Defence vital in Scotland's bid to upset France

EDINBURGH • Scotland will be after their first back-to-back Six Nations wins in three years at Murrayfield today. But, to do so, they will have to beat France for the first time in 10 years.

Vern Cotter's side ended a dreadful run of nine straight defeats in the tournament against Italy in Rome two weeks ago, but the earlier losses to England and Wales still rankle and a French scalp would go a long way to salvaging the season.

They would then travel to Dublin to play struggling Ireland with a third-place finish within reach.

Cotter, who moved from French club side Clermont to take over as Scotland coach last year, is only too aware that his side face a daunting task, even against a French side still licking their wounds from the World Cup mauling they endured at the hands of the All Blacks.

"The win in Rome was a reward for the hard work the players have put in, but the hard work never stops," he said. "They (France) are confrontational and will try to keep the ball alive, so we will have to put in a great defensive performance.

"They also have the ability to channel their power through their set-pieces, though that is a challenge our pack in particular are relishing, having put in some impressive performances of their own."

Cotter has close ties to France coach Guy Noves from their Top-14 rivalry before Noves was persuaded to leave Toulouse and take over the national side.

And Cotter knows that Noves is a masterful tactician and motivator.

Under him the French secured narrow wins over both Italy and Ireland before losing to Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago.

A win over Scotland, however, would keep alive French hopes of winning the tournament, with England due in Paris for next weekend's finale.

The Wales loss has brought a raft of changes, including attack-minded fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc replacing the misfiring Jules Plisson, the return of the incisive Wesley Fofana on the wing and a recall for Scott Spedding at full-back.

It all adds up to a free-flowing backline bent on attack in contrast to the more conservative systems employed by Noves' predecessor Philippe Saint-Andre.

Spedding, back in the fold for the first time since the World Cup debacle, is convinced Noves is on the right track in terms of his rebuilding process. "We absolutely have to make sure that we have more possession of the ball," he said.

Today's match will also be a milestone for Scotland scrum-half and skipper Greig Laidlaw, who wins his 50th cap and in the process equals the Scotland record of 25 Tests as captain currently held by former prop David Sole.



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Defence vital in Scotland's bid to upset France'. Print Edition | Subscribe