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

Huw Jones in training - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports
Huw Jones in training - pic © Peter Watt/N50 Sports

KO 3.15 at Scottish Gas Murrayfield
Saturday 5th August 2023

Live on Amazon Prime

This will be the fourth time that these two sides have met in a Rugby World Cup warm-up match. With a fifth clash scheduled for next weekend, France will become the opponent that Scotland have faced most frequently in the build up to a RWC. Those previous encounters have produced 1 win and 2 losses for the dark blues:

Stade de France, 7 September 2015
France 19
Noa Nakaitaci (1T);
Freddie Michalak (3P);
Scott Spedding (1P);
Morgan Parra (1C)
Scotland 16
Tommy Seymour (1T);
Greig Laidlaw (1C, 3P)

Allianz Riviera, 17 August 2019
France 32
Alivereti Raka (1T);
Maxime Medard (2T);
Gregory Alldritt (1T);
Antoine Dupont (1T);
Camille Lopez (2C, 1P)
Scotland 3
Adam Hastings (1P)
Scottish Test debuts – Scott Cummings, Rory Hutchinson

Murrayfield, 24 August 2019
Scotland 17
Sean Maitland (1T);
Chris Harris (1T);
Greig Laidlaw (2C, 1P)
France 14
Damian Penaud (2T);
Thomas Ramos (2C)
Scottish Test debuts – Blade Thomson, Grant Stewart


France Scouting Report

Aiming For The Top Spot

French rugby is on a real high right now. Their men’s team has won 17 out of their last 18 Test matches (defeat to Ireland in Dublin in February being their only slip-up). At under 20 level they are back to back world champions. Sides from the Top 14 have won the last three editions of both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup, dominating European club rugby. The national team reached the top of the world rankings for the first time ever last summer although their stay lasted just a single week and they are currently behind both Ireland and New Zealand.

In the Six Nations, France have won 16 out of 20 games during this RWC cycle* – which is the best overall record of any country – but have somehow only ended up with one title during that period, finishing as runners-up in the other three tournaments. That’s not a role they will wish to fill come 28 October 2023 at the Stade de France. Having already lost three World Cup finals, second place simply won’t be good enough for the French. Everything is building towards their home tournament and taking that last step that they have never been quite good enough to make. Five nations have made a RWC final. Four of them have lifted the trophy. Can France finally join that elite group?

* In comparison Scotland’s Six Nations match wins by RWC cycle are:

  • 2023: Scotland 11 wins – 16 wins France
  • 2019: 9 – 9
  • 2015: 3 – 8
  • 2011: 4 – 14
  • 2007: 5 – 17
  • 2003: 7 – 13

Kick About

Fabien Galthie’s side love to boot the leather off the ball. They were the only country with three players to have more than a kilometre of ground gained from kicks during the most recent Six Nations. Antoine Dupont (1,588m); Romain Ntamack (1,507m); and Thomas Ramos (1,354m) provided a trio of options for dominating the territorial battle.

That lead to the French having the fewest carries and the most tackles attempted among the six competing countries. This is all part of the gameplan though. Kicking early and accurately allows Les Bleus to control where the game is played. They will compete hard for the ball when it’s in the air but if they can’t regain possession they’re ready and waiting to overwhelm the opposition’s attack with stifling defence, based off extremely high line speed.

The overpowering French defence is one reason why they can afford to concede the ball through their kicking game. Another is their efficiency when they are in possession – they don’t need lots of ball to be dangerous. They love to attack from unstructured play – turnovers, kick receptions – and they can hurt defences in an instant. Four of the top six players in the Six Nations for broken tackles came from France. Damien Penaud (25); Ethan Dumortier (21); Gael Fickou (18); and Antoine Dupont (17) provided threats across the full width of the backline – although of course none could match Duhan van der Merwe’s record-breaking 35 defenders beaten!

Kick – control – counter attack. France’s style has been incredibly effective in recent years with a playing and coaching staff who are ideally placed to deliver it. Scotland were able to disrupt this pattern for nearly 50 minutes during theses sides’ game in Paris earlier this year, putting themselves in a position to push for victory before being strong armed out of the final 10 minutes. A win on Saturday would show this Scottish side is continuing to develop as they look ahead to the stern challenge of Pool B at the World Cup.

Miscellaneous

  • Unsurprisingly, Antoine Dupont is the beating heart of this French team. He had more ball played by hand than anyone else in the Six Nations, averaging a touch every 15 seconds while his side were in possession.
  • Being so comfortable defending lead to some high tackle counts for the French earlier this year. Thibaut Flament (81) was second only to Scotland’s own Matt Fagerson (83) in tackle count. Gael Fickou was the top back with 67. In fact, Fickou was the only back to make it into the top 19 tacklers in the tournament (Antoine Dupont rounded out the top 20 with 54).
  • The rapid line speed demanded by a Shaun Edwards’ coached defence is not without its risks and France conceded more offside penalties than any other country during the Six Nations. These were spread throughout the team although with backs (Dupont – 4; Fickou – 2; Danty – 1; Ramos – 1) more likely to be guilty than forwards (Flament – 2; Ollivon – 1; Taofifenua – 1).

Previous results

This will be the 14th time the two sides have met at Murrayfield during the 21st century. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

L L W L L L L W W W W L L

Most recent meeting at Murrayfield:

Scotland 17 – 36 France

Significant stat
11 – kicks from hand by Scotland, the fewest for any game in the Townsend era. The Scots seemed to fall into the visitors’ trap a bit, holding onto possession in unpromising areas of the field where the French could comfortably contain them. There was plenty of huff and puff from the dark blues – including 51 passes made across the 80 minutes by stand offs Finn Russell and Blair Kinghorn – but little penetration to stretch France for the vast majority of the second half until Duhan van der Merwe’s late try.

Officials

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee 1: Frank Murphy (Ireland)
Assistant Referee 2: Federico Vedovelli (Italy)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Mr O’Keeffe is back, just seven days after taking charge of Scotland v Italy. It’s relatively unusual to see the same ref in consecutive matches – but not without precedent in the last dozen years.

  • Dave Pearson:
    v Italy 20/8/11 (RWC Warm-up)
    v Romania 10/9/11 (RWC)
  • Jaco Peyper:
    v Australia 5/6/12 (Summer Tour)
    v Fiji 16/6/12 (Summer Tour)
  • Pascal Gauzere:
    v Australia 25/11/17 (Autumn Tests)
    v Wales 3/2/18 (Six Nations)
  • Mathieu Raynal:
    v Argentina 23/6/18 (Summer Tour)
    v Wales 3/11/18 (Autumn Tests)
  • Ben O’Keeffe:
    v Italy 29/7/23 (RWC warm-ups)
    v France 5/8/23 (RWC warm-ups)

The Kiwi official will be the only one among that group to take charge of Scotland matches on back to back weekends though. Here’s hoping he’s enjoyed a week’s sightseeing in Scotland and that the home side’s decent record with the Kiwi eye doctor in charge continues!

Scotland’s previous games with Mr O’Keeffe in charge:

  • 2016 – beat Japan (A)
    Penalties: 27 (For 16 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Japan 2 YCs
  • 2016 – beat Argentina (H)
    Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Japan (A)
    Penalties: 11 (For 7 – 4 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2020 – beat Italy (A)
    Penalties: 18 (For 8 – 10 Against)
    Cards: Italy 1 YC
  • 2022 – beat England (H)
    Penalties: 23 (For 10 – 13 Against)
    Cards: England 1 YC
  • 2022 – lost to Argentina (A)
    Penalties: 19 (For 11 – 8 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2023 – beat Italy (H)
    Penalties: 21 (For 11 – 10 Against)
    Cards: none

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

The Teams

Scotland: Blair Kinghorn, Darcy Graham, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe, Finn Russell (capt), Ben White; Pierre Schoeman, Ewan Ashman, Zander Fagerson, Richie Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Matt Fagerson, Hamish Watson, Jack Dempsey.
Replacements: Dave Cherry, Jamie Bhatti, WP Nel, Scott Cummings, Rory Darge, George Horne, Cameron Redpath, Ollie Smith.

1 Response

  1. This is easily up there with the most complete XV in my years of watching Scotland. So well balanced with each specialist position nailed. And there are still arguably two or three names in that pack you could replace. Whatever happens should be fun, and confident there will be some game.

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