France get their first taste of Autumn Nations Cup action, after their opening fixture with Fiji was cancelled due to COVID-19 running amok amongst the Island visitors. Scotland meanwhile dispatched Italy with relative ease last weekend, but even though both sides are lacking their first choice fly halves, Scotland know they will need to step it up a gear. France travel to Murrayfield no doubt determined to right the wrongs of their only Six Nations defeat on the same ground earlier this year. Scotland will know that France come with an agenda and are currently the form team in the Northern Hemisphere. Scotland may not have the all out wow factor of France, but their entertaining brand of rugby can definitely give their Gallic opponents a run for their money. Add to the mix a Scottish back row that is one of the Northern Hemisphere’s most dangerous units right now, some decent weather for running rugby and you have all the ingredients for an encounter that should provide some serious entertainment.
So here’s what got us talking about this one.
The French front row has oodles of talent but it would appear not in the stock of their trade – the scrum
We much preferred the look of France’s front row against Ireland in the final round of the Six Nations from a technical point of view. Sunday’s offering has very talented players, but their talents actually lay more outside the scrum than in it. Prop Demba Bamba is a very gifted player and in the loose is a nightmare for opposition sides and also rather difficult to bring down once he’s built up a head of steam. Camille Chat is much the same, but as for the stock and trade of their positions, the scrum, we feel they are less proficient. This is an area Scotland’s capable and experienced unit can target. Fraser Brown and Simon Berghan are seasoned campaigners and new South African import Ollie Kebble is an absolute menace. If Scotland can get the ascendancy in the set pieces then key momentum shifts could come the way of the Scots and force the French into costly mistakes.
Scotland tackled France off the park last time the two met in the Six Nations and will need to do so again
Both teams benefit from some very smart defensive coaches, but the last time the two teams met, it was Scotland’s ability in particular through Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie, to essentially tackle France to a standstill that gave them the match. Expect more of the same on Sunday the one difference being that France will be much wiser to it this time around. Watson and Ritchie’s gang tackling of outstanding French loose forward Gregory Aldritt back in March, negated much of the kind of authority France are now able to establish in this part of the park especially through their world class number eight. France however, are much more refined now so it is unlikely that Scotland will be able to keep les Bleus’ outstanding back row trio in check as well as they did in March. Although you could argue France now look the sharper of the two sides, Scotland’s tackling game is still one area that they should feel comfortable in. If they can slow France down and stop them building any kind of forward momentum then Scotland have as good a chance as any at upsetting the Northern Hemisphere’s flashiest outfit right now.
Is he the best number 9 on the planet right now?
We certainly think so! An unbelievably talented and gifted natural player barely out of Test rugby kindergarten. To the rest of the world – look out you’ve been warned! Enough said!
Scotland could use some big (H)air on Sunday
Knowing what Duncan Weir can do in the fly half position, we have to be honest and say we expected more last Saturday in Florence. The hair was certainly there make no mistake but it was a relatively quiet performance from the Scot, despite some flashes of brilliance and he was unlucky to not have his try awarded. The hair is likely to be even higher this weekend but he needs a greater vertical profile to his actual game than what we saw against Italy. Weir possesses a very useful kick and chase game, and Scotland will want to see him bring it on, provided their gang tackling forwards can tie enough Frenchmen up in the middle of the park to allow Weir to pinpoint some holes.
Weir’s opposite number, Matthieu Jallibert, is yet another of the new generation French 10s who know how to put on the razzle dazzle. When not doubling as a Billy Idol impersonator, Jallibert has a formidable turn of pace and ability to keep the opposition guessing and ultimately wrong footed in defence. In short, Coach Fabien Galthie is unlikely to have had too many sleepless nights over Romain Ntamack’s short term injury.
Exeter meet Toulouse in the Heineken Cup all over again
Scottish fullback Stuart Hogg knows his opposite number Thomas Ramos very well from their recent Heineken Cup semi-final. On that occasion the Scot got the better of the Frenchman, but make no mistake Ramos is a gifted footballer and although his style may not quite emulate the legendary Scot, he is a very potent strike threat in his own right. However, what Hogg is starting to show in addition to his ability to spark a blinding counterattack from deep, is an increasingly impressive defensive resume. On a tackle count Hogg is your man, while Ramos still has some lingering doubts around that aspect of his game. Both have handy boots and the aerial battle featuring these two will be one of the highlights of the afternoon.
The weather looks to favor two exciting free flowing sides. This along with the England/Ireland match the day before should be one of the tournament’s most riveting fixtures. Although Scotland will fancy their chances of upsetting France’s world class act, the Men in Blue are looking so much sharper than they did back in March we have a hard time believing it. Surely Ireland and Scotland will all be watching replays of Argentina’s exploits against the All Blacks to reaffirm that the odds are just that – odds. However, our heads favor England and France to get the job done this weekend.
Enjoy what should be an outstanding weekend of Test Rugby everyone as we appear to be heading into yet another lockdown. At least we have some quality oval ball action to keep us company this time!