Hugo's French lessons pay off

Scotland's No 15, who could be playing cricket not rugby, will feel right at home in Paris for the opener
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The Independent Online

For Hugo Southwell, the World Cup is a distant dot on the horizon. The Scotland full-back has his sights focused no further than the Six Nations' Championship and what for him will be a home-from-home opening fixture in Paris next Saturday. The Stade de France has become a second home to Southwell, the regular venue for his club's higher-profile matches since he moved from Edinburgh to Stade Français in summer 2009. Three weeks ago he wore the floral pink No 15 shirt there when the Parisians trounced Toulouse 31-3 in the Top 14.

It has been 12 years since Scotland last managed a victory in the French national stadium but if Andy Robinson's men can maintain their recent run of form (five wins in six Tests) they could be partying like it was 1999 again. Their prospects of getting off to a flyer are all the brighter for the top-drawer performances Southwell has been producing for his club in his second season in France and for his country since regaining the full-back berth during last year's Six Nations.

Qualified for Scotland because of his maternal grandfather from Falkirk, the 30-year-old English native (born in London and educated at Eastbourne College) has 57 caps now, and a second World Cup is on the horizon. It might have been different, though.

Like two of his former colleagues from the Sussex Academy, Southwell might have been preparing for the Cricket World Cup instead. He was a wannabe at the County Ground in Hove at the same time as Matt Prior and Michael Yardy, working under the direction of future England coach Peter Moores. An all-rounder, Southwell was good enough to play for England Under-15s, but he made just one appearance for Sussex, taking three wickets in a one-dayer against Gloucestershire. Frustrated with the lack of first-team chances, he hung up his whites at 19 and went to Bristol University.

Prior was one of England's Ashes-winning heroes, so is there the odd twinge of what might have been? "I'm a long way past that," said Southwell after training at Scotland's Six Nations preparation camp at St Andrews. "I rarely think about it at all. I enjoy watching the cricket and I enjoy the guys that I used to play with playing well. But at the same time it's long gone now. I'm focused on what's to come in the near future with Scotland and excited about what happened for us in the last year.

"I was intrigued to follow what Matt did in the Ashes. I haven't really kept in touch. I saw him a couple of times when he was up in Edinburgh with the England squad. Having played a lot with Matt and Michael at Sussex I've watched what they've been doing with a lot of interest. I'm sure when they get the opportunity to see what I'm doing, they find it fascinating."

It was only when Southwell was at university that he turned his sporting attention to rugby, playing for Bristol Shoguns and then moving up to Edinburgh after Craig Chalmers, the outside-half in Scotland's Grand Slam class of 1990, suggested he made use of his Caledonian qualification. He won his first cap against Samoa in 2004 and since reaching his half-century against Italy in Rome last February, he has re-established himself as Scotland's first-choice No 15.

Southwell has been a fixture in Robinson's astutely organised side for the past eight Tests. In that time Scotland have drawn against England at Murrayfield, beaten Ireland in Dublin, won a series in Argentina and beaten South Africa in Edinburgh. They go into the Six Nations confident of making an impact ahead of the World Cup, even if their schedule happens to include trips to Paris, where they haven't prevailed since 1999, and Twickenham, where they last won in 1983. "The belief we have in the squad is better than ever," Southwell said. "We're showing we're a team who can win tight games. We've been doing that consistently. We've put ourselves in the best position to go to Paris and Twickenham and win. Actually doing it on the day is another matter but as a squad we've got the belief to go and win there."

Injured or suspended: Who you won't be seeing next week

England

Lewis Moody (knee injury)

Tom Croft (shoulder)

Courtney Lawes (knee)

Delon Armitage (suspended)

Dave Attwood (suspended)

France

Dimitri Szarzewski (Achilles)

Ireland

Tommy Bowe (knee)

Jamie Heaslip (ankle)

Rob Kearney (knee)

John Hayes (groin)

Andrew Trimble (hand)

Geordan Murphy (foot)

Shane Horgan (knee)

Stephen Ferris (knee)

Italy

Mauro Bergamasco (shoulder)

Craig Gower (knee)

Manoa Vosawai (knee)

Scotland

Graeme Morrison (knee)

Chris Cusiter (knee)

Phil Godman (knee)

Alasdair Dickinson (shoulder)

Jim Hamilton (foot)

Wales

Gethin Jenkins (toe)

Adam Jones (elbow)

Richie Rees (suspended)

Andrew Bishop (ankle)

George North (shoulder)

Tom Shanklin (knee)

Toby Faletau (ankle)

Gavin Henson (calf)

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