9 min: France come again after winning a penalty for obstruction. They battle into the Scottish 22, with Camille Chat and Grégory Alldritt both carrying powerfully. And Vakatawa thinks he’s in at the corner! Barnes thinks no try … let’s see.
6 min: A chance for Scotland to build some phases of possession for the first time. They keep the ball for a few phases around halfway. Barnes tells them to use it – so Ali Price, the scrum-half, puts a box kick towards the right-hand corner which France manage to deal with. Jalibert then cannons a superb clearing touch-finder nearly 50 metres from the in-goal area.
A deserved lead for France after a bright beginning. The full-back Thomas Ramos slots an easy penalty from infront of the posts.
3 min: France looking good already. Vakatawa, having already made one good break, is now on the crash ball in the Scottish 22. France win a penalty for not rolling away after three Scottish defenders try to smash Vakatawa.
1 min: Referee Wayne Barnes gives his whistle a blast, and we begin. Duncan Weir kicks off for Scotland. Both teams kick possession back to each other, and France get the ball through the hands for the first time, with Virimi Vakatawa making a burst down the right and off-loading nicely to Thomas Ramos. Ramos tries a grubber, and it ends with a clearing kick by Scotland and a line-out for France in a good position.
‘La Marseillaise’, which is obviously the best national anthem in the world, followed by ‘Flower of Scotland’, which is up there too. And we are ready to go.
The teams are in the tunnel and we’re less than 10 minutes away from kick-off.
France, in fact, are out on the pitch a good couple of minutes before Scotland. Hogg now leads his side out on to the pitch – he’s in no rush, and sends an intimidating stare in France’s direction as he walks on to the pitch. You get the feeling that even with the lack of fans, this could be another highly-charged encounter following that lively bust-up back in March.
Scotland fans and France fans – what are your expectations, hopes, dreams for this one? You can email me here.
The weather is bright, cold and a bit breezy up in Scotland – and they’ve just had a spot of rain. It doesn’t look likely to be a heavy downpour though. Here’s hoping for a feast of free-flowing, attacking rugby. These teams are certainly capable of it.
Back in March, just before the Covid-19 lockdown, Scotland beat France here in a spicy encounter as Mohamed Haouas was sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie.
Here are some more thoughts from Scotland captain Hogg, speaking yesterday, looking back on that match:
“They were playing high in confidence, they had played some very, very good rugby. Even when they played against us they played some very good rugby. But we shut them down, we fronted up, we hustled well in our defence and we got ourselves into some good positions in attack.
“I’ve read a fair bit this week and all they were kind of talking about is the fact that the red card changed the game. Have you ever seen a French team rattled like that before? We fronted up, we got in their faces and got stuck into them and I don’t think they’d ever come across anything like that. So tomorrow we need to be doing the exact same
“We can’t change what’s happened. What’s been written has been written. We believe in ourselves, we believe in our own ability to front up in defence and knock teams backwards. We spend a lot of time in the tackle, we spend a lot of time working on our defence because that’s what wins you Test matches. And it’s all about having that clinical edge in attack as well.”
The Scotland coach Gregor Townsend speaks to Amazon: “We were disappointed to hear that our final game [against Fiji] will be called off … but we were focusing on this game … France are so full of confidence just now that we’ll have to be our best to win. We have to make sure we don’t give France any easy opportunities. They’ve been pragmatic this year, they’ve looked for counterattack ball … we need to ‘look after’ two or three individuals.”
Betsen gives his thoughts on Jalibert, the 22-year-old France fly-half: “He needs to stand out today … he shows great leadership playing for Bordeaux … today he is going to start as first-choice and he has to show his progressing talent … he’s a bit arrogant, and he needs to control that energy.”
John Barclay speaking on Amazon about how this Scottish side is shaping up: “When Gregor Townsend came in there was a clear plan to make Scotland very attacking, a global force, and it worked for a while … but before the World Cup it was clear we needed to make our defence better, our kick-chase better … but now they’re starting to understand that you don’t need to score five or six tries, it’s winning matches that’s important.”
As I mentioned, Scotland captain Stuart Hogg is planning to take it to France today:
“We are aware of what’s potentially on the line,” he said. “But we’re focusing on the first 20 minutes. We’ll take it quarter by quarter. We can’t look too far ahead or else we’ll slip up. We need to be there from minute one. Hopefully the French will tire and we can really take the game to them. We have to be in a position to keep going after them time and time again and not get bored of it.”
Amazon have drafted in some big guns for pundit duty: Bryan Habana, Serge Betsen and John Barclay.
“Jonny May’s [second] try was average,” jokes Barclay as the panel discuss that England win against Ireland yesterday.
“The back row were immense. Underhill was immense. Their rush defence was really positive,” adds Betsen.
If you missed it, Wales scored a much-needed win against Georgia in Llanelli last night. Louis Rees-Zammit of Gloucester scored a try on his debut and James Botham, grandson of Ian, had a very impressive game at No 6. Here is Paul Rees’ match report:
Gregor Townsend makes five changes for Scotland. Blair Kinghorn comes in for Darcy Graham on the wing, and fit-again Matt Fagerson starts at No 8. In the pack it’s an entirely freshened-up front row: Fraser Brown at hooker, alongside Oli Kebble and Simon Berghan.
For France, fly-half Romain Ntamack misses out with a thigh injury, meaning the 22-year-old Matthieu Jalibert of Bordeaux makes only his second start. Teddy Thomas is back on the wing with Gaël Fickou moving into the centres, and Thomas Ramos returns at full-back with Anthony Bouthier out injured.
Scotland: Hogg (c); Kinghorn, Harris, Johnson, Van der Merwe, Weir, Price; Kebble, Brown, Berghan; Cummings, Gray; Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson. Replacements: Turner, Bhatti, Z Fagerson, Skinner, Thomson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Taylor, Maitland.
France: Ramos; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou, Rattez; Jalibert, Dupont; Gros, Chat, Bamba; Le Roux, Taofifenua; Cretin, Ollivon (c), Alldritt. Replacements: Marchand, Baille, Haouas, Willemse, Woki, Couilloud, Carbonel, Vincent
Things are looking up for Scotland. Victory today would make it six in a row for only the third time in their history, matching the famous grand slam-winning sides of 1925 and 1990. Their captain Stuart Hogg has been talking up his team’s increased passion for defending before today’s match against France, which is effectively a shoot-out for a place in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup. Their tackling and defensive shape will need to be on point this afternoon because you’re only ever one outrageous offload away from embarrassment against Les Bleus.
On which note: things are looking up for France, too, so today has all the makings of a thriller. Under the impressive stewardship of Fabien Galthié, Raphaël Ibañez and defence coach Shaun Edwards, they played some lovely stuff during the pandemic-disrupted Six Nations, smashing England in Paris and edging past Wales in Cardiff in February before outclassing Ireland last month. The scrum-half Antoine Dupont richly deserved his Six Nations player of the tournament award. It’s a brand-new tournament, it’s being played in empty stadiums and it’s live on Amazon Prime, so it all feels quite unfamiliar. But let’s hope for some good old-fashioned drama this afternoon.
Kick-off is at 3.15pm. Team news, pre-match reading and more to follow.