STUART HOGG says that he and his Scotland team-mates are determined to prove that their victory over France back in March was not purely down to the red carding of Mohammed Haouas just before half-time.
The Scotland captain reckons that tomorrow’s [Sunday] opponents have used the fact that they spent over 40 minutes of that game with only 14 men as an excuse for their Six Nations Grand Slam plans coming unstuck eight months ago, but argues that France were already on the ropes when Haouas threw that wild punch at Jamie Ritchie.
“They’re arguably one of the best sides in the world and came to BT Murrayfield in March with three wins from three [games in the Six Nations], high on confidence, playing some very good rugby, but we shut them down,” he said. “We hustled, we fronted up, and we got ourselves in some good positions in attack.
“I’ve read a fair bit this week where all they’re talking about is how the red card changed the game, [but] have you ever seen French team rattled like that before? That happened because we fronted up, got in their faces and then got stuck into them. I don’t think they’d ever come across anything like that. So tomorrow we’ll be doing the same.”
Gregor Townsend’s side are looking for their sixth win on the bounce – something they have not managed since the 1990 Grand Slam season – but know that they are likely to face a significant step-up in class from their recent wins over Georgia, out-of-sorts Wales and Italy.
Hogg reckons that defence is going to be key if Scotland are to get a win which will clinch top spot in Pool B of the Autumn Nations Cup and qualify them to play in the 1st/2nd place-play-off in a fortnight’s time, almost certainly against England at Twickenham.
“We want to be tough to beat, and to fight for absolutely everything that we can,” he said. “We want people to be getting off the deck and smashing lumps out of guys, going time after time after time. Teams will break down eventually. If we continue to go after them, they’ll get bored and kick us the ball.
“That’s what we want. Any time France kick the ball on Sunday, we’ll see that as a little victory because they no longer want to attack.
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While Hogg is renowned for his attacking flair, he is first and foremost a competitor, and is clearly revelling in the team’s new-found appetite for frustrating the opposition.
Scotland conceded only 59 points during the 2020 Six Nations, which is the lowest total by any team since Ireland in 2015, and they have coughed up an average of just one try per match since Steve Tandy was appointed defence coach last December
“Defence is a mindset, an ability to really attack the opposition’s attack,” he explained. “We fully understand that we want to be one of the best defensive teams in world rugby and that’s not going to happen overnight.
“We enjoy the challenge of trying to get the ball back. We don’t feel stressed in any way about our systems, we back each other. We try to spend as much time as we can in attack, but Steve Tandy has brought a whole new outlook to the way that we defend.
“It’s given us confidence and you can see that in the way that we’ve performed. The big thing now is taking that confidence, turning it into belief, and really going after France.
“A large part of the game now is turnover attack and the ability to punish teams after defending,” he continued. “That’s when the likes of myself and the rest of the back-three come alive because we have very little influence on what’s happening on the frontline in terms of boys smashing each other.”
“We’re winning Test matches and that’s what we’re here to do. I fully believe in our scrum and lineout, our set-piece in general … that we are going to cause teams problems.”
“We’ve had discussions as leaders over the last few games where there have been times where there could have been an easy three points, but we back each other to go after teams, we’ve gone to the corner and got a good result from it.
“That’s not going to happen all the time, but you get a feel for it and how the game is going. I love the attitude of the players, because I turned around twice against Italy and Wales and said ‘we’re going after them’, and everyone nodded and agreed. We got two tries on the back of it.
“The mindset and the attitude in the camp is huge. I love the fact we’re challenging each other to go after teams.”