Scots under pressure to turn things around
February 24, 2012
Scotland coach Andy Robinson has seen his side lose their first two Six Nations encounters © Getty Images
Scotland will attempt to rescue their Six Nations campaign when they tackle France at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Andy Robinson's side more than held their own in their opening encounters with England and Wales but ended up on the losing side on both occasions. As a result, they are under increasing pressure ahead of the visit of the Rugby World Cup finalists with testing visits to Ireland and wooden spoon rivals Italy awaiting them in the coming weeks.
In contrast, France are unbeaten although that winning run extends to their opening success over Italy after their date with Ireland fell foul to the recent deep freeze. The late cancellation of that Stade de France clash leaves Philippe Saint-Andre's side - and Ireland - facing four games in successive weeks - a tough ask for any side even if you boast the kind of strength in depth that Les Bleus are blessed with.
History offers little reason for hope for the Scots having lost 12 of their last 13 clashes with the French while Murrayfield has witnessed just one victory over their cross-Channel rivals since 1996. It appears it will take something special from the hosts to breathe life into their title challenge and unfortunately for them, that is something that we are more used to seeing from the French.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Lock Richie Gray has a tendency to save his best for France - can the flame-haired dynamo make another telling contribution?
Scotland - Team News: The Scots make four changes to the side beaten by Wales with fullback Stuart Hogg handed his first Test start at fullback. Elsewhere, John Barclay and Graeme Morrison are recalled at blindside flanker and inside centre, respectively. Mike Blair has been called up at scrum-half, with two positional switches - Sean Lamont moving from inside to outside centre and Rory Lamont from fullback to the right wing. Two of the changes were enforced, with Barclay replacing Alasdair Strokosch, who has been ruled out of the tournament with a fractured hand, and wing Max Evans unavailable for selection due to an ankle injury.
France - Player to Watch: Winger Julien Malzieu was in sparkling form in his side's opener but will he have lost some of his fizz during the extended lay-off since?
France - Team News: France have opted to keep the same squad that was set to take to the field against Ireland a fortnight ago. Scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili has failed to recover from a back injury and so Morgan Parra starts at No.9 and will take on the kicking duties. Hooker Dimitri Szarzewski sat out training earlier this week as a precautionary measure to rest his bruised right knee, but is expected to keep his place ahead of William Servat. Louis Picamoles starts at openside, despite concerns over his fitness, with Julien Bonnaire ready to step in if called upon.
Key Battle: The Scotland pack has always been a source of strength and impressed against England and Wales but France's formidable eight arguably represent a step up in class. Most intriguing will be rising star David Denton's ability to shine in the face of French rival Imanol Harinordoquy.
Trivia: Despite losing both games so far, Scotland have made more carries, metres, clean breaks and beaten more defenders than any other side.
Stats: Scotland's Rory Lamont has made more metres (239m) and Dave Denton more carries (35) than any other players in this tournament so far.
"I believe it's about the final one percent and a complete 80-minute performance. It's close."
"We know that they run the ball a lot. Strategy-wise, and physically, it will be very demanding. Substitutions will be very important."
Prediction: Expect another brave showing from the Scots but a France side brimming with firepower to claim the spoils.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton talks to World Cup-winning captain John Smit about life after rugby, his fears over the South African exodus and the World Cup
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game
Amy Perrett, the Australian referee who whistled the Women's Rugby World Cup final after handling only six Tests, talks to Jamie Lyall