Preview: Scotland v France

History will be against Vern Cotter's Scotland when they host France this Sunday at Murrayfield in the Six Nations.

In 16 Six Nations meetings Scotland have only ever beaten France once, an upset win back in 2006 in a year when les Bleus would go on to win the title.

At that time France were still regularly challenging for the title, something they have not managed for a while.

But despite all the low moments, the losses in Rome, the thrashings from touring sides in the Southern Hemisphere, the one constant has been that France always beat Scotland.

In recent times it’s rarely been pretty, but that can apply to most French games, but they have got the job done.

Vern Cotter’s men will be thinking it’s about time to put a stop to that, particularly with the run of Championship losses finally over after beating Italy in Rome.

That was one of the more entertaining games of the tournament and the Scots are certainly playing some good rugby under Cotter.

They also have a strong scrum at last, providing a platform that was so regularly missing prior to the arrival of WP Nel.

France, meanwhile, are still finding their feet under Guy Novès, and need to show they can be more clinical.

There is a definite plan in place, starting with their offloading game – France have made 45 offloads compared to 55 for the other five teams in the tournament.

But they need to do something with those offloads. As it stands they look short of real ball carriers up front, which puts all the pressure on the backs to make holes against organized defences.

Scotland have conceded tries during this tournament, but they will still fancy their chances of scoring some of their own on Sunday.

Players to Watch

For Scotland: Stuart Hogg is rated very highly across Europe, but even during the run of defeats he regularly causes havoc against France. If Rome was anything to go by, he is in top form, and he will hope to cause les Bleus more problems. WP Nel is now arguably Scotland’s most important player, and the way they dismantled the Italian scrum was hugely impressive. The French scrum has been up and down in the tournament but he will look to go after Jefferson Poirot.

For France: While France have struggled for rhythm in the tournament so far, Guilhem Guirado can make a pretty reasonable case for being the player of the Championship. His display against Wales just five days after playing for Toulon was nothing short of sensational. He will need to be at his best again on Sunday. Meanwhile Virimi Vakatawa has been kept a little quieter in his last two games after a stunning debut. Willing to get involved in everything, he seems to be an extra back rower at times, but France will want to use him more out wide where he can really be dangerous.

Head-to-head: Greig Laidlaw will be winning his 50th cap for the Scots and eager to finally get a first win over France. The skipper has impressed so far in the Six Nations, both with his kicking game, and also injecting a bit more into the game than he is known for. His battle with Maxime Machenaud will be an intriguing one. The Racing scrum-half was very good in Cardiff against Wales combining a genuine running threat with a little more physicality than Sébastien Bézy.

Previous results:

2015: France won 19-16 in Paris
2015: France won 15-8 in Paris
2014: France won 19-17 at Murrayfield
2013: France won 23-16 in Paris
2012: France won 23-17 at Murrayfield
2011: France won 34-21 in Paris
2010: France won 18-9 at Murrayfield
2009: France won 22-13 in Paris

Prediction: On recent results between the teams it’s hard to pick against France, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it’s been five years since they won by more than a score. With that in mind, and Scotland’s improved performances, we’re going to go for an upset. Scotland by three.

The teams: 

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Duncan Taylor, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Rory Sutherland, 18 Moray Low, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Ryan Wilson, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Pete Horne, 23 Sean Lamont

France: 15 Scott Spedding,14 Virimi Vakatawa, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Wesley Fofana, 10 François Trinh-Duc, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Damien Chouly, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Alexandre Flanquart, 4 Yoann Maestri, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Vincent Pelo, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 20 Loann Goujon, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 Jules Plisson, Maxime Médard

Date: Sunday, March 13
Venue: Murrayfield
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

by Paul Eddison