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Analysis: Scotland to up the gears in Stade de France shoot-out

Analysis: Scotland to up the gears in Stade de France shoot-out

With Scotland looking to shift their game into top gear and France’s youth set to ease off the handbrake Saturday afternoon is shaping up as a full-blooded Grand Prix.

Both sides of course are hoping to bounce back from defeat with Les Bleus desperate to get a win on the board and the Scots still in the hunt for a Championship title.

This quest for a vital victory could mean each team shoots for the stars and although Scotland haven’t won in Paris for 20 years they know a win is tantalisingly close.

With France’s Championship table reading two defeats from two Scotland must sense their opposition are wobbling, but how will Gregor Townsend’s men look to turn that wobble into the perfect storm?

FULL SPEED AHEAD

Scotland have scored six tries already this year, third in this regard in the Championship – no surprise for a side that have talked up their will to play at pace and attack at all angles for several years now.

This strategy worked against Italy – a five-try-win – but the hands let them down against Ireland – not something that happens to a Gregor Townsend team twice in succession.

Ahead of the game, Scotland wing Tommy Seymour observed: “The French team will be going out with passion and emotion and looking to set things right.

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“We’ll be concentrating on going out and executing a game plan, making sure we do the basics and exploiting the right areas.”

Those ‘right areas’ that Scotland will look to exploit could indicate a gameplan to move France’s giant pack around, as England did in London two weeks ago.

Meanwhile Les Bleus have selected 22-year-old livewire Antoine Dupont and the enterprising Toulouse teenager Romain Ntamack in the half-backs – could France fight Scotland’s fire with fire?

Seymour continued: “We’ve got to be mindful that they’ll have threats all over the park and will look to play from everywhere, and then coupling with that they’ll have a point to prove. We have to be on the money.”

PACK A PUNCH

Whilst much is made of Scotland’s experienced and enterprising backline – all six of their tries have come from backs thus far – a platform must be built and you won’t get much at the Stade de France without having a robust pack.

There has been plenty of talk about the size of France’s pack and they must be kept at bay, but interestingly the underlying statistics hint that there could be areas for Scotland to exploit.

Townsend’s men have been solid at the set-piece, with a perfect record in the scrum compared to France’s 92 per cent win percentage, as well as winning 19 of their 23 lineouts (83 percent).

Another area Les Bleus will need to be wary in Paris is at the breakdown, where Scotland have conjured up seven steals from two games and a breakdown retention of 97 per cent.

Jamie Ritchie has been key to Scotland’s success, with three steals, although he may possibly meet his match in Wenceslas Lauret, who has two breakdown steals to his name in his one appearance so far.

Throw in the positive news that front rowers Zander Fagerson and George Turner are fit and the pack is shaping up nicely – if Scotland can keep up this rate of steals and attack rapidly from turnover ball it could well be their night.

TIME ON THEIR SIDE

In Round Two France were ruthlessly exploited by an England side who took advantage of Damian Penaud and Gael Fickou’s lack of experience on the wing and Yoann Huget’s lack of experience at full-back.

If Scotland are to replicate their famous 1999 Paris win then Townsend could look to target these experience mis-matches across the field.

Not that that’s an easy task. Penaud retains his place but surely won’t fall for the same tricks again while Huget is back to his more-comfortable wing while Thomas Ramos is an out-and-out full-back.

Scotland though have bags of experience out wide in British & Irish Lions Sean Maitland and Tommy Seymour, and will back themselves against the younger Penaud and Ramos.

In the half-backs, there can’t be many more exciting pairings than Dupont and Ntamack – who earns his first senior start at fly-half for his country.

But the flipside to youthful enterprise is a certain level of experience, and Greig Laidlaw inevitably has more.

The Clermont Auvergne scrum-half will know both Dupont and Ntamack well from his time in France and the 68-cap British & Irish Lion is one of the canniest operators around.

If Scotland are to win in France, their No.9 will look to use every trick in the book and could provide an integral route to success.