Jauzion's injury raises prospect of Scotland upset

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The Independent Online

Scotland's hope of a winning start to their Six Nations campaign at Murrayfield tomorrow, were raised with the news that France had lost their gifted midfield creator, Yannick Jauzion, who has suffered a fractured toe, which will keep him out of the game for the next three weeks, at least.

Jauzion picked up the injury in Toulouse's French Championship defeat of Pau last weekend, though it is only at this late stage that the France team doctor, Thierry Hermerel, officially ruled the 6ft 4in centre out of contention. Jauzion is replaced by Brive's Ludovic Valbon, with the uncapped Guillaume Bousses, of Bourguin, drafted in as a replacement.

Regardless of the depth of Bernard Laporte's squad, Jauzion's absence will be a big loss given that he is the mainstay of France's back line, and is generally regarded as one of the best centres in the world.

Notwithstanding the loss of Jauzion, France are hot favourites to win in Edinburgh, in the process setting Les Tricolores on the way to more glory. To have any hope of lowering France's colours, Scotland will have to subdue a fearsome pack, even though Sylvain Marconnet has sounded a note of caution, by declaring that France's first match could also be their hardest.

Marconnet heads a trio of front-rowers from the Paris club, Stade Français, alongside Dimitri Szarzewski, and the South Africa-born Pieter de Villiers. Behind them come Jérôme Thion, who deputised for Fabien Pelous, while the captain was serving a lengthy period of suspension, after a punching incident in the autumn international against Australia. Behind this heavyweight front five the Scots will be treated to the sight of Yannick Nyanga, who could become the finest open-side flanker of his generation.

The quality in this Tricolores team extends well beyond the boys up front. Brilliant half-backs in Frédéric Michalak, pace on the wings, in the shape of the evergreen Christophe Dominici, and Cédric Heymans, means there is every likelihood that the Scots will be in for a warm afternoon, whatever the weather.

Scotland's last defeat of France was at the Stade de France in 1999, since when France have rattled off a record six wins against them. But the men in dark blue are talking a confident game, though whether they are capable of delivering one is another matter.

Under their new coach, Frank Hadden, who has replaced the unconvincing Australian Matt Williams. Hadden's track record deserves acknowledgement, especially after the second-half display in a losing cause against the All Blacks last November. But it is down to their captain, Jason White, and his fellow forwards to set some problems for the France pack.

If the Scots are to achieve parity anywhere it will be in the loose, where the fearless White must lead by example and inspire Allister Hogg and Simon Taylor to play the sort of game which came as second nature to the likes of John Jeffrey and Finlay Calder, in the days when Scotland were still a competitive force in Europe.

Much will be expected of Edinburgh's Mike Blair at scrum-half, who has been preferred to Chris Cusiter by Hadden. If the forwards can win some ball and their distribution holds together, then Scotland might just cause an upset. But it is a big call and the smart money is for France to leave their calling card in Auld Reekie on the way to another title.