Why France and Scotland are more similar than they seem

Six Nations Championship: France v Scotland
Venue: Stade de France Date: Saturday, 23 February Kick-off: 14:15 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Radio Scotland 92-95FM & the BBC Sport website and app.

On the face of it, there isn’t much to link Scotland and France as rugby nations.

One is a country with two professional teams and no championship title for 20 years. The other is home to the wealthiest league in the world and winners of three Grand Slams since their opponents’ last drank from the trophy.

But dig a little deeper and you find the Six Nations rivals share more than you might think…

Attacking elan

Okay, so this isn’t the glorious white-knuckle-rugby, attack-from-anywhere France of yesteryear, but the French game remains synonymous with adventure and daring.

France has given the sport some of its most riveting attackers and biggest, hardest characters. Serge Blanco, Philippe Sella, Jean-Pierre Rives, Sebastian Chabal – these blokes were box-office.

Under Vern Cotter, then Gregor Townsend, Scotland have harnessed that elan, playing at breathless pace, running from deep, flooding channels with supporting players and delivering all-star off-loads.

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This French lot are more about brawn than brain with their gigantic pack, but might Jacques Brunel’s new-look, youthful backline engender some more entertaining fare on Saturday?

Scotland can’t match the French beef but you can bet they’ll bring plenty of joie de vivre to Paris.

Townsend’s French connections

Gregor Townsend<!–

Townsend is one of a handful of his generation to play in each of the world’s top leagues.

That globe-trotting career gave him a wealth of experience and helped him harvest a range of ideas for the coaching voyage that came next.

The Scotland head coach tells some riotous tales from his days in France, where he spent five seasons between Brive, Castres and Montpellier, and his sharpest of rugby brains was keenly appreciated.

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“Our coach [at Brive] was Laurent Seigne and he was pushing the forwards against the wall and the experienced ones were pushing him back and it was head-on-head and shirts ripped and blood.

“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Right, that’s what the forwards do, fair enough’. Before our next home game, Seigne talks to myself and my partner in the centre and says, ‘Today, you are forwards’.

“He shouts for both of us to get on the floor and for our pack to run over the top of us so we knew what it felt like to be at the bottom of a ruck. This was minutes before we played a game. I was lying there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.”

Struggles on the road

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Scotland, of course, last won in Paris in 1999. This is probably their best chance to do so since. They’ve won once in Dublin since the turn of the millennium, last beat Wales in Cardiff 17 years ago, and you have to go back to 1983 to find Scotland’s last Calcutta Cup triumph south of the border. It is a sorry, sorry away record.

France hold comparably bleak recent form on the road. Les Bleus last won away from home against Italy in the 2017 championship. In 31 away Tests since 2013 – discounting the 2015 Rugby World Cup – they have won only four.

Two of those victories came against the Azzurri, one on a summer tour of Argentina, and the other at Murrayfield.

Russell the rapscallion

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There’s something wonderfully French about the way Finn Russell plays his rugby. Utterly care-free, completely self-assured – a strutting rapscallion with a phenomenal skill-set.

Mistakes? Sure, he makes them. And yes, they can be maddening. Do they dent his confidence? Not one bit.

Russell himself is flying in France, revelling in his role as superstar recruit for Racing 92. Already, his highlights reel for the Parisians is spectacular and his bank balance will be pretty enviable too.

He was involved in each of Scotland’s five tries against Italy on the opening weekend and laid on Sam Johnson’s stunning counter-attack score against Ireland with an interception and a magnificent, nonchalant off-load from the ground.

But, playing in France has its pitfalls too. While most of his international team-mates rested during the fallow week, Russell played, scored a try and was concussed on duty for Racing in their loss to Toulouse.

And so Scotland are without their play-maker supreme on Saturday – a colossal blow.

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Can you name the last Scotland team to win in Paris?

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