Confident Scots out to end French drought
February 3, 2011
Maxime Mermoz will be centre of attention for France on Saturday © Getty Images
Spring is around the corner and the avenues and boulevards of Paris will be awash with kilts as Scotland roll into town to kick-off their Six Nations tilt against Marc Lievremont's misfiring France on Saturday.
Andy Robinson's Scots trail a new-found weight of expectation behind them following five wins in their last six Tests, including an away scalp of Ireland, a series win over Argentina and a Murrayfield triumph over South Africa, and will be keen to redress the balance of history in Saint Denis.
Scotland have won at the Stade de France just once, in 1999, and have taken home the spoils from an away trip to France only twice in the last 42 years - the other occasion coming in 1995 - and this weekend they face a France side coiled for either a classic riposte or a further slide into mediocrity.
Memories of last year's Grand Slam were swiftly expunged by the shock result of the November internationals, France's 59-16 hammering at the hands of the Wallabies, and Lievremont is under pressure to prove that his side are refining their style rather than reinventing the wheel prior to the Rugby World Cup.
France - Player to Watch: With Yannick Jauzion dropped following November's trials, Perpignan's Maxime Mermoz has been tasked with gelling a backline that has fired only fleetingly in recent seasons. The 24-year-old has been in fine form on the domestic stage and will test Nick De Luca to the limit.
France - Team News: Damien Traille is a surprise call at fullback, having unsuccessfully filled in at fly-half during November, while Imanol Harinordoquy has won back the No.8 jersey after being omitted from the side that was ravaged by Australia. Montpellier's Francois Trinh-Duc returns to partner Morgan Parra at halfback while in the tight-five there is a settled look as Thomas Domingo is joined by Toulouse hooker William Servat, long-serving Perpignan tight-head Nicolas Mas and locks Julien Pierre and Lionel Nallet.
Scotland - Player to Watch: Robinson has gone for beef over pace in the back-row by selecting Nathan Hines at blindside, a position he last filled against South Africa in November. France will hope to play at speed and put Hines under pressure but should the British & Irish Lions tourist make his share of breakdowns, he'll leave his mark.
Scotland - Team News: Skipper Alastair Kellock returns to the second-row while Saracens' Kelly Brown takes the No.8 jersey ahead of Johnnie Beattie, who misses out on the 22 after his recent return from injury. De Luca replaces the injured Graeme Morrison in midfield while Max Evans is named on the wing and Joe Ansbro at outside-centre.
Key Battle: France have reverted to what most would consider their best back-row combination and while Scotland are not able to boast the 'Killer Bs' trio that served them so well last season, they will hope to stamp their authority on the breakdown. The battle between the ever-improving John Barclay, Thierry Dusautoir and Julien Bonnaire will be keenly fought.
Trivia: France's try-scorers from their last two meetings against Scotland - Mathieu Bastareaud, Vincent Clerc and Julien Malzieu - failed to dent the matchday 22 this time around.
Stats: The last time France failed to score a try against Scotland was in 1992, when a score from lock Neil Edwards was the difference in a 10-6 win at Murrayfield.
"With six months to go to the World Cup, I would have liked to already have the 30-man squad finalised, so I would be able to play all of them during the Six Nations because, I think, that would allow us to prepare in a more effective way for the World Cup. However, that is not possible." - France boss Marc Lievremont outlines the problems facing his side.
"Everybody's keen to tear into them. It's going to be, no doubt, physical, but we're preparing ourselves for it." - Scotland flanker Nathan Hines refuses to mince his words.
The Odds: France are favourites on their home track, so why not take bet365's 11/1 for Maxime Mermoz to score the first try.
Fantasy: Dan Parks has kicked everything put in front of him in Scotland's recent winning run - is the fly-half worth a punt in ESPNscrum International Fantasy Rugby 2011?
Prediction: A case of close but no cigar for the Scots, who will match France blow for blow up front but fail to add sparkle to proceedings. Home win to silence some critics.
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