PARIS (AFP) – Scotland have only beaten France once in their last 15 clashes and last won in Paris in 1999 but under New Zealander Vern Cotter, their hosts Saturday are expecting a much improved challenge.
Having dominated the early internationals between the two countries — winning 14 of the first 20 — Scotland have found France the toughest team to beat in the Six Nations since winning the final Five Nations championship before Italy joined the party.
In the 15 years of Six Nations rugby, Scotland have three wins against each of England, Wales and Ireland — nine against Italy — but just the one against the French.
Yet France’s South African-born scrum-half Rory Kockott, who will make his first start for Les Bleus following three substitute appearances in November, believes the Scots will be a different proposition under former Clermont boss Cotter.
“Certainly Vern has brought a whole lot of detail to their game that certainly has been a benefit to their performances,” said the Castres half-back.
“They won five of the last seven (matches) and what certainly flashes the red light in certain areas when your team is playing against them, is the way they’ve improved in all the details around the contact.
“Certainly it’s something Vern’s brought to them and certainly a great aspect of their game that they’re very good at.
“It’s something we know is going to be very difficult.”
Having had a dismal Six Nations in 2014, with only a last minute Duncan Weir drop goal in Rome seeing them avoid the wooden spoon at Italy’s expense, Scotland have since won five from their last seven matches, losing only to the top two sides in the world — New Zealand and South Africa.
However, they were thrashed 55-6 in Port Elizabeth in June and a second string All Blacks side triumphed 24-16 at Murrayfield in November, while their five wins included success against relative minnows Tonga, Canada and USA.
Even so, France full-back Scott Spedding, another South African import, said he’s expecting a stern test from the Scots.
“They use quite a lot of up-and-unders, we’ll have to be wary of that, but I think they’ve improved a lot this last year under Vern Cotter as coach,” he said.
“They have a very good defence, they push up quickly in defence, and have wings who like to intercept, so we have to pay attention to that.”
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre has picked 12 of the players who started their November victories over Fiji and Australia, while Cotter has made only two changes to the side that defeated Tonga 37-12 in their last test.
However, three players — fly-half Finn Russell, centre Mark Bennett and flanker Blair Cowan — will be making their Six Nations bow.