The Scotland head coach senses France expect to “steamroll” his side into submission tomorrow and has spent the week trying to ensure his defence is as tight as possible in preparation for the physical test.
But he suspects his opponents might not be as clever on the back foot as they are pushing forward in front of a demanding crowd at the Stade de France. France lost 19-16 to England in their RBS 6 Nations opener while Scotland surprised many by brushing off Ireland’s second-half comeback to win 27-22 at BT Murrayfield with the help of two late Greig Laidlaw penalties.
Both teams have only made one change, each at blindside flanker. Scotland’s was enforced as John Barclay comes in for Ryan Wilson, who has an infected elbow, but Guy Noves’ switch has reinforced Cotter’s perception of how the hosts will aim to play.
“I said they would replace (Damien) Chouly, who is their lineout specialist, and they have gone for (Loann) Goujon, who is another ball-carrier very similar to (Louis) Picamoles,” he said. “So it’s pretty obvious where they are coming at and how they are going to play against us.
“They believe they can overpower us. You can see that in the team selection. There was talk of (Mathieu) Bastareaud being involved in midfield to really steamroll us. They believe that this is the game that’s going to set their Six Nations alight. We know that, we have seen and heard the noises coming out of their camp.
“It’s pretty clear: They are a big juggernaut, they are going to roll over the top of us, we are the type of team they like to play against. They will just want to go harder and faster and try and make it as difficult as possible, which they are able to do. They are good going forward, we just need to see how good they are going backwards.
“Defensively we will have to tighten up and individually and as a team we will have to be prepared to push them backwards.
“And if we do that, we can perhaps get errors out of them and free up the game. But we want to keep it tight and make it a tussle for as long as we can. If we have to score in threes, we are very happy to score in threes. But tactically we have to be smart.”
Cotter appeared to be suggesting the French team’s confidence was bordering on arrogance but he insisted he had not used the “noises” coming out of the opposing camp to motivate his players.
“No, we haven’t,” said the former Clermont Avergne coach, who returns to France in the summer to take over at Montpellier.
“We just watched the video and can see with their team selection and knowing a little bit about how they play and go about preparation.
“Guy likes to keep the ball alive, you will see them throwing balls in quickly at the lineouts. Penalties, even if they are broken-arm penalties from scrums, they will play quickly, they won’t reset the scrum. They will try and put a lot of speed and power into the game, which works for them, but if you start them going backwards it can work against them as well. We would like to be able to do that and, if we can, then we give ourselves a chance.”
Cotter has called up Edinburgh flanker John Hardie to his bench and kept Fraser Brown in his starting line-up after the front-row forward recovered from the facial injury which forced him off early for Ross Ford against Ireland. The New Zealander wanted to keep his squad as consistent as possible but he has noted areas for improvement.
“In parts of the second half you could say we were set back on our heels a few times,” he said. “That’s been addressed during the week, we need to keep going forward and find the resources and energy to do that.”
Noves explained the reasoning behind the selection of Goujon ahead of Chouly who drops to the bench.
“We wanted to enhance the pack,” Noves reasoned. “The two players (Goujon and Chouly) are close to each other and we even had the discussion (about who will play) before England. (The change) is to give a chance to as many players as possible in the group,” he added. “Loann deserves to participate in this competition and see where he’s up to. It’s also a little bit of a strategic decision.”
France will wear shirts with a #France2023 logo for the encounter after officially launching their bid to host the 10th edition of the Rugby World Cup on Thursday.