Women’s 6N: Scotland v France preview: toughest test yet for record-breaking home team

"We're in the best place we ever have been," second-row forward Louise McMillan insists ahead of her 50th cap.

Louise McMillan
Louise McMillan (centre) at the Scotland captain's run ahead of the match against France. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

SCOTLAND’s record seven-game winning run – and the squad’s new-found self-confidence – will be put to the toughest possible test tomorrow [Saturday] when they take on France at the Hive.

Bryan Easson’s side are up to sixth in the world rankings after beginning the Six Nations with a 20-18 victory over Wales last week. But while that is the highest ever position occupied by Scotland, the French, currently third, are accustomed to being far closer to the top of the heap.

More to the point, in the most recent meeting between the sides, last year in Vannes, the French won 55-0. That result represented a particular nadir for Scotland, for whom it was a 12th defeat in a row and their last reversal before they embarked on their current winning run, and they are all but certain to be far more competitive this time round. 

The last time the teams met in Scotland, at Scotstoun in 2022, France only won 28-8. And two years before that, at the same Glasgow venue, Scotland managed a 13-13 draw.

So last year’s result should not necessarily be seen as representative of the current gap between the sides. Having said that, however, it is clear that a victory tomorrow afternoon would be one of the team’s best performances this century – and lock forward Louise McMillan, for one, is sure they will be up for the fight.

“It will be such a good test for us and we’re so excited for it,” said the Saracens second-row, who will be winning her 50th cap. “These big games are what you look forward to.

“And I think we’re in the best place we ever have been, so it’s going to be good.”

Having made her debut way back in 2016 against Spain, McMillan has had an inside track on the development of the squad – and indeed of herself as an individual. “It’s hard not to talk about myself in the third person, because I don’t know who she was,” she explained. “That was a different Louise – she was so young. I was a first-year university student: now I’m a full-time rugby player.

“It’s cool to think how much better we’ve got as a team. We’ve gone through tough times together and are so close as a group.

“We’ve got so many great personalities in the squad. There are girls who can bring energy the instant they walk into the room.”

McMillan is one of those personalities, and she and prop forward Christine Belisle tend to be cited by their team-mates as the players with the biggest roles when it comes to generating positive morale within the group. It is clear the squad enjoy each other’s company off the field as well as on, although she admitted that the entertainments committee don’t always get things right. 

“I’m on the social team, so for me personally the big one is when we have these socials once a week,” she continued. “I want to bring happiness and joy to the team. 

“We may sometimes take it too far. We had a surprise on Thursday night when a musician, Cammy Barnes, came in [to entertain the group]. But we couldn’t just have him surprise us – we had to have Rachel Malcolm come into the team room and say to everyone ‘We need to have a big team meeting upstairs. Don’t worry, the game’s still on, but I’ve got some news to tell you’.

“So people were coming up in the elevator upset. I think maybe that is the last time we’ll do that, because I think we actually caused stress within the team.”

When it comes to taking on France tomorrow, the key requirement will be not to get too stressed. The visitors’ creative chaos will cause problems, and how the home defence deals with those problems will play a crucial role in the outcome of the contest.

“Any opportunity for an offload, they’ll take it. They play what’s in front of them – there’s not so much structure compared to other teams.

“Those offloads are going to happen, so we’ve said ‘Let’s not panic when they do happen’, because we trust in our structures and systems. Having the belief that they might get some offloads, because they’re an incredible team, but we also have the systems and controls to manage that.”

It is a message that head coach Easson has been drumming home all week. “We know that they’ll be chaotic,” he said on Thursday after naming a team that shows two changes from the one that began against Wales, with the injured Lana Skeldon and Sarah Bonar having been replaced by Elis Martin and McMillan respectively. “We know that they’ll be physical. We know that they play in chaos, so we’ve trained a little bit on chaos, but then we don’t want to fall into that trap either.

“So if we understand their chaos, but understand what we’re all about, that’s where you prepare.

“So we’ve worked really hard on process, strategy, trusting our system. And if we can get that right, the outcomes will take care of themselves.

“We know exactly what we can do. It’s probably not a surprise where we are at the moment, because we knew we were building to something, but we understand that there are always going to be bumps in the road whether it’s this weekend, next weekend or previous. But we look at bumps in the road as an opportunity: we learn all the time. We’re always learning, we always want to move on, and we want to keep pushing performances.”

Scotland (v France at Hive Stadium, Saturday 2.15pm):  M Smith; R Lloyd, E Orr, L Thomson, C Grant; H Nelson, C Mattinson; L Bartlett, E Martin, C Belisle, E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), A Stewart, E Gallagher. Replacements: M Wright, L Cockburn, E Clarke, F McIntosh, E Donaldson, M McDonald, N Flynn, C Rollie.

France: E Boulard; K Arbey, N Konde, G Vernier, M Menager; L Queyroi, P Bourdon Sansus; A Deshaye, A Sochat, A Khalfaoui, M Feleu (captain), M Fall, A Berthoumieu, G Hermet, R Menager. Replacements: M Bigot, A Mwayembe, C Joyeux, C Escudero, E Gros, A Chambon, L Tuy, M Bourgeois.   

Referee: Sara Cox (England).

About Stuart Bathgate 1393 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

2 Comments

  1. Well done to Scotland U18’s beating an impressive Georgian Outfit. Not expecting an article on this so posting it in the most recent.

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