THERE is a habit in Scottish rugby, almost a tradition, of shying away from expectation and preferring to be underdogs. It is not a habit in which Sam Skinner indulges.

Not only is the second-row forward part of a Scotland squad which has won its last five matches, he is also a European Champions Cup and English Premiership winner with Exeter. He is in no doubt about the size of the challenge that will be posed by France in Sunday’s Autumn Nations Cup match at Murrayfield, but it is a challenge he is willing to meet head on, both physically and psychologically.

“Embrace the expectation,” the 25-year-old said yesterday when asked how to deal with the steadily rising enthusiasm for and belief in the national side. “If people believe and have confidence in us that’s only a good thing. We’ll take it in our stride.

“I don’t think we shy away from it and be nervous. The more expectation the better: we want to demand more of ourselves and we want to give back to the Scottish family as much as possible.”

The team certainly gave a lot back to their supporters in March, when they put in an outstanding performance to beat the French 28-17 – the only defeat suffered by Sunday’s opposition in this year’s Six Nations. Much was made of the way in which France contributed to their own downfall in that game, and clearly the first-half sending-off of prop Mohamed Haouas played a part in their demise.

But Scotland’s incessant and relentless harrying of them was also a major factor in their inability to settle and find their best form, and Skinner is sure that, eight months on, some of the lessons taken from that match remain relevant today.

“We definitely believed we could win last time round, and we backed it up,” he continued. “That’s going to be the plan this weekend: to do what we did last time and back it up. If we’re physical, if we’re aggressive, I’m sure we can get the job done.

“We did our homework before we played that game and we had a physical presence in it, particularly in defence, that obviously unsettled them. Naturally that will be our plan again, and when we get the chance to attack it’s about executing that in the right way and at the right time.

“I think that’s something we did well the last time we played them: when we got into the 22 we converted well. Most games are won in the same way aren’t they? It’s being strong in defence – and France have a lot of threats, we know that – but we’ll be looking to repeat what we did last time and then making sure that when we get our chance to attack we’ve got to be clinical in that area.”

It remains to be seen, of course, just how big a role Skinner will have in the Group B game. He came off the bench in last week’s win over Italy, as he did against France in March, but has yet to start in a Test match this year.

Being able to slot in at blindside as well as at lock gives him a versatility which may at times seem best suited for a place among the replacements, which may be why he now leans towards the latter position.

“I play in a few positions and I don’t want to be bracketed as that sort of player who is jack of all trades, master of none. I’m trying to push for the second-row position. Obviously the guys ahead of me in that position at the minute are playing really well, and there’s a lot of competition in and around all positions, really. But I’m looking to go for the second row, and all I can do is keep trying to push when I get a chance to come off the bench.”

One of the locks ahead of Skinner in the Scotland side is his Exeter team-mate Jonny Gray, while Scott Cummings has matured rapidly since being given the chance to partner his old Glasgow colleague.

But head coach Gregor Townsend has insisted that he wants to deepen his squad over the course of the tournament, and, as Scotland go for a record-equalling sixth win in a row, he has in Skinner a man who thrives on the big occasion.