France and Scotland kicked off their warm-ups for RWC2019 in Nice on Saturday evening with a match that quickly became a one-sided affair. Newly-capped winger Alivereti Raka crossed within 2 minutes to open the scoring, with Maxime Médard and Grégory Alldritt also crossing the line before halftime. All Scotland could muster in response was an Adam Hastings penalty, while they were held scoreless after the break as Médard scored a second and Antoine Dupont crossed on the hour to finish off a 32-3 victory.
As everyone else was naming their training squads this summer, France took the odd step of naming their 31-man World Cup squad straight away (hence why they won’t feature in the Winners & Losers section later), along with a 6-man reserve list. Having watched this match, I think it may have benefited them.
The cliché is that you never know what French team will show up on the day, but they have this crazy ability to often click when the World Cup begins and find themselves in the latter stages. Watching Saturday evening, it felt like they have clicked early. While Scotland players were still trying to put their best foot forward in this match to try and make Gregor Townsend pick them for the tournament, these players know that they are going to Japan and have been able to spend the time building chemistry. Considering this is their first match of the season, they looked in incredible for and if they are only going to grow from here, then England and Argentina need to beware!
In my look back at Wales’ win over England, I mentioned how England needed a physical presence in the midfield. Scotland needs a physical presence, period.
Against France, they had some good moments in attack when they were able to get around or through the defence, but this did not happen often enough, due to the lack of physical options to put them on the front foot. The Scottish back line is heavily skilled but they are known as playmakers rather than physical crash ball runners. While England were able to still utilise Billy Vunipola, Scotland had nobody in the pack that could play the equivalent role. With the lack of options in the back line, they need to find the physical presence in the pack, which will likely guarantee Hamish Watson a starting spot and earn Magnus Bradbury a place in the World Cup squad.
RWC2019 Winners & Losers
Sticking with the above point, if Magnus Bradbury is to make the squad, it is likely to be at the expense of Josh Strauss, who missed 4 tackles in a largely anonymous performance. Duncan Taylor made a welcome return to international rugby after a couple of seasons ruined by injury, however I don’t feel that he was able to impose himself on the match enough to break into a position group that has plenty of strong options.
On a more positive side, John Barclay made a welcome return tot he back row and though it was far from his best game, he missed just 1 tackle on the night and carried more times than Strauss. Rory Hutchinson also continued his rise after a great season for Northampton with 6 carries for 45 metres and 1 defender beaten in the half hour on the pitch – though I previously ruled him out due to a lack of experience, this performance and the early cutting of Nick Grigg makes me thing he could be a bolter for the squad.
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