RBS 6 Nations Preview: France v Scotland

RBS 6 Nations
Date: 5th February 2011
Kick-off: 17:00 (GMT)
Venue: Stade de France

The defending champions will start their RBS 6 Nations campaign fielding a team made up of the same pack and the same scrum- and fly-half combination that won them the Grand Slam, but a very different three quarter line. Whether some of the choices are a moment of genius from Lievremont, or just him up to his usual interfering tricks remains to be seen. They took a psychological hit with their defeats during the summer and then the loss at home to Australia in the autumn, and they will be looking to redress this balance with their first game, which many may view as an easy win.

They will have to be at their best on Saturday to stand any chance of starting their Six Nations journey with a win. They have scored 2 wins over France at Paris in the last 42 years – the last one was in 1999, but confidence in the camp is high following their good form in the summer and autumn. Robinson has put out a strong team that on paper looks capable of standing up to their opposing numbers.

What to expect:
A very physical match.

The Scots are aware that they will need to be quick off the mark and not lose their momentum, otherwise they risk the game running away from them. Expect a valiant effort in their attempts to slow the French ball down and break through that strong front line. Creating the breaks and getting the ball into the hands of speedy backs such as Max Evans will be of paramount importance.

France are coming into this game on the back of public expectation that they will win this match. Lievremont continues to experiment with some positions in the team, which we perhaps would not see if they were playing England, Ireland or Wales. Morgan Parra is usually spot on with his goal kicking and is in excellent form at scrum half. The front line are experienced enough to spot any moments of weakness in the Scottish side, and the back line will be quick to exploit them.

All eyes on:
Nathan Hines: Making the switch to blindside flanker in this game, Hines will be part of a mobile back row, also looking to nullify the French defence and open up the field for speedy dashes from backs like Max Evans. Hines also likes to get his hands on the ball, and did well in this position back in the autumn against South Africa. He faces some forceful counterparts on the French side, but is the kind of player that delights in these physical encounters.

Maxime Mermoz: The rising star of French rugby, Mermoz has been given this start ahead of Yannick Jauzion. Playing for Perpignan at club level, he is hailed as one of the best centres in the Top 14 – he has great pace, and at club level has shown some amazing skill, and very innovative play. He should certainly be marked by the Scotland team, as once he has his hands on the ball he’ll be dangerous.

Head to Head: Imanol Harinordoquy v Kelly Brown
The clash of the Number 8s sees Sarries’ regular Kelly Brown up against Biarritz player Imanol Harinordoquy (pronounced Ah-reen-oh-doh-key, not Harry-Donna-Key as Jonathan Davies seems to think). Brown tops Harinordoquy by half an inch, and is the heavier of the pair, but the Frenchman has almost 20 more caps than Brown, and his performances for his country have earned international attention, and his try against Ireland last year made the shortlist for the IRB Try of the Year. Both will relish the challenge, but I suspect that Harinordoquy with his extra experience and playing flair will find Brown easier to overcome – although Kelly Brown would probably win a post-match sing off.

Weather: Partly cloudy, between 7-11 degrees C
Scotland tend to perform better in wetter conditions, although captain Alastair Kellock has said he would like a dry day.

Last year’s result: Another opening game, this time at Murrayfield, where the Scots lost 18-9.

Could go one of two ways: France will walk all over Scotland and cruise to an easy win, or Scotland will stall them heroically, and then fall at the final hurdle. France by 10