France in the mood to break Hadden's heart

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The Independent Online

Paris might be the ideal location on Valentine's weekend to foster relationships or repair marriages, but for Scotland's rugby men, it seems a dubious place to try and restore confidence after the hammer blow of a conclusive defeat by the Welsh last weekend.

The manner of Scotland's defeat six days ago at Murrayfield revealed as illusory the belief of better times ahead. That setback has cast a pall over coach Frank Hadden and his team as they prepare to take on a French side themselves wounded by the events of last weekend.

It has been possible to detect in the crisp Scottish air this week a renewed doubting of Hadden's credentials for the job. Of course, Hadden went through this last winter, but if France overrun the Scots today as Wales did last Sunday, then the debate over Hadden's future will re-ignite in earnest.

To a crushing degree, history favours the French. Scotland have won here only twice in the past 39 years, and unless they can address last Sunday's serious scrummaging deficiency, then that record is unlikely to alter at the Stade de France.

Hadden knows the problem but has he fixed it ? Without injured tight-head prop Euan Murray and lock Nathan Hines, the Scottish scrum was badly exposed. Gloucester's Ally Dickinson replaces Geoff Cross at tight head but with Hines's knee still troubling him, the locks remain.

In public, Hadden is backing his men. "I think we've got a front five that is capable of stepping up this weekend and giving us the platform we need. The bottom line is, we conceded 11 points from scrums last weekend.

"That's the sort of points we have not been conceding, in fact other teams have been conceding penalty opportunities for us at the scrum. It's something we've been working hard on."

Scotland's problem may be exacerbated after France changed both props from the team that lost to Ireland in Dublin. Perpignan hardman Nicolas Mas takes over from Benoît Lecouls at tight head and with Biarritz's Fabien Barcella replacing Lionel Faure, there is unlikely to be any romantic greeting awaiting the Scots at the first scrum this afternoon.

France lost in Dublin yet played some superb rugby, developing coach Marc Lièvremont's desire to see a more expansive game. Yet defeat hurt, so much so that a planned trip for the players to the Moulin Rouge this week was cancelled at their own request. Lievremont said: "The players preferred to cancel. They wanted to stay concentrated on the match."

Such focus sounds like trouble for the Scots. This French team is close to gelling. If they do today, Valentine's weekend will not resemble a bed of roses for Hadden and his players.

France: C Poitrenaud; M Medard, B Baby, Y Jauzion, C Heymans; L Beauxis, S Tillous-Borde; F Barcella, D Szarzewski, N Mas, L Nallett (Capt), R Millo-Chluski, T Dusautoir, F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy.

Scotland: H Southwell; S Danielli, M Evans, G Morrison, T Evans; P Godman, M Blair (capt); A Jacobsen, R Ford, A Dickinson, J White, J Hamilton, A Strokosch, J Barclay, S Taylor.

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).

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