France and Scotland look to bounce back
February 12, 2009
A loss against Scotland would hap further pressure on France skipper Lionel Nallet © Getty Images
France and Scotland will be determined to return to winning ways in Paris on Saturday after both sides made disappointing starts to this year's Six Nations Championship.
France looked impressive in patches during their 30-21 loss to Ireland at Croke Park last weekend, although coach Marc Lievremont has since taken umbrage with several key members of his personnel including Sebastien Chabal.
Scotland meanwhile were blown away by a 60 minute blast from Wales at Murrayfield. By the time Wales coach Warren Gatland had emptied his bench just after the hour mark Scotland were dead and buried, with early optimism replaced by daggers aimed at Frank Hadden's team selection.
So, with one game down and nothing on the board there are changes afoot for both sides. Lievremont has wielded the axe in the second-row with Chabal being replaced by Toulouse lock Romain Millo-Chluski and in the back-three where Cedric Heymans takes Julien Malzieu's spot on the wing. Up front, Benoit Lecouls and Lionel Faure are replaced by Nicolas Mas and Fabien Barcella.
Lievremont's plans were disrupted on Wednesday by centre Florian Fritz copping a three-week ban for striking from a Six Nations disciplinary committee. Fritz had retained his place in the midfield for the visit of the Scots, but has now been replaced by Clermont Auvergne's Benoit Baby, with Perpignan's Maxime Mermoz slotting in on the bench.
Hadden has also rung the changes, with the exciting Evans brothers, Max and Thom, starting at outside-centre and wing respectively to the relief of Scottish fans. There is also a start for Ulster's Simon Danielli, who replaces the injured Simon Webster on the opposite wing. In the pack, Gloucester prop Alasdair Dickinson slots in in place of the injured Geoff Cross and his Gloucester team-mate Alasdair Strokosch replaces Allister Hogg in the back-row.
While Scotland were roundly criticised for a safe selection and a damaging inability to play flat against Wales, France were at times too ambitious in their attack-minded play from deep in Dublin. It was a breath of fresh air to see fullback Clement Poitrenaud running ball back from his 22 during the time of the ELVs, but when under pressure the French could not find a release valve.
Against a Scotland side now bolstered by the free-running Evans brothers, who terrorised Toulouse in Glasgow's Heineken Cup victory last month, France may well encounter plenty of open space in which to attack should Scotland look to use their strike runners. For Scotland the role of Strokosch and openside John Barclay will be vital, as their command of the breakdown must deny the French the quick ball that allowed Wales to pull clear at Murrayfield.
The French backs must heed coach Lievremont's words of warning and hope that their forwards' work rate allows them an attacking platform. While attacking from deep is a tradition of French rugby, so is rugged and aggressive forward play, absent against the Irish as their back-row of Stephen Ferris, David Wallace and Jamie Heaslip found a lack of resistance at ruck-time.
While a great deal of the blame has been placed at the feet of Chabal, as the Sale icon only hit 14 rucks during the entire game, there must be more unity in the French effort against Scotland. With skipper Lionel Nallet already under pressure, the selection of the more reliable Millo-Chluski alongside him should help relieve some of the workload, allowing him to concentrate more on his role as the side's leader.
Scotland's pack has again been hit by injuries to lock Nathan Hines and prop Euan Murray, with Sale flanker Jason White stepping in to the second-row. With their eight shorn of two of its most important cogs, and Hines' 6ft 7in, 247lb frame, the Scots will ideally want to steer clear of engaging the French at the set-piece meaning that they must be precise at the breakdown in order to avoid playing into the hands of the French backs. Too much turnover ball ending up in the hands of runners such as Yannick Jauzion, Poitrenaud and Heymans will spell the end for the Scots.
Scotland haven't won on French soil since their 36-22 win in 1999, when current backs coach Gregor Townsend was on the score-sheet, and they will need to improve considerably from last weekend if they are to change that statistic. France have the ammunition to canter past Scotland if the visitors turn in another limp performance, and that eventuality could set alarm bells ringing for Hadden.
France will still have title aspirations despite their loss to the Irish. They badly need a win on Saturday to build momentum before Wales roll in to Saint Denis for the tournament's first Friday night game on February 27, a game that could well define the championship for both sides.
France: Clement Poitrenaud; Maxime Medard (both Toulouse), Benoit Baby (Clermont Auvergne), Yannick Jauzion, Cedric Heymans (both Toulouse); Lionel Beauxis (Stade Francais), Sebastien Tillous-Borde (Castres); Fabien Barcella (Biarritz), Dimitri Szarzewski (Stade Francais), Nicolas Mas (Perpignan), Lionel Nallet (Castres), Romain Millo-Chluski (Toulouse), Thierry Dusautoir (Toulouse), Fulgence Ouedraogo (Montpellier), Imanol Harinordoquy (Biarritz).
Replacements: Renaud Boyoud (Dax), Benjamin Kayser (Leicester), Sebastien Chabal (Sale), Louis Picamoles (Montpellier), Morgan Parra (Bourgoin), Maxime Mermoz (Perpignan), Julien Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne)
Scotland: H Southwell (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Ulster), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), T Evans (Glasgow); P Godman (Edinburgh), M Blair (Edinburgh, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), A Dickinson (Gloucester), J White (Sale), J Hamilton (Edinburgh), A Strokosch (Gloucester), S Taylor (Stade Francais), J Barclay (Glasgow).
Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow), M Low (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), S Gray (Northampton), C Cusiter (Perpignan), C Paterson (Edinburgh), N De Luca (Edinburgh)
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
The controversial tackling technique will be in full swing in Dublin on Sunday, writes Conor O'Shea, and could be a decisive factor for Ireland