Scotland will be after their first back-to-back Six Nations wins in three years at Murrayfield on Sunday but to do so they will have to beat France for the first time in 10 years.
Vern Cotter’s side ended a dreadful run of nine straight defeats in the tournament against Italy in Rome two weeks ago, but the earlier losses to England and Wales still rankle and a French scalp would go a long way to salvaging the season.
They would then travel to Dublin to take on struggling Ireland with a third-place finish well within their grasp.
Cotter, who moved from French club side Clermont to take over as Scotland coach last year, is only too aware that his side face a daunting task, even against a French side still licking their wounds from the World Cup mauling they endured at the hands of the All Blacks.
“The win in Rome was a reward for the hard work the players have put in to the championship so far, but the hard work never stops,” he said.
“They (France) are confrontational and will try to keep the ball alive, so we will have to put in a great defensive performance.
“They also have the ability to channel their power through their set-piece, though that is a challenge our pack in particular are relishing, having put in some impressive performances of their own so far.”
Cotter has close ties to France coach Guy Noves from their Top-14 rivalry before Noves was persuaded to leave Toulouse and take over the national side and he knows that he is a masterful tactician and motivator.
Under him the French secured edgy wins over both Italy and Ireland before losing to Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago.
A win over Scotland, however, would keep alive French hopes of winning the tournament with England due in Paris for next weekend’s finale.
The Wales loss has brought a raft of significant changes with notably attack-minded fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc brought in for the misfiring Jules Plisson, the return of the incisive Wesley Fofana on the wing and a recall for Scott Spedding at full-back.
It all adds up to a free-flowing backline bent on attack in contrast to the more conservative systems employed by Noves’ predecessor Philippe Saint-Andre and, with the Scots also keen on running the ball, it could produce a spectacular match.
Spedding, back in the picture for the first time since the World Cup debacle, is convinced that Noves is on the right track in terms of his re-building process.
“There have already been quite a few encouraging signs, notably as regards team spirit,” he said.
“In defence we have been very good so far even if we have not seen much of the ball. On the other hand we have been unable to create many chances on attack as we haven’t had the ammunition we need.
“We absolutely have to make sure that we have more possession of the ball against Scotland.”
“It will be a tough match. We saw that Scotland so very nearly made it through to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
“They have have some very dangerous players in the likes of (Stuart) Hogg and the Gray brothers. They are also a lot stronger in the pack than they were a few years ago.”
Sunday’s match will also be a milestone for Scotland scrum-half and skipper Greig Laidlaw, who wins his 50th cap and in the process equals the Scotland record of 25 Tests as captain currently held by former prop David Sole. – Agence France-Presse