Six Nations: Matt Williams continued to dominate Scotland v France build-up as Stuart Hogg has his say

Nobody expected the spectre of Matt Williams to linger over Scotland’s Six Nations campaign but the ghost of coaches past continues to make his presence felt as Gregor Townsend’s side look to reboot their campaign against France at Murrayfield.

Now operating as a pundit for Irish TV, Williams’ stinging assessment of Scotland’s defeat in Wales saw him accuse Townsend’s team of “making fools of themselves”.

The Aussie’s argument is that the Scots need to stop talking themselves up until they actually deliver something tangible.

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Expectations were high going into the campaign, the away wins last season over England and France suggesting this group of players was capable of mounting a genuine title challenge this time around.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg during a the team run ahead of Saturday's clash with France.Scotland captain Stuart Hogg during a the team run ahead of Saturday's clash with France.
Scotland captain Stuart Hogg during a the team run ahead of Saturday's clash with France.

Townsend himself said it was the strongest squad he had worked with since 1999 and the home victory over England on the opening weekend kept the bandwagon rolling along nicely.

Then came the bump in the road in Cardiff, giving Williams all the fuel he needed.

“They’ve got to shut up because they’re making fools of themselves,” he thundered.

For those who may have forgotten, it should be noted that Williams’ tenure as Scotland coach was the most wretched of the professional era (his win rate was 17.65 per cent) but that has never stopped him spouting forth.

Matt Williams had a terrible tenure in charge of Scotland.Matt Williams had a terrible tenure in charge of Scotland.
Matt Williams had a terrible tenure in charge of Scotland.

And so we arrive at a situation where Stuart Hogg is forced to deny suggestions that the current squad is guilty of arrogance.

“Certainly, from a player’s points of view, I think we give out the impression that we are confident in our ability and confident in our structures, but we’re far from arrogant,” said the Scotland captain. “There’s a massive difference.”

Hogg’s response was measured and he was careful not to mention Williams by name.

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“I know exactly who you are referring to, in terms of who said that, and I could be nasty with what I am going to say, but I’ll be respectful and leave it at that,” added the full-back.

Scotland lost out to Wales last time out.Scotland lost out to Wales last time out.
Scotland lost out to Wales last time out.

It seems faintly preposterous that a coach who presided over nine defeats in the ten Six Nations games he took charge of should be lecturing Scotland on how to behave and you suspect it is starting rankle.

“We have not been in a position to win trophies so we are never going to be arrogant,” Hogg added. “We are confident and there is a fine balance between confidence and arrogance. The belief in this squad is incredible and that is something we have built up through the cohesion in the squad and the results we have picked up but we are far from being arrogant.”

Scotland know they need to beat France to keep their title hopes alive but they will have to play an awful lot better than they did in Cardiff if they are going to get the better of the only unbeaten team left in the championship.

Much has been made of the improvements made to the Scottish defence since Steve Tandy joined the coaching team but it was the lack of attacking chances created in Wales which stymied the visitors.

Darcy Graham was outstanding in the 20-17 defeat but Scotland need to find a way to also bring into play Sione Tuipulotu, Duhan van der Merwe and Hogg himself. All pose potent threats with ball in hand – the tricky thing will be to win enough possession against a huge French pack.

“We want to have the complete package – the all-round game both sides of the ball – but no two matches are the same, so sometimes you rely heavily on your attack and sometimes you rely on your defence,” said Hogg.

“We’ve analysed it all week and hopefully on Saturday we get the pictures that we’ve seen from the French defence, because we believe there are huge opportunities for us to play with ball in hand.

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“Darcy has been one of our best over the last couple of games and he gets another opportunity to show what he’s about. Hopefully, we can get him and Duhan involved in the game.

“Both of their stats this season – their tackle-breaks, line-breaks and defenders-beaten – are absolutely incredible, so it is a case of getting those guys the ball and letting them do some damage for us.”

Hogg believes that Scotland’s kicking also let them down in Cardiff and he accepts part of the blame for that. Against France, with the weather expected to be better, the skipper will strive for more accuracy.

“To have that balance between kicking and running is massive, obviously. You have to play rugby in the right areas so the kicking game is massive and hopefully that will create counter-attack ball, because that’s what we want.

“I think our attack has been pretty good. We scored against Wales after holding the ball for multi-phase, but at times we have let ourselves down with individual skill errors that have come back to bite us.

“Attack is a lot easier when you are playing on the front foot, and against England and Wales we have struggled to achieve that, but I have no doubt that against France, if we carry hard and move them around the field, then we will create space and really get going.

“And the fact that we have played in the wet the last couple of weeks hasn’t been ideal.”

Scotland’s recent record against France is excellent, with last year’s win in Paris the high point. Fabien Galthie’s side also came unstuck against the Scots in 2020 when the championship looked theirs for the taking. Given their momentum, their colossal pack and their supremely gifted half-back pairing, it’s hard to see them stumbling for a third season in a row against a home side missing four of their first choice pack.

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