Chris Cusiter believes French connection can help Scots bring down Les Bleus

CHRIS Cusiter likes nothing better than to duck behind enemy lines on a raid into opposition territory, but he believes that two years spent in France has given him an edge that could be to Scotland's benefit when they open their RBS Six Nations Championship campaign against the French on Sunday week.

The captain was a model of self-assurance at Wednesday's tournament launch in London, calmly taking questions from media from all six countries and delivering a message of quiet confidence laced with a realism about what it would take for Scotland to compete with championship favourites France and Ireland.

The 27-year-old scrum-half has undoubtedly rediscovered his elan in the past six months, having returned to Scotland from two seasons with Perpignan, the last few months of which brought abject frustration, frozen out of the team due to his decision to leave.

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But, now, he reflects on that period positively and believes it can only help him as he works with Andy Robinson, Gregor Townsend and Graham Steadman, and the players, in plotting the downfall of Marc Lievremont's France team at Murrayfield.

"I look back to two years ago when we came unstuck against them, when they came out and played some brilliant attacking rugby, which they're always capable of, and contrast it with two years before that when we managed to put them under enough pressure to stifle their attacking game and win.

"I expect them to come out and attack. If you look at the backs they have picked and the likely starters, they have a very attacking stand-off in Francois Trinh-Duc, and talented runners, it's fairly obvious how they'll play. It's a massive test for our defence and how we deal with that. We have to shut them down and put them under pressure, and not allow them to impose their game-plan on us.

"But I do feel that I understand French rugby players a lot more having spent two years down there, and their mentality in playing away from home. I really enjoyed playing against the French – they are fantastic rugby players – but I have experienced their point of view as well and feel there is knowledge there now that can help us."

He declined to go into detail about the French mentality away from home that he grew to understand, and how it might be unpicked, but pointed to the most recent instance of a leading French side coming to grief at Murrayfield – when Edinburgh defeated Stade Francais in the Heineken Cup on Saturday.

The following day he was a key figure in helping Glasgow into a lead at Biarritz, with a superb kick-through for Thom Evans that the winger's pace turned into a try, and then the finish of a stunning counter-attacking try from the Glasgow 22. Glasgow failed to go on to win, being overwhelmed in the last quarter, but both scores point to areas of the Scottish game that could cause France problems, if the Scots have the skills to deploy them as efficiently.

"It was disappointing to lose the way we did," acknowledged Cusiter, "having put ourselves in a winning position in the first half and again when we scored our second try after half-time, but the fact we didn't finish off is something we have to learn from.

"But we can also take a lot of confidence from the first hour in Biarritz, the way we played and the tries we scored, and getting a good win over Stade Francais will have given the Edinburgh players confidence as well. Playing France is different and we have to be careful not to read too much into the Heineken Cup results when considering how the Six Nations games will go, but there are similarities that we can draw from.

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"The way French teams play they give you a bit of space and time on the outside, and if you are brave enough to take them on you can get rewarded, but their defence is also very strong and there are very few missed tackles. With Glasgow our tactics were to look for those chinks and try to exploit them, and we got two good tries.

"A lot of it does come down to confidence, but a lot of our squad have the experience of beating France at Murrayfield in 2006 or of beating French teams in the Heineken Cup, so we all realise that if we perform on the day we are capable of beating anyone. We know that if we get it right we have a great chance.

"I remember that day in 2006 very well still – it was a great occasion. I played them for the first time in 2004 and we were beaten 31-0; we were close to winning in Paris in 2005; 2006 was a great championship (three wins]; in 2007 I was on the bench and we were over-powered over there; 2008, bench again, and we were beaten at home and last year I came off the bench and it was pretty close in Paris again.

"I would love to have a day again like we did in 2006 and it is definitely within our capabilities if we get it right on the day."

A fit Cusiter being back in the starting line-up is one reason for optimism for many, but Robinson's presence at the helm is another.

"Andy's competitive spirit speaks for itself," added Cusiter. "Not one player has questioned why Andy is in charge of Scotland – he is the best man for the job. He is as desperate to win as any Scots guy and we trust him implicitly.

"We feel with the coaching staff, backroom staff and players we have we are well-armed to make progress in the tournament, but it will still come down to how we perform."