Scotland v France, Six Nations, February 7
Scotland eye rousing start on home soil
February 5, 2010
Can Chris Cusiter and Andy Robinson inspire Scotland? © Getty Images
Chris Cusiter Max Evans Thom Evans Nicolas Mas Lionel Nallet Morgan Parra Chris Paterson Andy Robinson Francois Trinh-Duc
After an autumn campaign that started slowly before exploding into life with victory over Australia, Andy Robinson's Scotland will need all of their grit and determination to get to grips with France in their Six Nations opener at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Defeat to Argentina tempered expectations for the Scots and the same could be said for tournament favourites France, who followed up a November victory over South Africa with an evening to forget against the All Blacks in Marseille. Inconsistency remains Marc Lievremont's greatest enemy as he prepares for his third Six Nations in charge and a repeat of their opening day defeat in 2006 could prove disastrous as they look to prevent Ireland from following up their Grand Slam.
Robinson will be intensely focused on this fixture and Scotland's other home game, against England, as he looks to get beyond the SRU's bare minimum requirement of two Championship victories. With an away trip to face Italy looking inviting before visits to the Millennium Stadium and Croke Park, now is the time for Robinson's men to steal a march. Disappointing crowds during November will hopefully be bolstered by the start of the northern hemisphere's traditional showpiece and there has been a buzz about Scottish rugby as Edinburgh and Glasgow mount charges for the Magners League play-offs.
Their coach has spoken liberally about 'inspiring the nation' as he seeks to drag Scottish rugby out of the doldrums and he will need the vocal support of the home crowd, Sunday or not.
Robinson's selection blends old with new, as fullback Chris Paterson wins his 99th cap in a back-three also containing one of Scotland's blue-eyed boys, Thom Evans. His brother, Max, is restored to the centre as they look for some much-needed cut and thrust. Paterson's goal-kicking will no doubt be vital, but this French side is unlikely to lose 9-6. Their selection is brimming with pace and power out wide and boasts a back-row capable of causing mayhem at the breakdown. Clermont Auvergne skipper Aurelien Rougerie has been in irresistible form and earns a recall to the side on the wing for the first time since 2008 while France's bad-boy Mathieu Bastareaud has a chance to silence the doubters with a start in the No.13 jersey.
There remain questions over their halfbacks, with Francois Trinh-Duc again entrusted with the playmaking duties despite a mixed showing in November. Morgan Parra has been named at scrum-half and his battle with Scottish skipper Chris Cusiter will be fascinating. They may not be the biggest but they both possess razor-sharp decision making skills and awareness of a sniping break. Parra will also likely take charge of the goal-kicking duties and will need to be on the button as he goes eye to eye with Paterson, who will also provide fly-half backup to Phil Godman. Injury to Jean-Baptiste Ellisalde has opened the door to the mercurial Freddie Michalak on the bench, with the Toulouse man set to provide cover at both nine and 10.
It's up front where this game will be settled and Scotland will need a big showing from a rapidly improving pack. Nathan Hines will need all of his power and determination in the second-row and while France are without Sebastien Chabal and Romain Millo-Chluski, Lionel Nallet and Pascal Pape are not lacking in the grunt department.
Scotland possess a quick, intelligent back-row in Glasgow's three Bs, Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie, and they will need to show that they can compete with the best. Imanol Harinordoquy returns to the France side at No.8 to add his carrying threat, allowing Lievremont to play the athletic Fulgence Ouedraogo in opposition to Barclay. The French skipper, Thierry Dusautoir, reverts to blindside and will tackle himself to a standstill.
Euan Murray will be in action for Scotland 'A' on Friday night after opting out of the game due to his religious beliefs, leaving Alasdair Dickinson and Moray Low to face down Clermont's Thomas Domingo and the ultra-competitive Nicolas Mas. The loss of the destructive Fabien Barcella to injury may impact on the visitors' scrum though, with their dominance taking on an ominous air during the autumn.
It's finely poised, and a win either way could spark a brilliant tournament for each side.
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); T Evans (Glasgow), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); P Godman (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (Glasgow); A Dickinson (Gloucester), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Leinster), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow)
Replacements: S Lawson (Gloucester), A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow), A MacDonald (Edinburgh), R Lawson (Gloucester), A Grove (Worcester), H Southwell (Stade Francais)
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); B Fall (Bayonne), M Bastareaud (Stade Francais), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); T Domingo (Clermont), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Racing Metro), P Pape (Stade Francais), T Dusautoir (Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz)
Replacements: D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), L Ducalcon (Castres), J Pierre (Clermont), J Bonnaire (Clermont), F Michalak (Toulouse), D Marty (Perpignan), V Clerc (Toulouse), S Marconnet (Stade Francais)
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Chris White (England), Tim Hayes (Wales)
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.