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Preview: Scotland v France

24th February 2012 08:07

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Imanol Harinordoquy France Scotland 2010 6n

Murrayfield battle: Scotland must front up to les Bleus

France head to Murrayfield in the Six Nations on Sunday looking to extended a five-game winning streak against Scotland.

Scotland have beaten France just once since the tournament was extended to six teams in 2000 (at Murrayfield in 2006) and having tasted defeat twice already in this year's Champion, an upset win over the pre-tournament favourites could not come at a better time as pressure is growing on Andy Robinson to turn strong performances into successful results.

You had to feel for Robinson as he was left to watch on powerless while his side flushed victory over the Auld Enemy down the toilet before effectively playing themselves out of the game in Cardiff with those two yellow cards after such a promising first half.

Whispers have started to grow as to just how much longer the English coach's bitter-sweet tenure will last if the trend continues and it would be an understatement to say the Scots are desperate to get their first win over a tier one side since edging Ireland in a World Cup warm up back in August 2011.

While les Bleus would have initially been frustrated by the postponement of their clash against Ireland, in retrospect Philippe Saint-André and his staff will consider it a blessing in disguise.

France's rearranged schedule offers a few advantages for a squad that are still finding their feet under a new coaching staff as it allows them to spend four consecutive weeks in camp together rather than the usual coming and going from headquarters at Marcoussis. It's an unprecedented luxury for a French coach in the modern era and while the clubs are screaming blue murder, the national staff have spoken at length of the opportunity to get to know the players better and put in place the structures than will hopefully take them to the next World Cup.

He'd probably never admit as much in public, but it's fair to say that if he had the choice ,PSA would have faced the Scots in his second game in charge rather than Ireland (though he would certainly have preferred another game in Paris rather than visit the Scottish capital.)

As it now stands, France's fixture list offers an ideal scenario of stepping stones as they aim to build momentum over the next month: A hit out against Italy to get the ball rolling, then a road trip to Scotland explore a few new options and refine some details, followed by a home game against a settled Irish side to test for cracks in system. Then see how far the engine will rev without boiling over in the emotionally- charged crunch with England before - hopefully - firing on all cylinders in a Grand Slams decider against Wales....

Parfait, non?

Not quite, because we're getting ahead of ourselves and Saint-André will be the first to concede that victory in Edinburgh is far from guaranteed and that defeat will represent a major stumbling block in his team's progression.

Both coaches have said the forward battle will decide this clash as Scotland look to continue to hang onto the ball for extended periods against arguably the strongest pack in the competition.

Indeed, the Scots face a massive task in fronting up to les Bleus but ultimately their success or failure will depend on their ability to cut out the errors that cost them so dearly in the first two rounds. An Expectant Murrayfield awaits.

Players to watch:

For Scotland: 19-year-old Stuart Hogg made one of the exciting international debuts in recent memory against Wales a fortnight ago and has, as expected, been rewarded with a place in Robinson's starting XV. The ink has flowed thick and fast about the Glasgow Warriors full-back with comparisons already being made to the great Gavin Hastings. We're still miles from that point yet, but judging by the way he burst onto the Test scene, he certainly has the talent to build a career at the highest level. But it's one thing to catch the eye in a twenty-minute cameo when your team has got nothing much left to lose - it's an entirely different task to produce an error-free performance for 80 minutes against one of the best teams in the world. Over to you, Mr. Hogg.

For France: Competition for the French number nine jersey is red hot at the moment. Morgan Parra has been elevated back into the starting XV due to the injury to Dimitri Yachvili but the Clermont youngster will not be able to rest on his laurels with the Top 14's form scrum-half, Julien Dupuy, now on the bench and ready to seize his chance. After showing his class out of position at the World Cup, Parra will be eager to show the new regime that he is the man for the job over the next four years.

Head-to-head: With ball retention a priority for both teams, the first phase after the set piece will be crucial as the ball carrier will be tasked setting up the first point of attack and putting his team on the front foot. Enter David Denton and Louis Picamoles, who will be charging around the back of the scrum and looking for someone to run over. Look out for some freight-train style collisions!

Previous results:

2011: France won 34-21 at Stade de France, Paris
2010: France won 18-9 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2009: France won 22-13 at Stade de France, Paris
2008: France won 27-6 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2007: France won 46-19 at Stade de France, Paris
2006: Scotland won 20-16 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2005: France won 16-9 at Stade de France, Paris
2004: France won 31-0 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2003: France won 51-9 at Stadium Australia, Sydney (RWC)
2003: France won 38-3 at Stade de France, Paris
2002: France won 22-10 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh
2001: France won 16-6 at Stade de France, Paris
2000: France won 28-16 at Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Prediction: You can't help feel that once again Scotland will put on a good show but come up short against a French side with world-class players from 1 to 15. France by eight points.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Rory Lamont, 13 Sean Lamont, 12 Graeme Morrison, 11 Lee Jones, 10 Greig Laidlaw, 9 Mike Blair, 8 David Denton, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross , 2 Ross Ford (c) 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Ed Kalman, 18 Alastair Kellock, 19 Richie Vernon, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Duncan Weir, 22 Nick De Luca.

France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Vincent Clerc, 13 Aurélien Rougerie, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Julien Malzieu, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Morgan Parra, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Imanol Harinordoquy, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (capt), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Jean-Baptiste Poux.
Replacements: 16 William Servat, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Lionel Nallet, 19 Julien Bonnaire, 20 Julien Dupuy, 21 Lionel Beauxis, 22 Maxime Mermoz.

Date: Sunday, February 19
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 15.00 GMT
Weather: Sunny. 9°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)

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PosTeamPPts
1Ireland58
2England58
3Wales56
4France56
5Scotland52
6Italy50