Robinson calls on charges to fight fire with fire in France

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The Independent Online

Sitting in the Suite Jules Verne in Scotland's team hotel here yesterday, Andy Robinson was in no mood to embark on flights of the fantastical.

On the eve of his team's opening engagement in a Six Nations Championship they enter with a purple patch of five wins from six, the poker-faced head coach was looking not much farther than Wayne Barnes' first invitation for the two packs to "crouch, touch, pause and engage".

Asked whether he had urged his players to grasp the hand of history and write their names in the record books with a first Scottish win in Paris since 1999, Robinson replied: "We can't control what happened in the last 12 years. We focus on what our performance is about. The start is crucial, and so is being good at the set-piece.

"We have to work hard on how we start the game because the French will come out fast and physical. They play with real momentum if they get the crowd behind them. We've talked about getting into their faces and standing toe-to-toe with them. We have to get stuck into them." The need to fly out of the blocks in the Stade de France this evening is not just to buck the trend of Scotland playing catch-up from the off in the Six Nations (they have won just one opening game in 11 years) but also to exploit the still-raw nerve of France's spectacular second-half capitulation against Australia in November. Marc Lièvremont's 2010 Grand Slammers were level at the break, 13-13, but finished not so much broken as smashed, on the wrong end of a 59-16 Wallaby walloping.

France's tinker-tailor of a head coach has followed his natural instincts and made several changes in an attempt to recapture the winning formula of last season's championship, and to ease the mounting pressure on him. Imanol Harinordoquy, Julien Bonnaire and Lionel Nallet all return in the pack, while behind the scrum, François Trinh-Duc is back after injury at outside-half, Damien Traille and his booming left boot move to full-back, and Maxime Mermoz and Aurélien Rougerie pair up as the 18th centre combination of Lièvremont's three-year reign.

Robinson also has a new centre partnership, Edinburgh's Nick de Luca having been recalled to team up with Joe Ansbro, who was blooded in the autumn and has been in fine form of late on the wing for Northampton Saints. The pair have 21 caps between them but not one try.

In eight of the 13 Tests Scotland have played under Robinson they have failed to journey to the centre or any other part of the opposition in-goal area. The chances are they will need to do so if they are to add the French to their growing list of major scalps. Not that their head coach would concede as much yesterday.

"You keep asking me that question and I'll give the same answer," Robinson said, with not a little exasperation. "It's important that we score more points than the opposition. How we do that, I don't care."

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