Referee: Wayne Barnes
Despite Andy Robinson saying that they did not want to be in the position where a few games in hand, Scotland are without a win, which is precisely where they are. After an unlucky loss at home to England and a physical clash down in Cardiff, Scotland are going to have to really pull something special out of the bag in order to turn that form around against a strong French side.
With Max Evans ruled out due to an ankle injury, there are four changes to the side, Stuart Hogg makes his first start, whilst Graeme Morrison, John Barclay and Mike Blair all get the nods to start in a move which sees Rory and Sean Lamont move to right wing and outside centre respectively, and Chris Cusiter and Nick De Luca drop to the bench, where they join Richie Vernon who joins the starting 22 for the first time since the World Cup.
Same again for Phillipe Saint-André after the frozen pitch in Paris two weeks ago, which means Dimitri Yachvili is still out with a back injury. Exceptionally strong from 1 to 22, France have strengthened the front-row bringing in Jean Baptiste-Poux and Dimitri Szarweski, with the young Yoan Maestri set to make his first start in the second row. Three weeks since the Italy game, France now have four tough games in a row.
What to Expect:
A match very similar to the one we saw last year between these teams. France will want to see plenty of the ball and play an expansive game, whilst Scotland will look to a forwards heavy game, relying on the backs to inject the pace. The French will definitely run in a few tries, and I would be surprised if Scotland did not too.
All Eyes On: Yoan Maestri v Graeme Morrison
The next in a long line of great French locks, Maestri has come through the ranks in Toulouse and now at just 24 is set to break through into the national setup, after being on the fringes of the squad since 2010. As second rows go, he’s also fairly hand with the boot.
Many were relieved to see Morrison get his chance in this squad, however this was tempered with a slight apprehension at how well he will work with Sean Lamont. The two have previously been interchangeable in the Scotland set up, and the recent injury to Max Evans will have influenced his inclusion in the squad. Morrison will certainly have something to prove to the Scotland set-up and the sell out home crowd. The centre is Morrison’s spot, and he has demonstrated considerable skill there, and tends to play an inclusive style of rugby, knowing when to run the line and, perhaps more crucially, when to pass.
Head to Head: Stuart Hogg vs. Maxime Médard
My player to watch in the Scottish side for this particular tournament, Stuart Hogg made a great impression off of the bench in Cardiff, including scoring an, ultimately denied, try. He will be looking to top that showing this week with his first start at Murrayfield. Hard to miss in his bright yellow boots, Hogg displays calmness and a maturity in his play, and few things seem to faze him. He is solid under the high ball, inventive, and frequently breaks through the line with darting runs. Despite being only 19 years old he reads the game like a pro, works hard, goes looking for the ball, and can spot a gap to exploit a mile away. Expect to see all of this combine on Sunday.
Up against Maxime Medard, the experienced French fullback and wing, Hogg has a tough job ahead. Medard has really come into his own as a player in the past couple of years, and poses a potent threat to any opposition. His superior experience will stand him in good stead. Hogg’s advantage lies in his freshness. No doubt the French will have done their homework, but unless they have watched club game after club game, they will not have figured out Hogg’s pattern of play quite yet, meaning he will be harder to neutralise.
A valiant effort from the Scots, but they will ultimately be unable to break that solid French side. France by 12. KL
France may well be a little rusty during the opening 20-30 minutes given their lack of minutes on the pitch this year, but once the combinations start working fluidly again France will have too much. France by 6. BC
by Christine Lester & Ben Coles