Scotland add power to combat French threat
Coach Vern Cotter has added Alex Dunbar and Josh Strauss to offset France’s physicality
Josh Strauss replaces Ryan Wilson at number eight in the Scotland team. Photograph: Getty Images
SIX NATIONS CHAMPIONSHIPS
Scotland v France
Murrayfield, Sunday, 3.0pm
RTÉ 2, BBC 1
Les Bleus have lost only one of their three Six Nations matches so far but have been criticised for their lack of flair after new head coach, Guy Novès, adopted a more physical approach. But Cotter is worried the French could punch a hole in his side’s fragile confidence following their first Championship win in two years when they meet at Murrayfield on Sunday.
To combat their robust gameplan, he has handed 16-stone Dunbar a return at centre following a year of injury frustration, while the South African-born number eight Strauss will add power to the pack after replacing Ryan Wilson.
Cotter said: “If you look at the French rugby culture, the first thing they talk about is physicality, winning their one-on-ones and dominating up front. We know that is what they have been talking about but we also know it’s coming. We need to get ready for it.
“Josh provides a different profile. If you analyse the two [Strauss and Wilson], he has a little more carry, a little bit more power and presence in the game. We’d like to start well against the French and if we can keep the ball from them and stop them accessing the game the way they like to, that will be good.
“Alex has played well too. He offers something that perhaps we haven’t seen until now and a change-up may cause them a few headaches preparing for the game. He hasn’t played for a year and is very, very keen. He will bring the qualities he has and will change the way we look a little bit and the way we play.
“You can see from the way France were playing, they like to get the ball wide. They create space by doing that and if you give them space they will cut you apart.
Strauss, though, insists Scotland cannot worry too much about what France are planning as they look to build on the 36-20 win over Italy in Rome a fortnight ago.
“We definitely need to focus on playing our game,” said the Glasgow backrower. “We can’t get sucked into doing what the other team wants us to do. We have to stick to our strengths. We’ve got a gameplan that has been building since the first game. It was just a little bit off in our first two games but worked against Italy and now we want to build on that this weekend.”
Dunbar has not been seen in a dark blue jersey since rupturing knee ligaments on the eve of last year’s clash with England. His comeback was hampered by a series of niggly injuries but he has now proved both his fitness and form to Cotter with a series of impressive displays for Glasgow.
Scotland have not beaten France since 2006 but are now targeting their first set of back-to-back wins in the Six Nations for three years.
“They are not the type of team to get ahead of themselves,” said Cotter, though. “We are by no means the finished article. I still feel we have more to give and can become more accurate.”
Novès has made six changes for France’s visit to play Scotland at Murrayfield from the team beaten by Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago, with Wesley Fofana and Scott Spedding set to make their first starts of the 2016 Six Nations after recovering from injury.
The Toulouse and Montpellier centres Gaël Fickou and François Trinh-Duc, the flanker Yacouba Camara and the lock Yoann Maestri all return to the side as France look to add to their opening two wins against Italy and Ireland.