Six Nations

France wary of Edinburgh trip

2012-02-25 12:45
Imanol Harinordoquy (File)

Edinburgh - France may be overwhelming favourites as they get set for a Six Nations match away to Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday but the Rugby World Cup finalists remain cautious about their trip to Murrayfield.

France have won 12 of their last 13 encounters against the Scots, with Murrayfield witnessing just one home victory over 'Les Bleus' since 1996.

Philippe Saint-Andre's side were convincing 30-12 winners over Italy first time out although the shockingly late postponement of their second match against Ireland, with a capacity crowd already in the Stade de France, checked their progress and left them having to play matches on four successive weekends.

Scotland, however, are bidding to avoid a fifth straight defeat, a run that includes losses to both England and Wales which have left Andy Robinson's men contemplating yet another battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

But the feeling persists a Scotland team boasting several genuine contenders for places in the British and Irish Lions squad that will tour Australia next year, and that will have teenage full-back Stuart Hogg making his first Test start on Sunday, are not as bad a side as their record would suggest.

Few give the Scots much hope of victory this weekend but flank Imanol Harinordoquy said: "Maybe they frighten us even more offensively than the Irish did defensively. They can move the ball quickly and through several phases, which is hard to defend against."

However, the France star also highlighted Scotland's weaknesses in the first two rounds of the tournament when he added: "But they can lack patience and precision."

France are set to field the same XV and bench that would have featured against Ireland, with lock Yoann Maestri now set to make his first Test start.

By contrast, former England flanker and coach Robinson has rejigged the Scotland side from the one beaten 27-13 by Wales in Cardiff.

In addition to Hogg's inclusion at fullback, Graeme Morrison and John Barclay have been recalled at inside centre and blindside flanker respectively.

Mike Blair starts at scrumhalf, giving Scotland an all Edinburgh line-up in the hinge trio of Nos 8, 9 and 10, with David Denton at the back of the pack and Greig Laidlaw at flyhalf.

Robinson has also made two positional switches, Sean Lamont moving from inside to outside centre and Rory Lamont from fullback to right wing in the absence of injured flyer Max Evans.

Scotland have paid dearly for individual errors at key moments in recent times, be it falling off tackles in defence or failing to complete potentially try-scoring passes.

Robinson has insisted these mistakes are undermining what is a fundamentally sound strategy of a fast and expansive game.

But if their backs are to avoid being starved of possession on Sunday, Scotland's forwards must front-up against a formidable French pack.

"The forwards have done really well in the last two games, but the French, a lot of their strength is in their set-piece," said Blair, who has replaced long-time rival Chris Cusiter.

"They've got a huge front five, a couple of extra line-out specialists in their back row. Parity is something we're certainly looking for there."

Almost as important as the physical battle up front will be the mental approach of a Scotland team that has become conditioned to defeat, having lost nine of its 12 Six Nations matches under Robinson.

"There have been so many positives to have come out of the first two games, which almost makes things even more frustrating," said Blair.

"The problem is that the negatives we've had have had a big effect on us. Our negatives have resulted in them scoring a try or kicking goals and our positives haven't.

"We've been able to put pressure on, but we haven't been able to make that pressure count. That's a big thing for us - being able to turn that pressure into points."

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