France go back to Beauxis in bid to subdue Scots
EDINBURGH (AFP)-France have gone back to the future by ending Lionel Beauxis’s long spell in the international wilderness as they look to kickstart a revival against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Six years after collecting the most recent of his 20 caps, the 32-year-old fly-half has been recalled to replace teenager Matthieu Jalibert, who suffered a knee injury in France’s cruel 15-13 loss to Ireland, when Johnny Sexton’s 83rd-minute drop-goal provided the most dramatic of twists to their Six Nations opener in Paris.
France coach Jacques Brunel is banking on the experience of Beauxis — particularly the Lyon playmaker’s tactical kicking in what are expected to be damp conditions — to help end Les Bleus’ 11-month wait for a win.
“We know his qualities, especially with the boot,” said Brunel.
Beauxis, who inspired France to their shock 2007 World Cup quarter-final victory against New Zealand, confessed: “It feels like my first cap. I am rediscovering everything.”
France, once one of the powerhouses of the European game, are on a run of seven matches without a victory but under new coach Brunel they produced a vastly-improved defensive performance against Ireland, stopping the visitors from crossing their try line.
Brunel, who has also drafted in centre Geoffrey Doumayrou and No 8 Marco Tauleigne, guided Italy to a 22-19 victory against Scotland at Murrayfield in 2015.
Now the 64-year-old is hoping his tweaked XV will return France to winning ways for the first time since their 20-18 victory against Wales in Paris on the final day of the 2017 Six Nations.
Scotland too hope a change in the half-backs will get them back on the victory trail.
Gregor Townsend, the Scotland coach, is banking on the returning Greig Laidlaw to rein in the sometimes wayward instincts of fly-half Finn Russell following last weekend’s dire 34-7 loss away to Wales.
Despite a slapdash display in Cardiff, Russell, who will succeed All Blacks great Dan Carter at French Top 14 side Racing 92 at the end of the season, has kept his place.
But his Glasgow colleague and flat-mate Ali Price has made way at scrum-half for 32-year-old former Scotland captain Laidlaw, who will be making his first international start since he suffered an ankle injury in the corresponding fixture 12 months ago.
Russell was outstanding as the attacking orchestrator for Scotland in a stunning 53-24 victory against Australia and narrow 22-17 defeat by world champions New Zealand in November, but he badly fluffed his lines against Wales, prompting stinging criticism from Clive Woodward.
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning coach, lambasted the 25-year-old for laughing and smiling during the pre-match national anthem, writing in his Mail on Sunday column: “He won’t be laughing and smiling when he reviews the way his team played, especially Scotland’s number ten (fly-half).”
In flinging the ball around and attempting to force Scotland’s high-tempo game when the stranglehold of the Welsh defence left them with no room in which to manoeuvre, Russell compounded his side’s problems.
Townsend, who was a similarly maverick stand-off in his own 82-cap international career, hopes the seasoned Laidlaw will have a steadying influence.
“It always helps in decision-making that he (Russell) can speak to someone on the field with that amount of experience,” Townsend said of the 59-cap Laidlaw, who joined French club Clermont from Gloucester last year. “Greig should have the right answers.”
Townsend has also recalled wing Sean Maitland, centre Pete Horne, No 8 Ryan Wilson, lock Grant Gilchrist and tighthead prop Simon Berghan.
“There are a few things we’ve put in place that should make us better this week,” he insisted. “The players have responded really well.”