White might gives Scots a strong lead

New coach and his skipper keen to let French feel the force of the autumn revival
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Jim Telfer described him as a "Samoan Scot", the hardest-hitting tackler he had ever seen on a rugby field. Simon Taylor went a little farther in his erudite column in the Scottish edition of The Times on the morning of New Zealand's visit to Murrayfield last November, venturing to suggest that his captain and back-row colleague was "the kind of brute you can imagine clearing skulls with a battle axe, or one of those spiky balls on a chain, in days of yore".

Mention of the gory portrayal brought a more than gentle smile to the brute's face on the eve of Scotland's opening battle in the Six Nations campaign. "I think from Simon that's probably quite a compliment," the greatly amused White, an actual Sale Shark, reflected.

"Simon's on a different intellectual planet from myself, so I would say that is quite complimentary. To be honest, it's the first time I have heard it. It's a quote I will maybe find and cut out and put on my wall."

It would sit very nicely alongside the 50th cap White stands to collect at Murrayfield this afternoon, when Scotland are likely to need all the skull-clearing clout they can muster against France, the odds-on championship favourites.

On his first appearance for his country, six years ago, the future captain savoured a famous Six Nations upset, when England were sunk, 19-13, in a Murrayfield monsoon. After five games against France, though, White has yet to taste a victory.

"I am not being defeatist here," the blindside flanker said, "but in those years you have to say that France have been above us in the world rankings and that their form has been better. But we have beaten them in the past and, as club players, a lot of us have beaten French teams or done very well against them. So we respect them, but we know that if we play well we can beat them."

It is 10 years now since Scotland last beat France at Murray-field; six years since they last won against them in Paris. They did hold a lead until the 74th minute in the Stade de France last year, though, and the new broom being wielded with Frank Hadden as coach and White as captain has swept in signs of encouragement this season.

In five matches, two of them as caretaker, Hadden has notched up three victories - as many as his predecessor, Matt Williams, managed to muster in two seasons of barrel-scraping stuff that left the Scottish public in a state of such disenchantment that there will be some 14,000 tickets still available on the Murrayfield gates today. There was also the moral victory of gaining second-half parity, seven points to seven, against the grand-slamming All Blacks in the final autumn Test - albeit in a 29-10 defeat for Hadden's side.

"The first thing we have to do in the Six Nations is improve our performance," White said. "We finished strongly against New Zealand and we have to carry that forward into the first half against France. We can't let France do what New Zealand did to us in the first half, put points on the board and make it difficult to claw them back

"We rate New Zealand as probably the best team in the world and France as being on a similar level, so playing the All Blacks in our last game was ideal preparation. First-up defence is going to be very important, and matching their eight up front. And we will be looking to play with the ball, like we did in the autumn, attacking teams and looking to score tries. We've got some good runners in the team and we'll be looking to use them."

Fortunately for Scotland, France will be without their most elusive runner, Yannick Jauzion having fallen victim to a fractured toe. The Toulouse centre of supreme excellence ghosted home a brace of tries at Murray-field two years ago, when the Scots were rendered pointless on home ground for the first time in 28 years.

That 31-0 result was the penultimate leg of a Gallic Grand Slam forged on the back-row brilliance of Betsen, Magne and Harinordoquy. This afternoon France return to Murrayfield with a new-look combination: Martin, Nyanga and Bonnaire. Not that Hadden would swap any of his tartan trio, White, Hogg and Taylor.

France might have their Remy Martin, but Scotland have the man to leave the bleached- blond blindside shaken and stirred. Or claymored, as Simon Taylor might put it.

MURRAYFIELD LINE-UPS

Scotland

15 H Southwell (Edinburgh)

14 C Paterson (Edinburgh)

13 M Di Rollo (Edinburgh)

12 A Henderson (Glasgow)

11 S Lamont (Northampton)

10 D Parks (Glasgow)

9 M Blair (Edinburgh)

1 G Kerr (Leeds)

2 D Hall (Edinburgh)

3 B Douglas (Borders)

4 A Kellock (Edinburgh)

5 S Murray (Edinburgh)

6 J White (Sale, capt)

8 S Taylor (Edinburgh)

7 A Hogg (Edinburgh)

Replacements: 16 S Lawson (Glasgow), 17 C Smith (Edinburgh), 18 S MacLeod (Borders), 19 J Petrie (Glasgow), 20 C Cusiter (Borders), 21 G Ross (Leeds), 22 S Webster (Edinburgh)

France

15 N Brusque (Biarritz)

14 C Dominici (Stade Français)

13 F Fritz (Toulouse)

12 L Valbon (Brive)

11 C Heymans (Toulouse)

10 F Michalak (Toulouse)

9 J B Elissalde (Toulouse)

1 S Marconnet (Stade Français)

2 D Szarzewski (Stade Français)

3 P de Villiers (Stade Français)

4 F Pelous (Toulouse, capt)

5 J Thion (Biarritz)

6 Y Nyanga (Toulouse)

8 J Bonnaire (Bourgoin)

7 R Martin (Stade Français)

Replacements: 16 S Bruno (Sale), 17 O Milloud (Bourgoin), 18 L Nallet (Castres), 19 T Lièvremont (Biarritz), 20 D Yachvili (Biarritz), 21 B Boyet (Bourgoin), 22 G Bousses (Bourgoin)

Referee: J Kaplan (South Africa)

Kick-off: 3pm

Live: BBC2

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