France v Scotland: Stuart Hogg wants a performance to make Sean Maitland proud

It was International Waffle Day yesterday and the French Rugby Federation decided to mark the occasion on its official Twitter feed.

Stuart Hogg feels Scotland have been disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS
Stuart Hogg feels Scotland have been disadvantaged through no fault of their own. Picture: Ross Parker/SNS

It’s safe to assume that Sean Maitland, Jamie Bhatti and the other English-based players forced out of the Scotland squad for tonight’s Six Nations finale in Paris failed to see the funny side.

Speaking this week, Gregor Townsend said he would not use their exclusion to motivate his players.

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Stuart Hogg, the captain, thinks otherwise.

Asked if he felt Scotland had been disadvantaged through no fault of their own in being allowed to select only five from English clubs, the full back replied, “100 per cent”.

Hogg picked his words carefully but there is clearly a burning sense of injustice within the squad and why shouldn’t there be?

This match should have been played on February 28 but was postponed when coronavirus spread through the French camp.

Sympathy began to run dry when it emerged that a number of France players broke tournament rules when they left the team’s hotel to go out for waffles while in Rome for their opening match against Italy.

Scotland beat France 28-17 at Murrayfield last year, with captain Stuart Hogg lifting the Auld Alliance Trophy.

The game with Scotland was rescheduled for a date outside the international window, forcing the SRU to negotiate for the release of their English-based players who were due to play for their club sides this weekend.

Under the terms of the deal, Townsend was permitted to select only five Anglos - tough luck on Maitland, Bhatti and the rest.

The missing men will be at the forefront of Hogg’s mind ahead of kick-off this evening as Scotland chase a first win in Paris in 22 years.

“The main thing for us is we put squad first,” said the captain. “We could see how much it meant to Sean Maitland that he wasn’t going to be included. That hurt him a lot.

The absent Sean Maitland will be at the forefront of the Scotland players' minds. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

“The other boys, Duncan Taylor, Jamie Bhatti, these are guys who have had a massive impact on what we’ve done in training these last few weeks.

“For us, we’re going out to put in a performance they’ll be proud of. They’ve put massive efforts into this. That means it’s not just the 23 but the guys we call the Renegades, the guys who help the team prepare. They’ve been a massive part of it as well as those on the field. Tomorrow we’re going to go out there for everyone.

“We’ll put the squad first, get the job done tomorrow and play for these boys. My opinion is one I’ll keep to myself on this because I don’t want it to be headline news when there’s other things to concentrate on.”

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It’s the final match of this season’s Six Nations but there’s much still to play for. A win by eight points or more would secure second place for Scotland. France, meanwhile, can pip Wales for the title but would need to win by 21 points and secure a bonus point.

Much of the focus this week has been on the home side’s quest to end their 11-year wait for the Championship and just how many tries they’ll need. Hogg feels Scotland have become something of a sideshow.

“At lot’s been said – and in fact it’s beginning to hack me off – that they need 21 points to win,” he said. “We read a quote from one of their players saying they’d got a trophy to win. As a proud Scotsman that hurt me a lot.

“A lot’s been said about what they need to do, but if we win by eight points we finish the highest we’ve ever done in a Six Nations. That’s the motivation for us. It’s exciting, it’s one hell of a challenge, it’ll be an open game of rugby to be involved in. We’re really excited for it.

“This is probably the biggest challenge of our Six Nations. We know fine well what they’re about. They need to win by 20 points or whatever it is, but for us that’s an incredible challenge. We need to stand up defensively, front up, try and frustrate them as much as we possibly can. It’s not a case of us stopping them scoring 20-plus points, we’re going out there to play our own game and win a match of Test match rugby. We feel we’re ready – we’re excited for this.”

France’s stoppage time win over Wales last weekend was a testament to Galthie’s side’s spirit and endurance. Nevertheless, Townsend saw enough on Saturday night and in the previous week’s defeat by England to suggest France could be ‘got at’.

“In the last two games the opposition have really tested them with ball in hand,” said the Scotland coach. “England played some really good attacking rugby, Wales likewise and were 10 points up with 12 minutes to go and then a man up. It shows that teams can cause them problems, but then we saw some of the tries they scored against England and Wales were outstanding.

“The fact that they won away from home against Ireland, who are a really good team, shows that they are a quality side. They’ve been very consistent for the past 12 months, and they’ve got all their players back available. When we were due to play them a few weeks ago, Vakatawa wasn’t available and maybe Le Roux was injured as well.

“Now they’ve got a lot of players that perform at the highest level of the game, so that’s a situation you want to be in as the opposition – you want to be taking on the best players and seeing how you match up.”

Scotland scuppered France’s bid for the title last season and it will take something special to repeat the feat in Paris but, in winning at Twickenham, this side have shown they have both the ability and the temperament to flourish in big away games.

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