France v Scotland preview: will fortune favour the brave in Paris?

Home fitness could be their downfall if visitors can play with both control and tempo

Finn Russell gets into the groove during Scotland's pre-match 'captain's run' at Stade de France. Image: ©Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Finn Russell gets into the groove during Scotland's pre-match 'captain's run' at Stade de France. Image: ©Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

THIS weekend marks the 100th meeting of France and Scotland (in all competitions) so congratulations to both nations who, given what has gone before, should produce a humdinger of a contest worthy of such an occasion.

France lead the series overall (by 57 wins to 39) but, after Les Blues won ten on the trot from 2007-15, honours have since been even with both teams winning five matches apiece. Strip away the ‘friendlies’ and Scotland have won four of the last seven Championship games including one at the Stade de France two years back, albeit without the fans.

Thus far in this Six Nations, Gregor Townsend’s team has scored nine tries for two bonus point wins while witnessing France struggle to overcome Italy in the opening round before falling to Ireland last time out. The Scots have the wind in their sails and they will arrive in Paris full of confidence. However, the Stade de France is a place where false dreams go to die and Scotland will face a French team who simply cannot afford to lose again after coming a poor second in Dublin.


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The hosts need two players to put their hands up; Romain Ntamack and Gregory Alldritt. The former can blow a little hot and cold but it is better he experiments now rather than at the RWC’23. He might even be inspired by playing against his illustrious opposite number.

Alldritt could be playing for Scotland in a parallel universe but the French No 8 has looked tired, being subbed off against Ireland after just 51 minutes and no one should be surprised. Alldritt has a wonderful rugby brain and packs a punch going forward but his problems are twofold: 1. He isn’t noted as a gym monkey. 2, He has a lot of miles on the clock already this season.

According to all.rugby Alldritt has played 1354 minutes of rugby in all competitions this season. Caelan Doris, his opposite number in Dublin, has played just 923. If the Frenchman looked tired against Ireland he has good reason since he has played 431 more minutes than Doris this season or, to put it another way, five and a bit more matches. That equates to a 47 percent greater workload; a big number for a man who is probably carrying a few spare kilos and is playing in the most physical league in world rugby. For reasons of comparison, Matt Fagerson has played 1163 minutes, somewhere in between the other two.

Talking to a French journalist last week, it seems like Allditt’s issue mirrors a problem for the entire French squad. When they played Ireland, the French players were running on fumes for the final quarter with the ball in play time reaching an admirable 46 minutes (the 2021 Six Nations average was 38 minutes). When France played the Springboks last November the ball in play time was just 28 minutes but the players were still gasping, such was the physicality of the Bokke. It begs an obvious question?

I am reluctant to talk RWC’23 in the middle of the Six Nations but it may be relevant. Presuming they progress from the pool stages, France will probably play a quarter-final against Ireland or South Africa. So does Fabien Galthie beef up his players to face the physical demands of playing the Bokke or does he run them off their feet to better manage the threat from Ireland’s lung-busting, multi-phase tactics? It’s a question that Thibault Giroud, France’s current and Glasgow’s former conditioning coach, will be mulling every waking minute of the day.

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Meanwhile, back in the present, this game looks a lot like France’s forwards versus Scotland’s backs who, at the risk of repeating myself, have claimed 15 of the nations’ previous 17 tries.

Scotland will aim to mirror Dublin’s sky-high ball in play time to tire France’s giant pack. They need to do something because they look badly outmuscled up front, especially in the third row of the scrum where they are effectively fielding three openside flankers, a mistake in my view, but Gregor Townsend knows he won’t keep the Scotland job by being cautious.

Both teams will kick plenty in the battle for territory. It’s become a test of patience as much as ability, which is why Scots will look for Thomas Ramos, a brilliant but wayward full-back, who can occasionally be tempted to run the ball back against a well-organised defence, which is just what the opposition wants.

Scotland especially will need to maintain their excellent discipline because they can’t afford to face a French line-out drive five yards from their own line. If Wales’ pack can drive over the Scotland line, every team in this competition will believe they can do the same.

France are one of the best teams in the world when it comes to broken play but so too are Scotland. The visitors must drag or dare the French into ‘jouer jouer’ like only they can, from all corners of the field. They revel in that sort of rugby and the ploy may backfire if Les Blues hit their straps and rack up the tries but an open, unstructured game still represents Scotland’s best hope of an upset because it is difficult to see the visitors winning a forward orientated arm wrestle.

And we have not even seen the French forwards at their brutal best this Championship, when they pick and drive, one after the other, in relentless fashion, challenging you to stop them because once France are in behind you the outcome is usually painful given their ability to offload in contact. The French U20’s forwards used the ploy very effectively on Friday night when smashing the young Scotland side off the park in a one-sided encounter.

And what does Shaun Edwards do about Finn Russell? The Englishman will be hurt by Dublin because, I read somewhere, that it was only the second time in the Six Nations that a defence he had coached had conceded four tries. Edwards won’t give up his hard press now although Russell seems to thrive on it, pulling defenders to him like a matador before realising the killer pass/kick when every defender around him is already committed.

One thing France won’t do is use the ‘umbrella’ defence led by Gael Fickou in the 13 channel because that tactic cost Argentina eight tires last November. Instead, France’s defensive leader will likely hang back and a little wide to help cover the Russell’s favoured kick/pass, possibly at the risk of disconnecting from inside centre Yoram Moefana who still plays occasional club games, and three Autumn Tests, on the wing; a long way removed from the defensive duties that come with  playing at inside-centre.

With nine tries already to their name, Scotland have a puncher’s chance on Sunday but with their own World Cup just around the corner France will be desperate to bounce back after Dublin and that imperative, plus the power of their pack, should be enough to see them across the line in what promises to be a fascinating contest.


U20s 6N: Scotland brought back down to earth with a bump by France

About Iain Morrison 151 Articles
Iain was capped 15 times for Scotland at openside flanker between his debut against Ireland during the 1993 Six Nations and his final match against New Zealand at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa. He was twice a Cambridge ‘Blue’ and played his entire club career with London Scottish (being inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2016). Iain is a lifelong member of Linlithgow Rugby Club. After hanging up his boots, he became rugby correspondent for The Sunday Herald, before moving to The Scotland on Sunday for 16 years, and he has also guest written for various other publications.

6 Comments

  1. Game over 7 minutes in. Gilchrist not normally a dirty player and I think the offence merited yellow, not red. But you can’t go to Paris and expect to win without discipline.
    Yet again our own hype has gone ahead of us.

    • Could only be a red. No mitigation of any sort. Agree about the hype though… yesterday showed that Wales and England are really poor at the moment. A bit more composure might have seen the win ..that Brown throw was a killer. Still feel we are missing a trick not using Horne. The extra speed of service might have given us a bit more of a chance to find a gap in their defence. For me Horne n Kinghorn need to start and Ashman should be on the bench.

  2. Pretty much agree with this. I’ve even used the “puncher’s chance” line on Twitter. I am expecting a win for France, but still hopeful of a Scottish upset. We’ll need to take every chance and have a bit of luck along the way.

    I do think it’s going to be a cracking match to watch. Both sides just play lovely rugby.

  3. France will face Ireland or South Africa in RWC23 quarter-finals? Presumably because Scotland topped the group and take on 2nd placed New Zealand…:-)

    Paris result on Sunday will be a huge statement of this Scotland squad’s potential. Scorecard could be humbling with a “good effort but room for improvement” or the dream outcome “Scotland are now serious contenders” (6N & RWC). Hard to argue that our backline isn’t one of the best in world rugby. Pack is highly mobile and skilful, maybe lacks a bit of grunt. Reckon we could edge it against a very good but vulnerable French team…

  4. Prior to observing today’s turgid performance in Cardiff I was reasonably confident we could put in a performance in Paris, but observing what was a desperate mediocrity from England and Wales my confidence has been shaken somewhat. I just hope that the lads really do have their feet on the ground and realise that Paris will be a seismic step up as regards the opposition.
    Following on from that looking at the other fixtures this weekend, I don’t think Ireland and their composure and confidence will be any the less for not being at Lansdowne Road, and Italy have improved so much in the past years that they will be more than a handful, thankfully we have them at Murrayfield as well.
    Fingers crossed for the lads to put in a performance tomorrow that justifies their ranking at #5 in the world, where will they be if the win?

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