Scotland call for heroics as French whine

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In 1295 the French sent a tide of claret over to Scotland as an aperitif to a guarantee of support in France's ongoing battles with the English, ongoing being the appropriate word. Seven hundred years later the Scots have become accustomed to a more potent substitute than wine although the English and the French, in terms of politics and the Five Nations, are still at it.

This fling between France and Scotland is, apparently, called the Auld Alliance and to celebrate the 66th meeting in rugby between the countries, Jacques Chirac invited the Lord Provost of Edinburgh over here for a bash while the Lothian Pipe Band played in front of the Hotel de Ville. The Princess Royal, Scotland's patron, is here as is the French Prime Minister, Edouard Balladur. He may not know a rugby ball from an Easter egg but his presence at the game, cynics explain, has something to do with the forthcoming presidential elections.

Scotland should remember Hogmanay: may Auld Alliance be forgot. They have not won in Paris since 1969 when Jim Telfer scored a try and the Scots won 6-3. A faded video of Telfer scoring from all of three yards is in danger of being shown at the Scottish National Museum, along with sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.

Gavin Hastings, Scotland's pragmatic captain, said: "The sequence has got to be broken some time. We have the same side for the third game running and we have more confidence. We are capable of creating chances. They'll certainly get that belief from me.''

Hastings and Damian Cronin, who now plays for a French club, are the only Scotsmen to have won at Parc des Princes, for the Lions against France in 1989. Ten of the current Scotland team have never played here.

Hastings, who was seven years of age when his country last crossed the Channel with some well-earned claret nestling beneath their sporrans, thinks the domestic season should be switched from winter to summer. "The whole structure is not geared to producing top performances prior to the international season," he said, "certainly not as well as in Australia, New Zealand and France.''

France? France is in turmoil following their lambish defeat to England at Twickenham two weeks ago. Hastings thinks the English First Division, played with a considerable gap, is a nonsense, but that is as nothing compared with what the French think of their own. Their First Division consists of 96 clubs and although that is boiled down to 32 as the championship progresses, Pierre Berbizier, the coach, says it is cumbersome and should be demolished.

Berbizier wants an lite of a maximum 20 clubs, preferably 10, but there is now talk that next season it could be double that. "There are too many games and our players can't have a weekend off before an international," Berbizier said. "They are stale and they fail when it matters most. I've fought for years against the system but nothing's changed. The standard of club rugby is a million miles away from international level.''

Only France, of course, could go in for such introspection after achieving famous victories in South Africa and New Zealand. The other day Berbizier refused to attend a cocktail party given by the French federation and another who has displeased the FFR president, Bernard Lapasset, is the flanker Laurent Cabannes. "The lite has been watered down to preserve the vested interests of village clubs," Cabannes said after the defeat by England. "I don't want a fully professional league but one that's slimmed down on the English lines. Our administration has stood still for 10 years.''

For that, he has been given a pointed hat with a D on it and told to stand in the corner. It could cost him his place in the World Cup. Berbizier has spent most of the week explaining that England, for all their strengths, did not beat France. With the aid of a video, he pointed out to the French press that it was, in fact, France who beat France.

Damian Cronin, who plays for Bourges, should have soaked up all this and reminded Hastings that France have not been looking forward to today's match but conducting an inquest on the 31-10 defeat at Twickenham. The conclusion is that France regarded the England match as the only significant test in the Five Nations. With France retracing their journey on Eurostar to Waterloo, it is possible that Scotland have the chance to put the dirk in. "It would be heroic if we did it," Hastings said. Heroic and miraculous.



J-L Sadourny Colomiers 15 G Hastings Watsonians, capt

P Bernat-Salles Pau 14 C Joiner Melrose

P Sella Agen 13 G Townsend Gala

T Lacroix Dax 12 I Jardine Stirling County

P Saint-Andr Montferrand, capt 11 K Logan Stirling County

C Deylaud Toulouse 10 C Chalmers Melrose

G Accoceberry Bgles 9 B Redpath Melrose

C Califano Toulon 1 D Hilton Bath

J-M Gonzals Bayonne 2 K Milne Heriot's FP

L Seigne Brive 3 P Wright Boroughmuir

O Brouzet Grenoble 4 D Cronin Bourges

O Roumat Dax 5 S Campbell Dundee HSFP

A Benazzi Agen 6 R Wainwright West Hartlepool

P Benetton Agen 8 E Peters Bath

L Cabannes Racing Club 7 I Morrison London Scottish

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland) Kick-off: 2.0 (BBC Scotland)