‘Have you ever seen a France team rattled like that before?’ – Stuart Hogg wants Scotland to get into French faces
Listening to Stuart Hogg, you sense some ill feeling remains between Scotland and France and it will be fascinating to see how it plays out at Murrayfield this afternoon.
Eight months on from a stormy Six Nations match in Edinburgh, the combatants meet again, with a place in the final of the Autumn Nations Cup up for grabs.
Fabien Galthie’s side were reduced to 14 men at Murrayfield in March after prop Mohamed Haouas was sent off for punching Jamie Ritchie on the nose towards the end of the first half.
The Scots went on to win 28-17 but Hogg feels they didn’t get the credit they deserved, particularly from the French who continue to blame the red card for the defeat.
It was a sore loss for France who won their other four Six Nations matches and know that the Scotland defeat cost them the chance to end their long wait for the title.
Widely considered the form team in world rugby, they will look to take a modicum of revenge by beating the Scots and going on to lift the Nations Cup.
Hogg has respect for Galthie’s men but the Scotland captain was proud of his side’s abrasiveness in March in a match that left their opponents “rattled”.
“They’re arguably one of the best sides in the world and came to BT Murrayfield in March three from three and high on confidence, playing some very good rugby, but we shut them down,” Hogg said. “We hustled, we fronted up, and we got ourselves in some good positions in attack.
“I’ve read a fair bit this week where all they're talking about is how the red card changed the game. Have you ever seen a French team rattled like that before? That happened because we fronted up, got in their faces and then got stuck into them. I don’t think they’d ever come across anything like that. So tomorrow we’ll be doing the same.”
Scotland have won their last two Test matches against France but you have to go back to 1958 for the last time they beat the French three times in a row. A quirk of scheduling means this is the third consecutive meeting of the sides at Murrayfield and home advantage seems to matter a great deal in this fixture.
The absence of supporters may negate that somewhat and Gregor Townsend spoke on Friday of the need to generate atmosphere by celebrating little victories on the park. The subs and coaching staff have a role to play in that too but the key thing for Scotland will be getting it right defensively.
The appointment in December of Steve Tandy as defence coach has stiffened up Scotland, adding a gritty edge to a team not short on flair. Hogg says the squad have bought into the Tandy ethos and are embracing the less glamorous aspects of the game.
“We enjoy the challenge of trying to get the ball back,” said the skipper. “We don’t feel stressed in any way about our systems, we back each other. We try to spend as much time as we can in attack, but Steve Tandy has brought a whole new outlook to the way that we defend.
“It’s given us confidence and you can see that in the way that we’ve performed. The big thing now is taking that confidence, turning it into belief and really going after France.”
Based on Six Nations statistics, today’s game pits the top attackers against the side with the best defence. France scored the most points (138) and joint most tries (17, level with Ireland) in the tournament, while Scotland conceded the fewest points (59) and tries (5).
Hogg is careful not to read too much into the statistics as Scotland chase a record-equalling sixth Test win in a row.
“Defence is a mindset, an ability to really attack the opposition’s attack,” said Hogg. “We fully understand that we want to be one of the best defensive teams in world rugby and that’s not going to happen overnight. You can look at our record in the Six Nations, but that means nothing unless we continue to do it. It’s a mindset, wanting to go after teams, wanting to make a difference and shut people down.
“A large part of the game now is turnover attack and the ability to punish teams after defending. That’s when the likes of myself and the rest of the back three come alive because we have very little influence on what’s happening on the frontline in terms of boys smashing each other.
“We want to be tough to beat and to fight for absolutely everything that we can. We want people to be getting off the deck and smashing lumps out of guys, going time after time after time. Teams will break down eventually. If we continue to go after them, they’ll get bored and kick us the ball.
“Any time France kick on Sunday, we’ll see that as a little victory because they no longer want to attack.”
Hogg has a good strike-rate against the French, with four tries in ten Test matches, although you have to go back to the 2017 Six Nations for the last one. New model Scotland are more likely to score tries by kicking to the corner and setting up a driving maul. So is the full-back missing the chance to run in scores from open play?
“Absolutely not. We’re winning Test matches and that’s what we’re here to do. I fully believe in our scrum and lineout, our set-piece in general, that we are going to cause teams problems.”
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