Six Nations Rugby: Can Scotland End Their Losing Streak Against France?
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If it is February, it must be time for the Six Nations, the rugby competition so venerable that it makes every other contest—the World Cup, the Tri-Nations—look like a pretentious young upstart.
The final game of opening weekend sees Scotland travel to Paris to take on a French team hopeful of a repeat of last year's tournament victory
As is his wont, French coach Marc Lievremont has shuffled his side again.
The lack of continuity of selection doesn't seem to bother the French as much as it does commentators, but there were times in the last year when they won despite themselves rather than because of the supposed genius of the coach.
The pack is the same as the victorious one from 12 months ago.
Imanol Harinordoquy gets the start at No. 8 ahead of Sebastian Chabal and the wonderfully exotic Fulgence Ouedraogo (who doesn't even make the bench).
Domingo, Servat, Mas, Nallet and Pierre are a front five to rival any in the world and it will be a real surprise if this pack doesn't dominate from the off.
The back line is where Lievremont has been tinkering, with legendary centre Yannick Jauzion dropped for the promising Maxime Mermoz.
He is paired at centre with the albino pony that is Aurelien Rougerie, who has won all of his previous caps on the wing and who always seemed to have the defensive skills of an overripe tomato.
The other big surprise is that Damien Traille, who played stand off in the autumn internationals, now becomes a full back in place of Clement Poitrenaud, the electric runner who so excited everyone in 2010.
Scotland have only won their opening game of the Six Nations once in the last 11 years and could not have picked a harder starting fixture.
That said, they will play with the abandon of men with nothing to lose and if they could only score some tries—they only have seven in 13 games since coach Andy Robinson took over—then they would stand a chance of an upset.
Captain Alistair Kellock returns to the second row, which means a move to the blindside for Nathan Hines.
How he will cope against the speed of the French back row is anyone's guess, but with Kelly Brown shifting to eight and John Barclay on the open side, the Scots will still be as mobile as any other side in this competition.
Euan Murray's star has fallen somewhat in the past couple of years and he will welcome the chance to reclaim his crown as best loosehead in the northern hemisphere as he takes on Mas.
Scotland's main failing comes in their backs, where there is a lack of genuine quality.
Nick de Luca returns to the centre, where he has promised so much and delivered so irregularly. Next to him, Joe Ansbro starts his first Six Nations match, whilst Max Evans moves back to the wing.
Dan Parks is at stand off, which remains a problem position of Ben Nevis proportions for the Scots.
Where the game will be won or lost
Scotland's only real hope is to keep the ball away from the French backs.
Expect plenty of tactical kicking from Parks and a lot of hard running from the loose forwards.
France, on the other hand, will be looking to use the power of their front five wherever possible, before unleashing the talent they believe that they have in their three-quarters.
Little Morgan Parra at scrum half will be vital to their game plan and how well his Scottish opponent Rory Lawson can mark him will be key to stemming the flow of French ball.
An easy French win. There is simply no way that Scotland get close in this one.
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