France v Scotland: Richie Gray wary of formidable French culture of winning your home games

Richie Gray has warned that Scotland will need to match France physically if they are to have any hope of ending their 22-year long winless run in Paris.

Richie Gray, left, has enjoyed being part of the Scotland team again after a three-year absence. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Richie Gray, left, has enjoyed being part of the Scotland team again after a three-year absence. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

The lock forward spent seven years playing in the Top 14, firstly with Castres and then Toulouse, and has stressed the importance in French rugby culture of winning your home games.

The Stade de France has never been a happy hunting ground for the Scots and they will go there on Sunday on the back of a run of 11 successive defeats in the French capital.

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Gray, who is back in the squad after a three-year absence, has been impressed by the improvements he has seen in the Scotland team. The win at Twickenham in their opening match of the Six Nations was a landmark occasion but he knows it will likely require an even better performance to beat France

Richie Gray spent seven seasons in French rugby, firstly with Castres and then Toulouse. Picture: AFP via Getty Images

“There are many technical and strategic elements to the game but I think the main thing is we have to match them physically,” said the Glasgow forward. “When you play a French team at home they are a different team. They come out with a lot of pride.

“Reading their press, they want to make their nation proud. They will be coming out firing at home. We need to make sure we match them, especially in the first 20 minutes.”

Gray has impressed as an impact substitute in Scotland’s opening two Six Nations matches against England and Wales, easing himself back into the side, and he likes the mentality of the team under Gregor Townsend.

“There is a calmness around the squad,” he said. “Everybody is aware, confident of their own abilities and looking to have a good time, improving and enjoying the environment.

“How much has changed I am not sure but I certainly think we are improving.”

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At 31, he is one of the more experienced men in Townsend’s team and he insists his absence from the side has not diminished his desire to play international rugby.

“The appetite has always been there,” Gray said. “When I got back into the squad environment it has grown and grown and I want more and more. I don’t look so much at age but more that I have not played for the national team for three years. Things can change very quickly so, it is a cliché, but I play every game as if it is my last.”

Sunday’s match will go ahead as scheduled following a decision by Guinness Six Nations organisers.

Ten France players tested positive for Covid-19 but two clear rounds of testing saw the game get the green light.

The Six Nations leaders will be missing star scrum-half and 2020 player of the championship Antoine Dupont and captain Charles Ollivon.

Nine of the 23-man squad that beat Ireland 15-13 defeat have since been found to have contracted the virus. However, Gray does not believe that the absences will seriously weaken the home side.

“The challenge will still be just as tough. French rugby, they have crazy depth,” he said.

“A good example of that is the England game in the autumn, when I think it was dubbed the French third team. But they went over to England and almost pulled off a victory.”

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