Having almost ground to a halt in Rome, Declan Kidney’s men are faced with the prospect of taking on not only the best counter-attacking team in Europe, according to Scotland coach Andy Robinson, but the most powerful scrum.
Perhaps encouraged by what they saw after watching the first half of Ireland’s opening fixture against Italy, the Six Nations champions opened their account after barely two minutes with a lightning-fast counter punch.
Nick De Luca coughed up possession in midfield, Thierry Dusautoir reacted fastest - instinctively flicking the ball out wide - where Aurelien Rougerie stepped on the gas before kicking through for Maxime Medard to claim an easy score that set the tone for the rest of the match.
The message from Scotland will resonate loud and clear among Declan Kidney’s men, tighten your belts or get six of the best on Sunday.
Robinson said: “I guess the key with the French is not to give away turnovers. If you make sure they are not able to counter-attack, then you can stop them. I thought we handled the French very well on their phase-play attack.
“We defended their structures from lineout and scrums and were able to deal with their runners. But if you give them the freedom to show off their flair, they are a fantastic side. Their counter-attack was fast and very skilful. They are one of the best at that and scored four times from our ball.”
At least Ireland will not face Perpignan centre Maxime Mermoz, the rising star in France, who has been ruled out of playing at the Aviva Stadium because of a shoulder injury.
France’s second try was just as impressive as the first and equally ominous for Ireland’s new tight-head, Mike Ross, given the torment suffered by the vastly more experienced Allan Jacobsen and British Lion Euan Murray.
With Thomas Domingo and Nicolas Mas making mincemeat of the Scottish front-row, skipper Dusautoir declined a shot at goal before finally reaping the rewards with a penalty try amid a cacophony of sound inside Stade de France.
Robinson insisted: “France probably have the best scrum in the world and it was a tough day for our guys. If I was on the other side, I would have been screaming for a penalty try as well so we have no qualms about that. We spoke to the referee at half-time about the French jumping the gun. They were beating us to the hit, but our guys sat back on their heels a bit. If that happens close to your line, with the opposition scrum going forward, then you anticipate the consequences - it’s an area we will have to work on this week.”
Scotland won’t be the only ones giving the scrummaging machines a pounding this week. Ireland would also be well advised to at least get parity. However, three Scottish tries - their highest score against France since 1999 - exposed frailties in Les Bleus’ defence, while Paul O’Connell and Donncha O’Callaghan will have been encouraged at the way Scotland dominated lineouts. Captain Alistair Kellock grabbed his first international try from close range following two strong bursts from giant Glasgow lock Richie Gray. Mike Blair’s quick thinking then saw Kelly Brown crash over from close range, before Sean Lamont stepped off the bench and through two defenders for a late score. Imanol Harinodoquy and Damien Traille had put the game beyond doubt, though so rattled were France, that even with just two minutes remaining and the scores at 31-21, Dusautoir opted to kick a penalty at goal to take the wind out of Scotland’s sails.
“We watched the first half of Ireland’s game and they were having a tough time, but they had the experience to stay in the game and eventually win,” Traille said. “That shows certain qualities. It was a very difficult game for Ireland, given the players missing with injuries, but they still managed to win and that shows their efficiency. We know it will be a very tough game in Dublin, yhey will want to win in their first game at home and that will make it difficult for us.”
Scorers for France: Tries: M Medard, Penalty, I Harinordoquy, D Traille.
Cons: M Parra (2), D Yachvili (2). Pen: D Yachvili. Drop G: F Trind-Duc.
Scorers for Scotland: Tries: A Kellock, K Brown, S Lamont. Cons: D Parks (3).
FRANCE: D Traille; Y Huget, A Rougerie, M Mermoz (C Poitrenaud, 44), M Medard (V Clerc, 72); F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (D Yachvili, 52); T Domingo (N Mas, 69), W Servat (G Guirado, 58), N Mas (L Ducalcon, 52), J Pierre, L Nalet (J Thion, 62), T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy (S Chabal, 55).
SCOTLAND: H Southwell; N Walkeer, J Ansbro, N De Luca (S Lamont, 56), M Evans; D Parks (R Jackson, 69), R Lawson (M Blair, HT); A Jacobsen, R Ford (D Hall, 72), E Murray (M Low, 70), R Gray, A Kellock (capt), N Hines (R Vernon, 55), K Brown, J Barclay (R Rennie, 62).
Referee: W Barnes (England).