Stuart Hogg wants complete show as Scotland host France in Six Nations

Stuart Hogg has told his team-mates to hold nothing back and to 'have some fun' against France. Picture: SNS GroupStuart Hogg has told his team-mates to hold nothing back and to 'have some fun' against France. Picture: SNS Group
Stuart Hogg has told his team-mates to hold nothing back and to 'have some fun' against France. Picture: SNS Group
Scots skipper knows it will take a performance out of the top drawer for his team to record a win against les Bleus, writes Stuart Bathgate

The flaws and quirks and foibles that have characterised so many previous French sides appear to be absent from the one that will take the field at Murrayfield this afternoon.

In their place has come balance, composure, cohesion – qualities that Scotland must somehow unpick if they are to find a way to win this Six Nations match.

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France at their best often relied on sheer attacking verve to score more tries than the opposition. If they conceded one or two along the way, who cared?

Well, this French team care all right. They still have the dynamic offence of old, but under new assistant coach Shaun Edwards they have married that to a solid defensive structure, and with that equilibrium at the heart of their performance they have seen off England, Italy and Wales to stand just two steps away from a first Grand Slam since 2010.

Scotland, by contrast, stand just one rung above Italy at the foot of the table after their 17-0 win in Rome a fortnight ago. As always, beating the Italians has been seen as the minimum requirement in the Championship for Gregor Townsend’s side, and no-one either in the camp or further afield got too carried away with a result which followed defeats by Ireland and England.

Yet even allowing for the moderate nature of the home team, it was still a positive achievement. Winning the try count 3-0, and denying your opponents a single point in the process, is at least evidence of a workmanlike consistency, while the performance as a whole built on the greater proficiency in the set piece that was on display in Dublin and in the Calcutta Cup match which followed.

But workmanlike consistency will surely not be enough to carry the day against the French.

Captain Stuart Hogg, for one, is convinced that if his team are to win, they will need to produce the sort of complete performance – in defence, in attack, and over 80 minutes – that we have not seen from them in some time.

“The big message I’ve said for the last month or so is to let everything go – don’t hold back,” the full-back said yesterday.

“You could potentially play 60, 70 or 80 minutes in this game. You need to do all you can to put that jersey in a better place than when you picked it up.

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“I’ve said to the boys that we hold nothing back, let everything go, express ourselves and have some fun.

“When we’re doing that, we’re scoring tries and defending well and showing what it means to play for Scotland.

“The big thing for us is that we’re not striving for perfection, because that doesn’t exist. We’ll just continue to bounce through our mistakes and make sure we’re in a better place.”

Such a confident attitude is reflected in the way Hogg himself plays, but you suspect there will be lengthy passages of play in which Scotland adopt a more cautious approach.

After all, bouncing through your mistakes in a bright and breezy manner may well be better than dwelling on them, but it is better still not to make those mistakes in the first place.

Townsend’s team selection certainly emphasises dependability over adventurousness.

The three changes to the starting 15 are all in the pack, and in each case – hooker Fraser Brown, lock Grant Gilchrist and No 8 Nick Haining – the men coming in offer extra bulk in what is certain to be a brutal battle between the two sets of forwards.

“France have a hugely physical pack who have been dominating scrums and lineouts,” Hogg noted. “It’s a big challenge for our boys up front, but I believe they’ll be ready for it and beat them up there.

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“France bring a high press and a blitz defence, which has changed for them over the past couple of years or so. It’s the Shaun Edwards effect – he’s a world-class coach. But with every challenge comes an opportunity.

“We might get four or five opportunities in attack and we’ve got to exploit that and make the most of every single one of them.

“The first 20 minutes will be key for us. We need to meet fire with fire and go after them. We need to front up physically and knock them back in defence, as well as playing in the right areas in attack.

“We need to use all our energy in the right way and make sure we’re clinical.”

The first 20 minutes are often key, but presuming Scotland get that bit right, it will be in the last 20 that they may come into their own.

Since the chastening experience of the World Cup, we have heard little or nothing about the desire to be the fittest side playing the highest-tempo rugby, but they will back themselves nonetheless to finish more strongly than opponents who clung on to victory against both England and Wales.



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