Scotland v France Six Nations: Jackal threat warning as Les Bleus bid to shake-off World Cup hangover
Is this a good or bad time for Scotland to be getting France? It’s hard to imagine Fabien Galthie’s side playing as poorly in Edinburgh as they did in last Friday’s Six Nations opener against Ireland. The conceded five tries in Marseille in a performance pock-marked with handling errors and missed tackles.
Judging by the demeanour of Shaun Edwards, the after effects are still being felt. Edwards, the France defence coach, fronted up at the pre-match press conference at Murrayfield with the look of a man who had ordered roast beef but was served snails. When it was put to him by one French journalist that he seemed angry, he replied: “I am normally angry when we lose. It means a lot to me and I know how much it means to the people of France.”
The big question for Les Bleus is whether the performance at Stade Velodrome was a one-off or part of wider malaise, a post-World Cup hangover that will take more than a couple of aspirin to shake off. Unsurprisingly, Edwards plumped for the former but knows France will have to improve considerably against opponents who opened their own Six Nations campaign with the narrowest of victories over Wales.
“We need to give a better account of ourselves in attack, defence, our kicking game, the set-piece,” said Edwards, not shirking from the task in hand. “We know we’re up against a formidable opponent in Scotland, who have been ranked in the top five in the last 12 months. We know we’re in for a tough game but we just want to give a better account of ourselves and obviously a victory would be nice as well.”
Gregor Townsend has a solid home record as coach against France, winning four and losing two, and having got the Cardiff monkey off his back last weekend he knows a victory on Saturday would have Scotland supporters believing they could be genuine contenders. They will need to match France physically, a point made more than once by both Townsend and co-captain Rory Darge this week. Darge’s inclusion is designed to do just that. The Glasgow Warriors flanker’s work at the breakdown will likely be key to the outcome and he knows there can be no drop off in concentration levels for the home side.
“We have to be in every moment,” Darge said. “It’s not just in attack that France have that threat; they’re a real jackal threat – at almost every ruck they have a go. Being on it for 80 minutes is more difficult than it might seem, but that’s definitely the challenge.”
The rise and rise of Darge is worth savouring. In under three years he’s gone from a peripheral player at Edinburgh to Scotland’s co-captain alongside Finn Russell. The catalyst was his spring 2021 move to Glasgow Warriors where he was given the opportunity to play regularly under Danny Wilson and flourished almost immediately. He’s overcome a couple of serious injuries and come back bigger and stronger and Townsend expects him to lead by example against France.
“He’s so committed, and to do that you have to train that way,” said the coach. “He’s physical in training, he works hard on his skills and he’s really committed in the gym. Physically he’s up there with the back-rows he’ll go up against from other nations. He’s got a really unusual way of carrying the ball which means he can slip through tackles. The defence really have to finish off a tackle on him or he’ll just keep on going.
“His ability over the ball in defence is up there with the best in the world. He’s so clean and efficient, so the referees know that if he’s got the ball, he’s done it the right way. He’s a leader by example. The leadership he will deliver against France will be more about how tough he is carrying the ball, going for ball and then making points that need to be made, probably more around the defensive side.”
Darge, who turns 24 later this month, missed the win over Wales last weekend as he finished off his recuperation from a knee ligament strain sustained against Edinburgh in December. He sat in the stand at the Principality and admitted it was a little nerve-wracking as he watched Scotland’s 27-0 lead being whittled down to a single point during a tumultuous second half. The noise in the stadium, with the roof closed, was something else and Darge would love to see the Scotland support similarly galvanised on Saturday. A good start would help in that respect.
France have already played a significant part in Darge’s short international career. The Glasgow Warriors flanker made his first Scotland start in the 2022 Six Nations match with Les Bleus at Murrayfield and scored a try in the 36-17 defeat. “I remember the anthems – that was a goosebump moment being my first Scotland start,” he said. “Then the try, in terms of moments, that is probably right up there in my career. I don’t score many tries, it’s not a massive part of my game, but to score in front of a home crowd and my family was really special.”
Darge also helped Scotland beat France at Murrayfield in a World Cup warm-up last summer, then bagged another try a week later in Saint-Etienne as the French edged a see-saw game 30-27 a week later. “I’ve always loved playing them – it’s always a big physical challenge,” he said.
He is not the only Darge family member involved in a big match this weekend. His younger brother Arron is in the Cove Rangers squad to face Kilmarnock in the Scottish Cup fifth round at Rugby Park in a game that will kick off an hour after Scotland’s. “I’ll be looking forward to seeing the result,” said Rory. “I’ve seen him a few times but obviously I won’t be able to see this one.”
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