Scotland v France: Sean Maitland has faith in leadership to overcome injury losses

Release of Duncan Weir to Worcester leaves Pete Horne and Adam Hastings in fight for No 10 jersey

Sean Maitland in action against France last year, backed up by two team-mates who will not feature on Saturday, Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg. Image: © Craig Watson.

SCOTLAND are braced for a blitz-like onslaught in the opening stages of Saturday’s game as France bid to kick-start their season. But, according to Sean Maitland, the visitors will go into the Six Nations match with their confidence high despite the scale of the injury problems they are facing.

The Saracens winger’s reasoning appears to be that after two desperately disappointing defeats in the Six Nations thus far, the home team will try to get the Stade de France crowd firmly behind them with a rousing start to the match. But Maitland, who will be named in the Scotland back three alongside Tommy Seymour and full-back Blair Kinghorn when the team is announced today, believes his team will have a chance of pulling off a historic victory provided they can cut out the elementary defensive mistakes which proved costly against Ireland, while at the same time ensuring they have a sharper cutting edge in attack.

“There was a lot of effort in the Ireland game,” he said. “Our defence was great for 95 per cent of the game – it was just that five percent where we weren’t there. Ireland are a world-class team and that will expose you if you slip off.

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“The big thing for me is just finishing our chances when we get down to their 22. In that first half especially we had three or four times where we got to the 22 and we just needed to convert. The effort was there, but finishing our chances is the big one.

“France are under the pump from their media; they’ve got a lot to prove. I think for us it’s that first 20 minutes, just trying to fight that fire. Then hopefully our fitness will take care of it.

“We’ve lost some big personalities, a lot of leadership and a lot of caps from our team. If you look at the guys that are out at the moment it’s crazy to think how many leaders are missing.

“It’s definitely going to test us, but when you play international rugby you get used to guys getting injured and other guys having to step up. Everyone’s been injured through their rugby careers and the Six Nations doesn’t really have a long turnaround time so it’s tough, but it’s just part of the game.

“One thing we have though is the Thistle group, where the boys meet up twice a week to discuss everything both on and off the field. We have Greig Laidlaw, who plays a big role in the leadership and he’s done a great job. In terms of our leadership we are missing a few boys but Greig’s definitely stepped up.”

Speaking before it was announced that Duncan Weir would be released back to  Worcester this weekend, Maitland insisted he had faith in whoever is named to take over from the injured Russell – with Pete Horne and Adam Hastings now the only contenders. And he argued that there was a positive aspect to Russell’s being ruled out so early in the week, comparing it with the Autumn Test against the Wallabies in 2017 when he had to switch to full-back just minutes before the match started because of an injury to Stuart Hogg.

“The call’s obviously been made early with Finn. There was a short turnaround, and he only gets one brain, so that’s a pretty good decision there. But with Horney coming in, or Dunky or Hasto or whoever, we have three talented guys who can come in and execute the game plan that we want to play.

“At least it’s better than the Australia game, where Hoggy went down in the warm-up and I ended up at full-back. At least this is better because we’ve got cover.

“I’ve got full confidence in whoever gets picked to fill Finn’s shoes. You’ve got to have depth. That’s one thing that people say Scotland is lacking, that depth in certain positions, but it’s important that in World Cup year these guys step up and take responsibility.”

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About Stuart Bathgate 1151 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.