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Wounded France hopes to keep 6 Nations dream alive

March 6, 2014

Even after its heaviest Six Nations defeat in five years, France is still in the title race.

But with points differential likely to determine the champion, France has the worst of the four teams tied for the lead — plus one. Ireland, by contrast, was plus 42.

Following the dismal 27-6 loss in Cardiff, it is a wounded France which faces Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, and a much changed one.

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre, with his job in doubt, turned over almost half the side. There’s new loose forwards, three new backs, and a third-choice hooker after injuries ruled out tyros Benjamin Kayser and Dimitri Szarzewski.

No. 8 Louis Picamoles was dropped for losing the plot at the end in Cardiff.

“If we want Pascal Pape to do his job as a captain, well, he needs to have 14 players around him who are focused on the game and who give everything for the team,” Saint-Andre said.

France has beaten Scotland all but once this century, but the manner of its failure to fire at Millennium Stadium throws some doubt on its ability to rise to the occasion in a second straight road game.

“This is typically French; as soon as we start winning, you think you are someone important and you fool yourself,” said recalled winger Maxime Medard, who has three tries in four games against Scotland. “So now we have go back to reality, make sure we have a strong scrum, that we are good on the sidelines, and as soon as the forwards actually start pushing forward, it makes life so much easier. That’s where we are at.”

France has conceded the most turnovers so far, while Scotland has conceded the fewest, a credit to its phase play. But against that, the Scots have given away the most penalties. France goalkickers Jules Plisson and Maxime Machenaud aren’t known for their accuracy.

“The key is to be very strong in defence, hold on physically and force them to lose ground,” centre Gael Fickou said. “We also need to be disciplined, because obviously (Scotland) is very strong in ball possession, as we saw in their game against Italy. They can run too, they can do anything, they can be full of surprises. That is what they are good at. So we are getting ready, to try and make them uncomfortable.”

Scotland ended a four-loss run by pipping Italy in Rome 21-20 on Duncan Weir’s last-minute dropped goal. That brought massive relief, and the Scots insist they remain grounded.

“We don’t just want to be the team that can beat Italy,” hooker Scott Lawson said. “Yeah, it was great and an amazing feeling when the final whistle went, but we want to win the next game and then the one after that.”

Lawson said they deserved the flak for their non-performances in the first two losses to Ireland and England.

“The Scottish public is right to be aggrieved about that,” he said, “but even if we had not got that last-minute drop goal (against Italy), you could not have questioned the boys attitude and commitment to the cause.”

Scotland made four changes, bringing in tighthead prop Geoff Cross for his first start in a year, and switching up the loose forwards to send out John Beattie, recalled skipper Kelly Brown and David Denton. The backs are unchanged.

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Lineups:

Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Alex Dunbar, Matt Scott, Sean Lamont, Duncan Weir, Greig Laidlaw; David Denton, Kelly Brown (captain), Johnnie Beattie, Jim Hamilton, Richie Gray, Geoff Cross, Scott Lawson, Ryan Grant. Reserves: Ross Ford, Alasdair Dickinson, Euan Murray, Tim Swinson, Ryan Wilson, Chris Cusiter, Duncan Taylor, Max Evans.

France: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Maxime Mermoz, Maxime Medard, Jules Plisson, Maxime Machenaud; Damien Chouly, Alexandre Lapandry, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (captain), Nicolas Mas, Brice Mach, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Guilhem Guirado, Vincent Debaty, Rabah Slimani, Alexandre Flanquart, Antonie Claassen, Jean-Marc Doussain, Remi Tales, Gael Fickou.

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