Marc Lievremont says Scots are 'like All Blacks'

FRANCE coach Marc Lievremont has termed Scotland "the All Blacks of the northern hemisphere" in terms of the style of rugby he expects to face when his side take to Murrayfield on Sunday week at the start of the RBS Six Nations Championship.

His first game in charge of France was the opening match in the 2008 tournament at Murrayfield and ended 27-6 in his team's favour, but the former back row star has since won five games and lost four in a rocky Six Nations adventure. Buoyed by the appearance of four French clubs in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals, he believes he is now cultivating a squad capable of restoring France to the top of the European game but at the launch of the 2010 Six Nations Championship yesterday, in London, he insisted that much will hinge on the opening match against the Scots.

"It is a very big game for us," Lievremont said. "The big thing now is to get continuity, but we have nine days to prepare as a squad which is amazing for us because normally we have club games the week before.

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"We need time together because I expect a very difficult game, especially in the hostile environment of Murrayfield. I watched Scotland's three matches in November and I call them the 'All Blacks of the northern hemisphere' because they are very strong in defence, good technically in rucking, their kicking is a strong point and they try to off-load quickly, similar to how the All Blacks play.

"We saw that in the games against Australia and Argentina. They don't have the same athletic potential of the All Blacks or the power, or the depth of squad perhaps, but it is the way they try to play that makes me view them as the All Blacks of the north. If they had a few Samoans and Tongans they would probably be the All Blacks!"

Lievremont has left out notable French caps such as Maxime Medard, Florian Fritz, Cedric Heymans and Lionel Beauxis, and is missing Biarritz trio Dimitri Yachvili, Damien Traille and Fabien Barcella to injury, but is building a squad around young half-backs Francois Trinh-Duc and Morgan Parra.

Andy Robinson, the Scotland coach, smiled at Lievremont's comparison, but insisted he was intent on unearthing a brand of rugby that was more dangerous than in recent times, unpredictable and unique to Scotland.

"They might be remembering that, away from home, they have beaten the All Blacks so if that's how they're gearing up for our match then we might be in trouble," he said. "But I tend to prefer to think that we can have our own unique style in the way we want to play and that's what I'm focusing on building with the players right now.

"We want to be unpredictable in the way we try to play. The players are very open-minded about the way we want to play and the key to any game is being able to play in different ways.

"We want to build on what we did in the autumn so we have to establish a 'go-forward' and have confidence to look after the ball. We will be looking to get a foothold in the game and get the scoreboard moving to start with, and that comes from looking after the ball, but also looking to take them on in certain areas and that's what we're going to do."

That points to his desire to take France on with real bravado both up front and across the park, with Chris Cusiter, the captain, working with Phil Godman at half-back rather than his Glasgow teammate Dan Parks, and the likes of Thom and Max Evans, Alex Grove and Sean and Rory Lamont – who was to join the squad after making his comeback from injury with Toulon last night – being integral factors.

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What was as clear yesterday was how the Scotland coach was revelling in being back in the Six Nations fold, an environment where he helped to coach England to three titles, two Triple Crowns and a Grand Slam, even if it did mean facing questions from the English media such as "can you feel fulfilled as Scotland coach?"

He replied stating his belief in the job he was doing, and repeating a mantra of having faith in core values. He told The Scotsman: "I'm in a really good place and I've looked forward to this. The media have got a job to do and facing the English media again doesn't scare me or faze me.

"I love the Six Nations. I believe it's the best international sports tournament out there and, as always, I go out there full of expectancy. I also felt the hype for the autumn Tests. The hairs were standing up on the back of my neck when the squad ran out and were singing the national anthem before each match against Fiji, Australia and Argentina. Murrayfield is an inspiring place to be and so is the way the crowd gets behind the team, and the way the anthems are sung really gives you a lift.

"But this is a great tournament and the good thing is it happens every year and you play in different venues ever year. It's good that it's not over-exposed, not home and away against everyone. This is quality."

Robinson's challenge in the next ten days is to unearth the quality in Scotland's play that lives up to the tournament billing, even if it may be stretching optimism to hope for a repeat of the first match 100 years ago where Scotland scored seven tries and won 27-0.