France has long benefited from its generous ‘open door’ policy. Frdric Michalak’s grandfather was Polish, Dimitri Yachvili’s Georgian. His is the more romantic story. The grandfather, Charles Yachvili, was taken prisoner while serving in the Red Army in the siege of Leningrad. He escaped from a German POW camp, made his way to France and joined up with the Resistance near Brive. Choosing to remain in France after the war, he married a local girl and they had a son, Michel. Michel took to rugby and by 1968 was hooker in the French XV. He was capped 19 times and later became forwards coach at Brive.
Dimitri is the second of his three sons. The eldest, Gregoire, a back-row forward, played for Georgia in the World Cup last autumn. The youngest, Charles Edouard, is about to sign a professional contract, aged 17 or 18. Quite a family. If Frddie Michalak has made a bigger impact than Dimitri Yachvili - so far - the romance of the Yachvili family story is such that I hope the young man has a good game tomorrow.
We have, of course, had one internationalist of a comparable background, Iwan Tukalo - Ukrainian father, Italian mother, educated at the Royal High School, before becoming a very popular prolific try-scoring winger for Selkirk and Scotland. But, considering the number of Poles who settled here in Scotland after the Hitler war and Communist take-over in Poland, we should, one thinks, have found a Michalak or two by now. Likewise our rugby has benefited less from Scotland’s contribution to the British Empire than might have been expected, while in contrast the French Empire has given France some sublime players, notably the two Serges, Blanco and Betsen. Of course we have recruited players from what used to be called the White Dominions, but, alas, they have mostly recalled their Scottish grannies or grandads only when they have no chance of being capped by the country of their birth.
France come here almost 20 years to the day since Jim Aitken’s team won that epic encounter to secure our first Grand Slam since 1925. (It’s good that the SRU are celebrating that anniversary by inviting the 1984 Scotland team to be their guests today; and are also honouring Douglas Elliot, whose last international in his great career was exactly 50 years back).
France were favourites in 1984 too, even if not quite as strong. Nevertheless they lost.
Going by the form book there is no reason at all to suppose that we can look for a repeat result tomorrow. The days are long gone when we lost in Paris and France lost at Murrayfield, regular as clockwork. Moreover the last defeats have been heavy, and neither in Paris last year nor in Sydney in October did we ever come close to scoring a try. Meanwhile we conceded many.
This is a very good French team, and they come here with a job of work to do, which, if accomplished successfully, will set them up for the last match of the tournament against England in Paris and the chance of the Grand Slam. Perhaps our best hope is that they may already have half their mind on that game in six days’ time.
But it’s unlikely. Moreover, only BBC commentators still cling to the old belief that French rugby teams are psychologically fragile. They aren’t - or no more so than other teams prove to be when games don’t go to plan. If the French nerve may be held to have failed in their World Cup semi-final against England, the same charge might be laid with regard to New Zealand in the other semi, and to England at Twickenham a fortnight ago.
Still Scotland have to believe that victory is possible. They must play with a verve, imagination and audacity that they haven’t shown this season. I’m sure they won’t win by trying to play safe. One’s impression is that the players have been so concerned to play according to the systems which Matt Williams is trying to put in place, that they have sometimes failed to look up and react to what is in front of them.
International rugby is now a highly organised game, and every team has systems which they try to adhere to. Yet this adherence shouldn’t be slavish, or it becomes predictable and easy to defend against. There is still a need for flair, for doing the unexpected. The first French try against Wales offered a good example. When Michalak switched direction to the blindside, one of the TV commentators said: "I don’t think that was planned." There was even, I thought, a note of disapproval in his voice. There should have been admiration.
Of course, defence is the first priority. No team can win if they leak tries, and Matt Williams has probably been working hard to put defensive systems in place. But I hope we shall show some audacity in attack, daring to do the unexpected, keeping the ball moving, and putting more trust in individual initiative and flair than has been evident in our first three matches under his guidance.