Matt SCOTT has singled out opposing French centre Wesley Fofana as a key threat as Scotland head into the concluding RBS Six Nations weekend looking for a third win to equal the team’s 2006 achievement.
It took French coach Philippe St Andre a couple of games to switch 25-year-old Fofana, from Clermont Auvergne, back from winger to the midfield role in which he has notched six tries from 14 Test appearances.
But the return of Fofana, Paris born to a family from Mali, coincided with France suddenly being competitive again in losing to a controversial try at Twickenham then drawing in Dublin at the weekend.
According to Scott, individual challenges don’t come much bigger than Fofana.
“If selected then I am really looking forward to going head-to-head with Fofana. He is one of the best No. 12s in world rugby because of his footwork and ability to beat players one-on-one. Fofana will certainly be very different to Jamie Roberts, whom I have just faced against Wales. Roberts is a bigger, more direct guy in the way he carries ball up. Coming up against players with different skills and abilities is part of the Six Nations experience although it will be hard to analyse this particular French team.
“On their day France can be world class but they have had a disappointing championship by their standards. Who knows which French side will turn up? What I suspect from playing in France with Edinburgh is that if things aren’t going well for the home team the local fans don’t so much tend to encourage as start booing.
“That could work in our favour especially if we are in the game around the hour mark and the Paris crowd don’t see their team getting on top. What I can also take encouragement from is Edinburgh’s Heineken European Cup quarter-final win over Toulouse a year ago as a lot of their players are still involved with France.”
Scotland haven’t won away to France since the concluding season of what was the Five Nations Championship back in 1999. Scott maintains there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater after going down at home to Wales in the wake of those back-to-back wins over Italy and Ireland.
“I know people will be sick of hearing about the need to improve set-pieces, breakdowns and the tackle area while there were no (Scots) tries and not many line breaks (against Wales). Sometimes you get yourself into battles where it is ugly but you just have to keep the head down until you come out the other side.
“We are nearly there and close to getting those basics right so that there is first phase ball or even fourth phase which is when the backs tend to find themselves running at forwards.”
Where Scott appeared particularly astute was in helping turn the Welsh defence and he will be looking to repeat the type of touch-finder kick which gained 60 yards on one occasion with the ball running right up to the visiting try-line.
“We talked about the way the Wales back three defended and when I saw the space I popped the ball over the top. It was probably the most important kick from hand I’ve made for Scotland in terms of the context of the game,” recalled the one-time Currie man.
Alas, the Scottish pack was repelled and there will be at least one change when coach Scott Johnson names his team tomorrow with Richie Gray sidelined with a hamstring injury.
It’s odds on that Al Kellock will answer the call especially as he contributed to a 100 per cent line-out return last time after coming off the bench.
However, Kellock was anxious not to confuse the statistic with perfection. “We got 100 per cent possession but not 100 per cent accuracy because we didn’t get the drive on.
“That was partly because when I came down (from jumping) Alun Wyn Jones was standing on my side of the line-out which was disappointing.
“We weren’t going anywhere and I’m not being disrespectful when I say Wales are not a team that traditionally put pressure on jumpers. They would rather force you to win the ball and then take you on on the ground.”
Where Kellock was particularly upbeat was in backing Scotland’s latest newcomer, 23-year-old back row Ryan Wilson. He came off the bench for Johnnie Beattie and Kellock said of his Glasgow back row colleague: “Ryan has lots of potential. He is a heart-on-sleeve type of guy.”