Scotland will travel to Paris this weekend confident that they have the strength and strategy to handle France’s gargantuan pack.
Scottish hopes of building on Saturday’s home victory over Ireland and making it two out of two at a venue where they haven’t won since 1999, look likely to hinge on how they combat a massively physical French pack, who showcased their power game in a narrow 19-16 loss at Twickenham.
Forwards coach Jonathan Humphreys accepts it will be a formidable challenge but believes his charges can compete up front and that a gameplan is being honed to give the Scots the best possible chance of winning.
“With France, what you see is what you get. They’re huge,” said Welshman Humphreys, pictured above right. “They are a lot better than they’ve been for a long time – a lot more creative.
“We are expecting them to be pretty powerful. They’ll come at us with all that. But our prep is good.
“We understand the threat and it is about making sure we go out there and don’t give them what they want.
“We all know it’s a huge challenge to go over there. They’re playing particularly well. They played well in the autumn and you could argue that they should have won the game against a good England team.
“We know it will be a tough game but we are confident and know we are in good form ourselves.”
Amidst the euphoria of Saturday’s win over the Irish there were concerns about the scrum, which was in trouble early in the game. With young inexperienced props Allan Dell and Zander Fagerson deputising for the injured Alasdair Dickinson and WP Nel, the set-piece improved as the game wore on but there is likely to be another serious examination from the French on Sunday.
Humphreys is hoping that South African referee Jaco Peyper is vigilant at scrum time after feeling that the Irish got away with a few things at the weekend.
“The massive thing in the French scrum is that both their tightheads scrummage at acute angles so it’s up to us to make sure we can deal with that, like we had to deal with it at the weekend. It’s about our players knowing what the threats are and how to deal with them, and what the ref wants.
“Without getting bogged down in the intricacies of it all, as I understand it’s supposed to be a pushing contest with everyone pushing the same way, now I see things going on at the highest level that make it obvious to the naked eye that people aren’t pushing straight.
“That’s fine, but if that’s the case, we have to deal with it. If the refs won’t we have to, and it took us a little while to deal with it on the weekend. But we’ve got to do that. We need to make sure we start more accurately in that area.”
Fagerson, the 21-year-old Glasgow tighthead played all 80 minutes against Ireland, with a repeat unlikely, opening the door for a debut off the bench for Simon Berghan.
“We’ve got a hell of a lot of time for Zander but we’ve still got to understand that a lot of the stuff with him is potential,” added Humphreys.
“He’s got the minerals to make a significant impact in international rugby for a long, long time.
“But like any 21-year-old there’s a lot to work on, he’s basically learning his trade in the hardest arena possible.
“So while we’re delighted with him, we’re more happy with what he could become, what he could be in the future.”
Veteran hooker Ross Ford, who came off the bench early for his 103rd cap on Saturday after Fraser Brown suffered a blow to the eye, believes that the Scots need the same spirit and appetite for the physical contest which they took to the Irish.
Ford said: “We just have to be technically better… they may be bigger but, physically, we will be able to match them. We have to. There is no way round it. We have to front up and do a job. We did that at times on Saturday but again they are a big squad, a big team, we have to be bloody minded and get on with and be smart along with it.”
Ford hopes his display against the Irish earns him a starting slot this weekend.
“You always want to start but it’s about what’s best for the team,” he added.
“I wanted to come on and make an impact and did that and if that’s what I’ve to do for the team again then that’s no problem at all.
“This squad players are very competitive so, even if you start on the bench, then you know you’re going to come on and add to the team. In the end, it’s all about winning the game.”