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France v Scotland, Summer Nations Series 2023: Match Preview pt I

Duhan Van Der Merwe - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Duhan Van Der Merwe - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

KO 8.05 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
Saturday 12th August 2023

Live on Amazon Prime

This will be the 50th occasion that Scotland have played Les Bleus on French soil but just the 2nd of these games to be played outside Paris after a warm-up match in Nice for the 2019 World Cup. The Scots have only won 3 times in the last 50 years away to France with an average margin of defeat during that period of 12 points and just 1.04 tries per game scored in those losses.

Scotland wins away to France in the last 50 years:

2021 Six Nations: Fra 23 – 27 Sco
1999 Five Nations: Fra 22 – 36 Sco
1995 Five Nations: Fra 21 – 23 Sco

Scotland v France Review

All Kicking Off

The kicking contest was a fascinating part of what shaped Scotland and France’s first encounter of the summer at Murrayfield. There were 27 kicks from hand by the home side compared to 26 for the visitors with the combined tally of 53 a little above the average of 47 for Towsend era matches.

France’s tactical kicking was driven by two main imperatives. One – kick long from their own half and don’t play under pressure. Two – use attacking kicks from around the halfway line to drive the opposition into their own 22 and force errors.

The French went particularly heavy on point two, using a mix of kicks and grubbers from beyond their own 10-metre lines and in Scotland’s half on no fewer than 11 occasions. The dark blues opted to counter attack – at least initially – 4 times from these kicks. One lead to a knock on by the Scots and the other a holding on penalty in France’s favour. The other two saw Duhan van der Merwe use his size and speed to help carve out 15-20m before Finn Russell then kicked from a more advantageous position.

The Scots got into a direct kicking contest 3 times with mixed success (more on those later). Two French kicks were blocked, showing this is not always a risk free option, although unfortunately for Scotland, the bounce of the ball took it straight back to a Frenchman on both occasions. France went to the boot twice on penalty advantage, with Russell sweeping up one and Blair Kinghorn (under a fair bit of pressure in his own in goal area) managing the other.

Scotland were a little more reticent to use attacking kicks. There were 3 attempts on penalty advantage – including Darcy Graham’s try from Russell’s cross kick – but other than that there were just 2 further kicks in the French half. A Russell garryowen just past halfway started a sequence of play that ended with a Scottish penalty 1m further up the pitch. Huw Jones’ grubber into the 22 slid into touch inches before the corner flag but his side received no benefit when play was called back for Zander Fagerson’s yellow card.

The Scots did seem to be keeping their powder dry here, with Finn holding back and Sione Tuipulotu not going to his kicking bag of tricks on a single occasion. There is likely to be much more variety to come from the side when the fixtures get serious in a month’s time.

Kicking Contests

There were a few outbreaks of kick tennis last Saturday with Scotland looking to blend their desire to counter from their own half with a more pragmatic desire to play for territory and, on more than one occasion, just to clear their lines.

  1. Started by France 58m from their line. Ended after Scotland counterattacked into the French half but knocked the ball on. Advantage France.
  2. Started by Scotland 1m from their own line. Ended with a Scotland lineout 41m from their own line. Advantage Scotland.
  3. Started by Scotland 33m from their own line. Ended with a France lineout inside Scotland’s half. Advantage France.
  4. Started by Scotland 52m from their own line. Ended with Scotland winning a penalty 53m from their own line after counter attacking into the French half. Advantage Scotland (but only due to a clumsy tackle from Sekou Macalou).
  5. Started by France 47m from their own line. Ended with a French lineout 54m from their own line. Small advantage France.
  6. Started by France 67m from their own line. Ended with a French lineout 81m from their own line. Advantage France.
  7. Started by Scotland 3m from their own line. Ended with Scotland winning a penalty 45m from their own line (for French crossing). Advantage Scotland.
  8. Started by Scotland 19m from their own line. Ended with Scotland lineout 26m from their own line. Advantage Scotland (mainly due to the 2 minutes of game time used up late on the contest).

When under pressure on their own line, Scotland were able to make some good territorial gains through the distance and accuracy of Russell and Kinghorn’s kicking. Generally though, France had an edge when it came to the kicking battles with 2 careless penalties conceded that needlessly handed control back to the Scots. Gregor Townsend will feel his side need to come out on top of more of these contests in Saint-Etienne on Saturday in preparation for how Ireland and South Africa will test Scotland in these areas.

Miscellany

  • Scotland’s back 3 were the top 3 carriers against France with a combined tally of 43 – more than double the 21 runs made against Italy a week earlier.
  • The Scottish trio also beat 16 defenders showcasing their brilliant individual attacking talents but also reflecting positively on the platform created by the forwards (particularly in the second half) and the ability of the inside backs to manipulate the opposition defence in order to get the ball wide.
  • France’s kicking was lead from the back with Brice Dulin the primary option with 10 kicks and just 5 from the scrum halves. Expect those responsibilities to be shifted around with Antoine Dupont returning to the 9 shirt to run the show.

Previous results

This will be the 15th time the two sides have met in France during the 21st century. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L L L L L L L L L L L W L

Most recent meeting in France:

France 32 – 21 Scotland

Significant stat
32 – the number of points scored by France. Since the Toony Flip game in 1995 onwards, the French have scored at least 20 points in 13 out of 17 home fixtures against Scotland and their lowest tally is 15. If the Scots are to win on Saturday evening it is likely that they will need to bag a pretty decent haul of points themselves.

Officials

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referee 1: Karl Dickson (England)
Assistant Referee 2: Adam Leal (England)
TMO: Tom Foley (England)

This will be the fifth time in their last 24 Tests that Scotland have been refereed by Mr Berry. It’s been a fairly mixed bag in his previous games but the Scots should have a pretty decent handle on what the referee expects by now, particularly around the breakdown where some frustrating penalties were especially costly against Wales in 2022.

Scotland have only ‘lost’ the penalty count twice in their last 14 games, which is a positive run to be on heading into matches versus sides who can really take advantage both territorially and on the scoreboard when indiscipline creeps in.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr Berry in charge:

  • 2017 – beat Samoa (H)
    Penalties: 18 (For 9 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to France (A)
    Penalties: 22 (For 10 – 12 Against)
    Cards: France 1 YC
  • 2021 – beat Tonga (H)
    Penalties: 21 (For 12 – 9 Against)
    Cards: Rob Harley (YC), Tonga 1 YC
  • 2022 – lost to Wales (A)
    Penalties: 21 (For 8 – 13 Against)
    Cards: Finn Russell (YC)
  • 2022 – lost to Argentina (A)
    Penalties: 20 (For 10 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2022 – beat Fiji (H)
    Penalties: 29 (For 18 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Stuart Hogg (YC), Darcy Graham (YC), Fiji 3 YCs

The Teams

France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, G Villiere; R Ntamack, A Dupont; G Alldritt, C Ollivon, P Boudehent; T Flament, C Woki; D Aldegheri, J Marchand, C Baille.
Replacements: P Bourgarit, J-B Gros, U Atonio, F Verhaeghe; B Chalureau, S Macalou; M Lucu, L Bielle-Biarrey.

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Pierre Schoeman, George Turner, WP Nel, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie (capt), Rory Darge, Jack Dempsey.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Rory Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Scott Cummings, Sam Skinner, Josh Bayliss, George Horne, Ollie Smith

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

5 Responses

  1. people always forget that great depth can be a double edged sword. If your able to bring in top class replacements you can’t then expect a big improvement when you go back to your first string. I think Scotland will make a decent fist of this game.

  2. Surprised by how strong that team is. I think I would have protected a few more players who are key such as Gray, Finn and Duhan. But I see the value in getting the backline firing. Always a balance of risk and return.

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