Scots defend proud home record, France just want to win

The Associated Press
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Scotland's Huw Jones is tackled by Wales' Cory Hill and Ken Owens during the rugby union international match at The Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Saturday Nov. 3, 2018. (David Davies/PA via AP)

Scotland has lost at Murrayfield only once since 2016 — to the All Blacks, narrowly — and a proud home record looks set to be rattled by an improving South Africa.

Meanwhile, France has gone five tests without a win, and how long their demanding fans will keep suffering defeats could determine whether coach Jacques Brunel can mark a year in the job.

Here's a look at some of the major tests this weekend:

SCOTLAND vs SOUTH AFRICA, Edinburgh (South Africa leads 21-5, in Scotland 13-5)

Huw Jones has a tackle success rate of 85 percent this year, better than any other center in any tier one team. So they were "big mistakes," as Scotland coach Gregor Townsend noted, when the only two tackles he missed against Wales were exploited for two tries and 12 points, as Scotland lost by 11 in Cardiff at the start of the month.

Jones was dropped for the next match against Fiji last weekend, and Alex Dunbar excelled. But Dunbar was dropped for this match and Jones recalled because, Townsend said, he's fresh and been extra sharp in training.

The motivation isn't a mystery. The Wales game would have rankled, and this was the first chance Jones had to play old teammates among the Springboks.

Before Scotland discovered him, Jones played for Western Province and the Super Rugby Stormers, and was a teammate with the likes of South Africa captain Siya Kolisi, Damian de Allende, and Pieter-Steph du Toit, all of whom are playing on Saturday, too.

Tommy Seymour, Jones' Scotland and Glasgow teammate, expects him to have another big game on Saturday.

"It's so easy for everyone else to look at (the missed tackles) and go with that because that's easy," Seymour says. "But there were failings in and around what happened that had nothing to do with him and weren't his fault, that we need to correct, to put him in less problematic positions.

"Huw's played unbelievably well for Scotland, and he's had phenomenal moments to help us win games. Huw will bounce back, I have no doubt. Any votes of confidence or help he needs, he gets, because we're all aware of what he brings to the party. Shug will be absolutely fine."

— By Foster Niumata.

FRANCE vs ARGENTINA, Lille (France leads 35-1-14, in France 12-5)

Is it serious, doctor?

After conceding another last-minute defeat last weekend, the French players' morale is as low as could be.

The appointment of Brunel last December has had a limited effect, and France remains entangled in a negative spiral going into the Pumas test in Lille.

France has lost its five past matches, and losing to South Africa last weekend marked the fourth time in recent history the Tricolores have been beaten after wasting chances or cracking in money time.

In February 2017, they led until the 80th minute then lost to England 19-16. A year later, Jonathon Sexton's last-second dropped goal crucified the French in a 15-13 loss to Ireland in Brunel's first game in charge. France then lost to Wales 14-13 in a match marred by errors and wrong individual decisions.

"It has happened to us many times and hopefully it will serve as a lesson," Brunel said after losing to the Springboks in Paris.

Former international Chistophe Dominici suggests France is being hampered by a psychological weakness that its rivals exploit. Brunel admits a specific mental preparation could help his players improve.

"But I believe it can have an impact only if it's done individually," Brunel says. "Some players have already started working on this."

France has worked with psychologists in the past, with not much success. After the national squad managed just 15 wins in 38 matches, France hired a mental training and coaching guru to get ready for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Just a few months later, France was demolished by the All Blacks 62-13.

— By Samuel Petrequin.

ITALY vs AUSTRALIA, Padua (Australia leads 17-0, in Italy 9-0)

Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has received public backing from Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle despite a dire run of results.

Castle reiterated that Cheika's contract runs through to the end of the Rugby World Cup in Japan next year and "we continue to support that stance."

However, anything but a convincing victory in Italy would pile more pressure on the under-fire coach.

The Wallabies lost to Wales 9-6 last weekend in Cardiff, their eighth loss in their last 11 tests. David Pocock said afterwards just a mental edge is missing.

Australia has not lost to Italy in 17 matchups, and Italy coach Conor O'Shea isn't prepared to say that sequence is in jeopardy.

"If we start thinking this Australian side is anything other than one of the top sides in the world — they're way ahead of us in terms of rankings, they play top level rugby every week — we'd be delusional," O'Shea says.

Moreover, he's without inspirational captain Sergio Parisse again because of a calf problem. Parisse has left the squad for treatment.

Even though Italy handled Georgia last weekend, and Abraham Steyn impressed in Parisse's spot at No. 8, O'Shea hopes they stay close to Australia for as long as possible then see who breaks first.

At least, the Wallabies backline looks a tad raw.

Adam Ashley-Cooper makes his first appearance for Australia in more than two years as he targets a fourth Rugby World Cup. On the opposite wing, Jordan Petaia will debut at 18, the third-youngest in the team's history.

Jake Gordon also makes a debut at scrumhalf, and he'll be feeding Matt To'omua, who's pushed Bernard Foley to 12 for the first time in two years, and Kurtley Beale to the reserves.

— By Daniella Matar.

ENGLAND vs JAPAN, London (England leads 1-0, first match in England)

Be ruthless. Smash them. Make them pray for divine intervention. Eddie Jones hasn't held back about what he wants his England to do to his former team Japan at Twickenham.

Jones coached Japan in the previous Rugby World Cup cycle, and remains in high regard. Several of his players remain, too, and all of them grin at Jones' rhetoric as much as the coach did.

"That means he is very excited, too," wing Akihito Yamada says. "It's no problem, we just concentrate on our own game and do what we do. It's going to be a great 80 minutes."

Michael Leitch, the captain under Jones and captain, still, under Jamie Joseph, says the team have been looking forward to playing England and facing Jones since the match was scheduled 14 months ago.

Leitch even believes the Japanese will prevail.

"We're not going to go there and bow down, we are going to go out there and win it," he says.

Joseph almost thanked "master coach" Jones for sparing him from a pre-match talk.

"He's just trying to wind us up," Joseph says, adding he expected nothing less.

"I have had the pleasure and the opportunity to observe Eddie and he has welcomed me into his environments in past teams; I am really thankful to him. But we are up against him at the weekend, and all of that counts for nothing for 80 minutes.

"We are going to have to tackle them, aren't we? We have to take that from them and throw something back."

— By Foster Niumata.

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