Never mind the players, the focus after this match will be on Scott Johnson or Philippe Saint-Andre. It is highly likely that one of them will end up looking for a new job, regardless of Johnson’s contract once Vern Cotter arrives.
Johnson’s easy-going wit and charm has finally rubbed people the wrong way, as have his bizarre team selections, while PSA’s team have struggled to find any sort of form for over a year, no matter how many superstars are in the team. While this match won’t be full of spark, expect fireworks off the pitch.
And the Scott Johnson guess-who’s-in-the-back-row-today game continues. This week we have Johnnie Beattie at blindside, Dave Denton at 8, and the return of captain Kelly Brown in place of Chris Fusaro – which is harsh on the Glasgow man, who has been more than solid in his two games. According to Johnson though, Ryan Wilson has been dropped to the bench due to a recent illness, so it’s anyone’s guess what the backrow would have been like if he was fit.
Up front, Moray Low drops out of the squad altogether after three less-than-impressive showings so far in the tournament; it means Geoff Cross deservedly starts after a good cameo against Italy and the thumbless Euan Murray comes onto the bench.
The rest of the team remains the same – Richie Gray and Big Jim start as locks and the entire backline including the benched Chris Cusiter, Duncan Taylor and Max Evans are unchanged.
Ah, the split-personality French. Who will turn up? The free-scoring, artistic, gallant side that pushed New Zealand and beat England? Or the dull, bumbling, lacklustre side that lost to Wales? The truth is nobody knows. Gone are Wesley Fofana, Yannick Nyanga, Dmitri Szarzewski and Louis Picamoles, the latter getting dropped for unsportsmanlike behaviour, the rest all injured.
Damien Chouly comes in at No.8 while Maxime Mermoz starts at centre, and Brice Mach and Sebastian Vahaamahina, the large man with the large surname, come in at hooker and on the flank. There is still no starting place for the flamboyant Gael Fickou who finds himself on the bench once again.
Wing Hugo Bonneval has also been dropped for Maxime Medard, and Maxime Machenaud and Alexandre Lapandry come in for Jean-Marc Doussain and Wenceslas Lauret respectively.
All eyes on
French hooker Brice Mach can be forgiven if he gets a bit emotional during this game. The 27-year-old recovered from thyroid cancer just two years ago and he is making his first international start since his recuperation. Best of luck to him.
He’s back! But is he in his right position? The inspirational Kelly Brown returns to Scotland colours after finding himself ousted from the last two games, and he will be wearing the no.7 shirt. The general consensus around Scotland is that this isn’t Brown’s best position and he is in the squad for his physicality rather than cleaning up the breakdown.
Head-to-head: Alex Dunbar v Mathieu Bastareuad
He kept Ireland’s talisman and Italy’s biggest attacking threat, namely Brian O’Driscoll and Michele Campagnaro, quiet, so surely Bastareuad should be a walk in the park for Dunbar? The French centre is nowhere near international standard and teams have managed to keep him quiet so far this championship. These two met in a Heineken Cup fixture in January though and while Dunbar was playing 12 that day, Bastareuad certainly won the tussle with his opposite number Sean Lamont.
Seriously, who knows what the score will be? Who knows which Scotland team and which French team will turn up? Many people are shooting France down due to the injured and dropped players, including Gavin Hastings over on the Unibet blog, who has backed Scotland to win. But a wounded France could potentially be a dangerous France, and with the ability across their backline, anything is possible. France by 11.
By Calum Gillon (@C_Gillon)
Photo by: Patrick Khachfe / Onside Images