6N: France and Scotland under scrutiny ahead of match
After tough defeats on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Scotland and France have been under scrutiny for very different reasons ahead of their Murrayfield meeting on Sunday.
For the Scots, a familiar question is again being asked after a walloping by Wales: Why does an encouraging autumn almost always turn into a dispiriting spring?
For the French, the heartache of the last-second loss to Ireland has quickly been overtaken by darker concerns about a potential manipulation of the protocols for head injury assessments. They are under investigation by Six Nations organizers – just like last year – for possible skullduggery involving the substitutions of Antoine Dupont and Matthieu Jalibert.
In this context, the last thing the two underachievers of recent Six Nations want is to start out with back-to-back losses, ruling them out of title contention just nine days into the tournament.
”We are pretty beaten up, we are disappointed and embarrassed,” Scotland center Peter Horne says, ”and desperate to put things right.”
Scotland was predictably hyped up after beating Australia both away (24-19 in Sydney in June) and home (53-24 at Murrayfield in November) last year and also giving New Zealand a good game in a 22-17 loss in the autumn.
They were tests with little riding on them, though. The Six Nations is another prospect entirely, played in the European winter, often in worse conditions, and with local rivalries giving the matches a bigger edge.
The Scots were unrecognizable from their matches in November, regularly coughing up possession and seeing their defensive line frequently pierced by the Welsh in Cardiff. They lost for the 16th time in 18 away games in the Six Nations and it was a chastening experience for the players, coaches and fans.
”We’ve seen a response from the players in training this week,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend says, ”and that needs to continue into and through the 80-plus minutes of the match, because France will pose a massive and immensely physical challenge.”
History doesn’t favor Scotland, either, with France winning 11 of the teams’ last 12 meetings. The only loss in that time came in 2016, 29-18 at Murrayfield.
France headed to Edinburgh with the independent inquiries into the incidents surrounding the HIA protocols continuing, and unlikely to be resolved for weeks. The main focus will be on the HIA for Dupont that allowed Maxime Machenaud – a goalkicking scrumhalf – to return to the pitch in the 75th minute. Earlier in the match, flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert was also sent off for a HIA after injuring his left knee.
The polemic comes after France was reprimanded last year for not following HIA protocols relating to the change of props late in its Six Nations win over Wales in Paris.
But Brunel insisted he had no control on his players being removed for head checks against Ireland.
”They were indeed collisions, but we did not decide. It’s the referee on the sidelines who decides if there is a commotion,” Brunel said. ”On both collisions there were commotions and both players damaged their knee at the same time. And on each occasion, the doctor, who is neutral, made the call.”
Brunel made three changes to his team, giving Lionel Beauxis a start at flyhalf six years after his last international cap. Marco Tauleigne will start in place of flanker Kevin Gourdon and Geoffrey Doumayrou was brought in at center instead of Henry Chavancy.
Townsend made six changes to Scotland, notably bringing in former captain Greig Laidlaw at scrumhalf for his first start in nearly a year. Winger Sean Maitland, Horne, lock Grant Gilchrist, No. 8 Ryan Wilson and prop Simon Berghan were the others recalled.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Wilson, Hamish Watson, John Barclay (captain), Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Simon Berghan, Stuart McInally, Gordon Reid. Reserves: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Jon Welsh, Ben Toolis, David Denton, Ali Price, Chris Harris, Blair Kinghorn.
France: Geoffrey Palis, Teddy Thomas, Remi Lamerat, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Virimi Vakatawa, Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Machenaud; Marco Tauleigne, Yacouba Camara, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: Adrien Pelissie, Eddy Ben Arous, Cedate Gomes Sa, Paul Gabrillagues, Louis Picamoles, Baptiste Serin, Anthony Belleau, Benjamin Fall.
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Paris contributed.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80