Rugby Union- Five Nations: Scots hope for another home upset

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The Independent Online
IT SHOULD perhaps only be whispered in the mill towns of the Scottish Borders, but the winning team at Murrayfield this afternoon will be halfway to a Grand Slam. If Scotland happen to emerge victorious even those unfortunates who bought sweaters commemorating the 1996 Scottish Slam that never was, before Dean Richards gave Rob Wainwright's men a mauling at Murrayfield, might be moved to actually don their premature purchases tonight.

The metaphorical counting of chickens is one thing, though. Accounting for the French cockerel promises to be quite another matter.

France have won five successive matches in the Five Nations' Championship since the 16-15 defeat in Cardiff that handed the 1996 title to England. Scotland will have to unhatch one of the all-time upsets to stop Les Tricolores stretching their winning run to six.

The form book has been famously torn up for this fixture before. The French have a habit of freezing on Scottish soil. Only once since 1978 have they won at Murrayfield.

That was four years ago, when Jean-Luc Sadourny scored the opening try in a 20-12 success. Of the French XV who line up today, only he and Olivier Brouzet have savoured victory over the Scots in Scotland. It is a psychological crumb upon which the Scottish camp are hoping to feast. "I would like to think there is still a Murrayfield factor," Jim Telfer, Scotland's coach, said.

This factor did not, however, spare the Scots from ritual slaughters in their two pre-Christmas home internationals. Australia and South Africa inflicted record defeats, 37-8 and 68-10 respectively.

France ought to bury their Edinburgh bogey under a similar barrage of points this afternoon. It is, after all, just 11 months since the 47-20 Paris mis-match that left them celebrating their first Grand Chelem clinched on home ground while the Scots went homeward tae think again with a record Five Nations' defeat.

France showed in their 24-17 win against England a fortnight ago that their own trampling by the Springboks has not done any permanent damage to the combination of forward power and attacking pace that Jean-Claude Skrela and Pierre Villepreux have blended into their ranks. Scotland's victory in Dublin was an altogether more prosaic affair.

The class gap between the nations is perhaps further emphasised by the extent of attacking faith the Scottish selectors have invested in Derrick Lee. "Derrick is an exciting young prospect who gives us attacking options," Telfer said. "He played well against Ireland."

The London Scottish full-back, however, only played the final five minutes in Dublin. That is the extent of international experience he will bring to bear in direct opposition to Sadourny, who won the first of his 61 caps as a replacement for Serge Blanco in Cardiff seven years ago.

Scotland's task might not be so daunting if the cutting edge of Sadourny was the extent of their worries. From one to 15, though, the French have the sharpness to slice through.

Alan Tait stands to make history as the first Scottish player since Johnny Wallace in 1925 to score tries in four successive Five Nations games. The trouble is the Newcastle Falcon will probably have his claws full fighting a rearguard battle.

It is likely to be a losing battle, too. But, then, Scotland would still be a third of the way to a Triple Crown.


at Murrayfield

D Lee London Scottish 15 J-L Sadourny Colomiers

A Stanger Hawick 14 P Bernat-Salles Pau

A Tait Newcastle 13 C Lamaison Brive

G Townsend Northampton 12 S Glas Bourgoin

K Logan Wasps 11 C Dominici Stade Francais

C Chalmers Melrose 10 T Castaignede Castres

G Armstrong Newcastle, capt 9 P Carbonneau Brive

D Hilton Bath 1 C Califano Toulouse

G Bulloch West of Scotland 2 R Ibanez Dax, capt

M Stewart Northampton 3 F Tournaire Toulouse

D Cronin Wasps 4 F Pelous Toulouse

D Weir Newcastle 5 O Brouzet Begles-Bordeaux

R Wainwright Dundee HSFP 6 M Lievremont Stade Francais

S Holmes London Scottish 7 O Magne Brive

P Walton Newcastle 8 T Lievremont Perpignan

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand) Kick-off: 3.0 (BBC1)

Substitutes: 16 R Shepherd (Melrose), 17 S Longstaff (Dundee HSFP), 18 A Nicol (Bath), 19 S Grimes (Watsonians), 20 A Roxburgh (Kelso), 21 G Graham (Newcastle), 22 G Ellis (Currie).

Substitutes: 16 X Garbajosa (Tou-louse), 17 D Aucagne (Pau), 18 F Galthie (Colomiers), 19 P Benetton (Agen), 20 T Cleda (Pau), 21 C Soulette (Beziers), 22 M Dal Maso (Agen).