Rugby: Scots braced for French backlash

16th March 2007, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, March 16, 2007 (AFP) - France may have seen their dreams of the perfect World Cup morale booster of the Six Nations Grand Slam shattered by England last weekend but here on Saturday they will be aiming to seal their second successive northern hemisphere title by beating Scotland.

PARIS, March 16, 2007 (AFP) - France may have seen their dreams of the perfect World Cup morale booster of the Six Nations Grand Slam shattered by England last weekend but here on Saturday they will be aiming to seal their second successive northern hemisphere title by beating Scotland.

The French will have a fair idea of what they have to do as Ireland, who are also on six points but trail on points difference, will have already played Italy while world champions England play wooden spoon candidates Wales later, but with a vastly inferior points difference, and have only outside hopes of landing the title.

Nevertheless France still have something to prove after their wake up call by England, whose makeshift team of youth and old heads somehow froze out France and stormed to a stunning victory.

No one is more aware of this than their captain Raphael Ibanez, who issued a warning to the squad this week that they should focus more at the task in hand than thoughts about would they make the World Cup squad.

"Did every player perform his duties?" pondered the 34-year-old hooker about the players who played against England.

"For the guy who thought too much about the World Cup when running on to the pitch at Twickenham and then under-performed, it is the best way to miss out on the World Cup.

"Some of the players were thinking too much about being in the squad, but me I think it is better to have gone and played well against England than to watch the matches on television," added Ibanez, who captained France to the 1999 World Cup final where they lost to Australia.

Meanwhile fly-half David Skrela, who injured his right lower leg, will miss the match to hand Lionel Beauxis his first Six Nations start.

Biarritz fly-half or centre Damien Traille, who was made the squad's 23rd man while waiting for the Skrela decision, moves on to the bench.

Stade Francais's Skrela, who has started all four matches so far in the championship, had a non-conclusive fitness test early Thursday but is now deemed not fully fit.

"I would have loved to be at 100 percent and be able to play this match but the pain in the leg is preventing me feeling at ease," Skrela said in a French rugby federation (FFR) statement on Thursday.

"I would rather concede my place and I'm very happy for Lionel who will start a Six Nations match for the first time."

France coach Bernard Laporte remains confident, though, that his side can still carry off the title.

"Despite everything I have said we are on course to win the tournament and now it just depends on us," said the 42-year-old, who is stepping down after eight years in charge following the end of the World Cup.

For Scotland coach Frank Hadden he can travel with a certain amount of confidence given the feisty performance they gave in the 19-18 defeat by Triple Crown winners Ireland last Saturday.

The French also will have to be mindful of Scotland's metronomic kicker Chris Paterson, who has not failed in his last 20 attempts at goal and almost singlehandedly denied the Irish last weekend.

Certainly Hadden believes that Scotland have a real chance of securing a surprise result and ensure that it is the Welsh - regardless of even if they beat England - who end up with the wooden spoon.

"I believe we are going to Paris with a real opportunity not just to show we are capable of performing better than in our last two matches but actually of winning the game," said Hadden.

"I base that on the fact that the Borders came within a hair's breadth of winning in Biarritz earlier this season, Edinburgh, likewise in Agen and that Glasgow did win in Narbonne."

Hadden's belief was mirrored by Ibanez.

"I hope this defeat (the England match) will be at the back of our minds," said Ibanez. "We are in need of a team that is bursting at the seams to bounce back.

"Scotland know the highs (France surprisingly lost 20-16 to Scotland last year which cost them the Grand Slam) and the lows of international rugby but have had their successes against France.

"Thus it is imperative to have a very strong French team, who plays to the required level, in order to control the Scots."
 
Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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