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A big task, but not quite as big as some would have you believe . . .

As Benjamin Disraeli never quite said, there are lies, damned lies, and rugby programme statistics.

Legendary scrum-half Roy Laidlaw is flanked by Sean Lamont, left, and Scotland captain Kelly Brown at yesterday's Captain's Run at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS/SRU
Legendary scrum-half Roy Laidlaw is flanked by Sean Lamont, left, and Scotland captain Kelly Brown at yesterday's Captain's Run at Murrayfield. Picture: SNS/SRU

All the talk at Murrayfield yesterday seemed to focus on the awesome physical properties of the French forwards Scotland will face in the national stadium today, but a little background research indicated that it is the Scots who actually possess a significant advantage in that area.

Nailing down the numbers is a devilishly difficult task, but a rough trawl through various guides and handbooks suggested that the Scottish pack will actually be the heavier by between two and five kg per man. Those might not be game-breaking numbers, but they certainly give the lie to a narrative that has focused on the size and stature of French, who are not, so to speak, quite so well endowed as we have been led to believe.

Of course, you would not want to meet either Pascal Pape or Yoann Maestri up a dark Toulouse alleyway but, as the two French locks both weigh in about the 111kg mark, there is no reason to be overawed at the thought of watching them from the Murrayfield stands.

Far more cause, in fact, to gasp at the quarter-tonne of prime Scotch beef that is the Scottish second-row partnership of the 126kg Richie Gray and the 125kg Jim Hamilton.

In fairness, Scotland have produced a few galumphing giants down the years, but Castres and Montpellier saw more than height and might in Gray and Hamilton when they dangled lucrative contract offers in front of them last year. Over the past few months they have become two of the most respected forwards in France, so there is no reason to suggest that they should show their French opponents any deference at Murrayfield this afternoon.

Deference has never been Hamilton's default mode, so it was easy to suspect that he was playing that old-fashioned mind game of talking up the opposition when he looked ahead to the game yesterday.

"Everyone can see they have gone for sheer size," said Hamilton, blithely and inaccurately. "They want to bully us in the scrum, lineout and maul. We are well aware of what they are looking to do."

What France do bring, of course, is a relish for confrontation and contact. It is not quite clear whether French forwards are capable of feeling pain, but they can inflict it with almost psychotic enthusiasm.

This week's myth of the French giant rests mostly on the selection of Sebastien Vahaamahina on the blindside flank. Vahaamahina is built along similar lines to both Hamilton and Gray, but he has neither the stolidity of the former nor the raw athleticism of the latter.

On top of which, he plays mostly in the second row for Perpignan, so putting him at six suggests a certain defensive mindset on the part of coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

The Scottish lineout, so wretched in the losses to Ireland and England, was flawless against Italy in Rome.

The scrum also tightened up considerably, to the point of becoming dominant after Geoff Cross replaced Moray Low near the end of the first half. However, there is a nervousness in the Scotland camp around their vulnerability in the driving maul, an area where France have been harvesting penalties this season.

But not, according to Hamilton, on the strength of pure ability. "Technically, they are not very good," was his matter-of-fact assessment. "But sometimes mauling and scrimmaging isn't technical, it's about experience and know-how. It is coachable. Mainly, though, it is about having the will and desire, an old-school mentality to get the job done.

"There are going to be times when we need to fight fire with fire, and we have to come out on top. There will be times when they are on the front foot, but it is about us sticking in and making sure we get our roles right."

Saint-Andre roasted his players for the lack of character they showed in their 27-6 hammering by Wales in Cardiff two weeks ago. As that result followed two wins in Paris, against England and Italy, the setback renewed suspicions that the inner steel France find on home ground becomes an inner blancmange when they play away.

"In the Top 14 [the French club championship] something like eight points are between second and eighth because teams generally don't win away," Hamilton pointed out. "A lot of that is support-based.

"At home, the game is everything to you, and away it is everything to the other team. It is quite baffling. One thing is that they are quite up and down. You have the euphoria of winning at home, which is the best thing ever, while away from home rugby is the worst thing going."

If Scotland lose today, it will be their eighth successive loss to France, a record streak. Their one-point win in Italy was far less than they deserved, but France are not remotely as bad as the scale of their defeat in Cardiff suggested either. Scotland need to plant seeds of doubt in French minds early in the game and nourish them from then on. The state of the pitch probably rules out a classic contest.

It will be compelling none the less.

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