paid job .Of course Scotland can
        win but 1/6 is equivalent to a 14% chance.

  7. This match is well within Scotland’s grasp, though if the French use the street wise tactics of the Welsh then Jones will be knobbled or red carded early in the match, then we’ve lost , if Jones takes a knock its game over , they know that Harris has no attacking abilities. If Bennett was on the bench then it win win. The mentality of bringing Harris on to defend for the last 15 just doesn’t sound like Townsend’s brand anymore, when we can keep attacking for the last 15.

      1. And this footballification of rugby is part of the issue. If you watch our players play outside the Scotland bubble then their potential would be for all to see.

        That said, those decrying Russell’s chances outside of Scotland should be watching play for Racing

  8. Will the team selection be announced today? It’s normally late morning two days before game day. I would like to see Huw Jones given the chance to redeem himself against top level opposition but I think we’ll see something like:

    Sutherland, Cherry, Zagerson, Skinner, Gilchrist, Ritchie. Watson, Magerson, Price, Russell, Johnson, Harris, Graham, Hogg, VdM.

  9. Why no Ritchie Gray in the squad – better than Gilchrist surely and played for Glasgow so not injured. I had presumed he played v Dragons to improve or prove fitness.

  10. BBC rugby pod (Ugo Money et al ) speculating on how much Scotland will lose by. Not ONE of them mentioned the possibility of Scotland winning. Grrrrrr.

    I know we didn’t stick one on Eddie O’Sullivan but please can we pull this one off !

    It would make the Lions conversations much more interesting although I accept on this site Lions apathy is rampant.

  11. I guess the fear is a repeat of the 2017 Twickenham debacle which cost some of our players a place in the Lions squad. Hopefully the players can at least make a game of it and run France close. Willemse’ ban has been confirmed and so he will miss out.

  12. Team confirmed. Bit harsh on Cherry but let’s hope Turner’s darts are on point.

    Sutherland, Turner, Zagerson, Skinner, Gilchrist, Ritchie. Watson, Magerson, Price, Russell, Johnson, Harris, Graham, Hogg, VdM.

    Replacements: Kebble, Cherry, Berghan, Craig, Haining, Steele, Hastings, Jones

    1. Let’s hope the plan includes holding firm in the first half and getting Jones on early second to be part of the team that gets us the bonus point win.

      1. I think Toonie’s plan is to lull France into a false sense of security by gifting them a 30 point lead by half time before bringing Jones on to reduce the deficit to 21 points and thus denying Wales the title.

  13. Lets be honest even if Scotland win by 20 Gatland is not going to pick more than 3 Scottish players for the Lions. So I’m hoping for an entertaining free-flowing game. I’d much rather France won the 6N over Wales, so why not go for a bonkers running game from the start and see what happens, could be brilliant to watch.

    1. Not getting selected for the Lions because of a poor 6N only applies to Scotland. In 2017 Wales had 17 players selected despite finishing second bottom in the 6N and losing to us along the way. Their only away win was against Italy and yet Gatland shunned our players because we couldn’t win away from home. Just watch how many of England’s underperforming players get picked this year – Farrell, May, Curry, Vunipola, Sinckler Youngs etc.

      1. Is there not a known trend where France tend to do better in the 6N following a Lions tour as the top players from the lions countries are knackered? Perhaps not having too many lions might be good for us next year? Although I also get the view point that we want our players on tour to show them the players from other countries are no better and perhaps fix some of the mental aspects of our game.

      2. Having players in the Lions squad is undoubtedly a positive for Scotland on an ongoing basis. Player reputations grow significantly from having played for the Lions, and it seems their confidence does too. I think it’s a big part of the Welsh teams success over the last few years.

  14. Sort of get the Harris selection but given his current form, would prefer Jones at 13 from the start. More worried about Turner and given Cherry’s performance against Italy, especially getting a far higher percentage of throws right, not sure what the thinking is there. At least we have a proper 10 which gives us better kicking options and Finn is better defensively there than Hogg ever will be as a stand-in. JvDV is probably on mega sulk mode now.
    The usual high hopes….

    1. Don’t think it’s fair to compare line out stats between italian and Irish defences. The Irish defensive line out deserves a lot of credit whereas a lot of the throws against Italy had virtually no competition. Nothing against Cherry but I do think Turner offers more in the loose and defensively.

  15. In two minds how this match will go – one extreme will be that we will be totally overawed and overrun as a rampant French side run us ragged. The other one is that the Welsh game has taken its toll and France struggle to raise their game again and we take full advantage

  16. Much as I don’t want Wales to win the title I’d far rather we won the game and came second than worry about whether France or Wales win the 6N.

    I expect Harris is in the team to try and contain Vakatawa. If we manage to stop him and Fickou rampaging up the pitch we’ve definitely got a team that can give France some problems. As always it’ll come down to the forwards and getting close to parity in the tight. Hopefully Gilchrist and Skinner front up for this game!

    1. Not starting with Jones is a joke. Vakatawa has done OK this 6 Nations but little more. Let France worry about us not the other way around. Start the best players then address as the game unfolds. French friends chuffed that Jones isn’t starting. Harris not only limits our options in his channel going forwards but also those outside of him. Done with Townsend. Honestly think him not starting Jones is about him with more than meets the eye. Defence is a load of b@llocks as an excuse – cannot remember the last time Jones missed a tackle.

  17. I very much hope we win this game & that both Townsend & Hogg take the opportunity to call out both organisations & individuals for the disgraceful & unfair disadvantage the Scots are in due to France breaking their Covid bubble, rant over

      1. Only picked your comment up Dugster though did post on the match thread. As I said there Harris’s defence was very good and he played well. Happy to admit that. Doesn’t stop me thinking we have better options at 13 though.

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