TOM Smith maybe isn’t the best person to ask whether Scotland can beat France at Murrayfield today.

“I don’t know, I never managed it,” he says.

What he does know about however, is French rugby. Inside and out. He decanted to the Dordogne a few years back, and is happy with his lot out there, coaching and living.

He is therefore, able to give a discerning perspective on what Gregor Townsend’s side might face in the capital today in their second Six Nations match of 2018.

“The French lost narrowly last week against Ireland, but only in terms of the scoreboard,” the former Scotland and Lions prop says. “From what they’ve been doing, it was an improvement, but they didn’t deserve to win the game. There were positive signs from France, mainly, they managed to stay in a contest they had no right to be in. Jonathan Sexton didn’t boss the game particularly well, but showed real balls to do what he did at the end [score a drop goal at the death].

“However, the French haven’t solved all their problems by any means. And it’s an indication of where they are – or have been – that people were reasonably happy to lose at home by such a small margin, because the performance was slightly better than what they’d previously been seeing.”

The 46-year-old expects a typical French response to that last-kick loss in Paris.

“France will just resort to type,” he says. “While everyone else is trying to play expansive rugby, they’ll load up in the scrum and have a go at our set-piece. They have kept a pretty formidable tight five, five or 10 kilos a man heavier than their Scottish counterpart, and will just hit rucks; roll and wrestle mauls. Their game plan will be very simple – keep it tight, apply pressure in the scrum, draw penalties, and kick them.

“It isn’t in their interest to play a high-tempo game. What will interest them is testing our front-line defence, our first-up tackles, which against Wales, wasn’t great. And remember, just as much as Scotland are desperate to win, so are the French.”

Smith conceded that like others, he got caught up in the wave of confidence that swelled after facing New Zealand and Australia in November.

“And suddenly we were going to Cardiff as favourites. How could we all have believed that?” says a bemused Smith, almost disappointed that he had dared to believe. “I was in the last team to win in Cardiff in 2002. The Welsh had won three Grand Slams and a championship since then, had the core of a Lions team and the Lions coach. How could we have been so confident?

“It illustrated the contrast between Six Nations Tests and Autumn ‘friendlies’. Cardiff was a wake-up call. Welcome back to the world of international rugby,” added Smith who expects a reaction versus Les Bleus.

“We are all disappointed, but there isn’t any point in throwing mud at everything. It was a bad day at the office in Cardiff – we’ve all had them.

“The damage to our chances last week were self-inflicted. We put pressure on ourselves that the Welsh hadn’t been able to exert. At the most basic level, Scotland will not defend that badly again. We will improve.

“Gregor has addressed how he’ll guarantee a level of control. OK, he wants to play with ‘organised chaos’. But being organised is key; Greig Laidlaw coming back was no surprise, and Finn [Russell] can’t be as wayward two weeks on the spin.

“Cut the errors out, do the basics defensively, we are still a good team and have enough to beat France.

“Gregor hasn’t been in this job that long. He hadn’t experienced anything like last Saturday before, but he won’t panic. He never has as a player with Scotland or with the Lions.”

And what about at Brive and Northampton? “I don’t know. He saw me coming and decided to leave pretty sharpish,” joked Smith.

While he spent eight years at Franklin’s Gardens, those couple of terms with Brive whetted the appetite for a return to France. Having previously been with Bergerac, he is now with Perigueux, who play in Federale 2. Like most French clubs of a certain vintage, they have a tale to tell, as does Smith about the mindset of those just shy of the big domestic leagues in France.

“Perigueux have a bit of a history and were quite a big team back in the day,” says Smith. A glance at their “joueurs celebres” revealing the name of the former French scrum-half Lilian Camberabero.

“But, then they had a few financial problems. So, they’ve been rebuilding and working their way back up, through the leagues. They are like a pro team. But because of those money issues they were demoted three divisions because they couldn’t pay their bills.”

Sounds vaguely familiar in a Scottish, round-ball context.

“They have all overstepped the mark at some time and got into a bit of financial trouble. It is remedied quickly however. They don’t muck about in France. They are pretty strict – in some respects – when it comes to the financial side of the game. It happened to Bergerac after they were audited and they found a £400k hole. And that was that.”

And indeed it was. Even with just schoolboy French to hand, phrases such as “downgraded administratively” and “operating deficit” stick out.

“All the clubs around here all try and compete with each other, all with aspir-ations to go higher – and that creates a mini-market, although not always sustainable. But this is like the engine room of French rugby. Every town, every village has a team, and some have become a bit neglected as all the professional rugby has drifted towards the cities. But there is a real desire to claim it back.

“The rewards if you make it are colossal. But the barriers to making that level are becoming more and more restrictive year on year. I played in Federale 1 and they were competing against clubs with bigger budgets than Glasgow and Edinburgh.”

For the layman, that would mean no change out of £6 million-plus – in the third tier of French rugby. But despite the political and money games, Smith’s French adventure is something he continues to enjoy, with no signs of him hurrying home just yet.

“It’s great here. It’s a fantastic way of life, in what is real rugby country. And the wine isn’t bad.”