Scotland v France: where game will be won and lost

Scotland's Stuart Hogg can be vulnerable under the high ball. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
Scotland's Stuart Hogg can be vulnerable under the high ball. Picture: Gary Hutchison/SNS/SRU
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Scotland’s scrum won the game in Rome but France take enormous pride in this area of the game and won’t be pushed around so easily, especially with two 20+ stone props on the bench. Scotland are much improved but the scrum still looks like a no-score draw. The Scots have lost seven lineouts so far, the French just three, but it is restarts that may prove the most costly because Italy scored twice, one try and one penalty, as a direct result of winning back the ball at their own restart.


Scotland have coped pretty well so far against the driving maul, although the pips were beginning to squeak against England, who won a couple of penalties using the tactic late in the Calcutta Cup match. France will use the tactic remorselessly and so would Scotland if they ever managed to get out of second gear. The Scotland U20s scored a try against France on Friday evening using the tactic. Maybe the full XV will take that as their cue.


Long gone are the days when you could sit back and goad the French into conceding a ready supply of penalties to exit your half or add another three points. In fact, France are one of the most disciplined sides in the competition, winning the aggregate penalty count by 23 (conceded) to 40 (won). When these teams met in September, Scotland conceded 16 penalties and one yellow card and the home team will lose if they do the same again today.


As Vern Cotter identified in the run up to this match: “We want to keep them behind the advantage line as much as possible but that will be difficult.” If France get on the front foot they will be a handful. If Scotland can take a lesson from the Japanese and chop them around the ankles they stand a chance because going high on the big French forwards will have painful consequences in more ways than one.


France are off-loading like it is going out of fashion, making almost as many as every other team combined. Nick Mallett, who dissects the statistics for Accenture, has discovered that the off-loads made early in an attack earn France more than two metres of carry but later ones earn less than half of that so they generate little momentum. Instead the Scots will be alert to the possibility of intercepts that France’s obsession with off-loads offers.


It’s an easy tactic and one that both sides will employ and probably more than they should. Scotland will try to avoid France’s solid South African full-back Scott Spedding, above, who is pretty safe under the bomb and instead they will target wingers Wesley Fofana and Virimi Vakatawa. France will probably do the opposite and aim their kicks at Stuart Hogg with Gael Fickou and Maxime Mermoz doing the chasing because the Scotland 15 has been known to spill the ball when challenged in the air.