Stuart Hogg, Scotland's attacking full-back, says he doesn't miss the side playing with more freedom


To listen to Stuart Hogg, or to any other senior member of the Scotland set-up, you could be forgiven for thinking the only subject of discussion in their camp is a relentless focus on defence. The scars of their traumatic World Cup campaign run deep, and the focus now is, above all, on being hard to beat.

Under their new, defence coach, Welshman Steve Tandy, it is an obsession which has worked, with Scotland posting the most miserly defensive figures in the history of the Six Nations this year. Throw in their propensity for line-out drive tries and you have the recipe for the current run of five successive wins. If they make it six against France at Murrayfield today, it will be their longest streak since 1990.

Scotland are not, of course, the only team at Murrayfield who have undergone a defensive metamorphosis under a new defence coach fresh from Wales. Under Shaun Edwards, whose blitz defence defined Wales in the most successful period in their history, France have not conceded fewer points but their aggressive defence and subsequent ability to retrieve the ball has been key to a post-World Cup record of six wins and just one loss.

That defeat was by Scotland at Murrayfield in March, when prop Mohamed Haous’ first-half red card for punching Jamie Ritchie placed an asterisk alongside the 28-17 win, a fact that clearly irks Hogg, who prefers to focus on the team’s defence.

“I’ve read a fair bit this week about how the red card changed the game,” said the incredulous Scotland captain. “Have you ever seen a French team rattled like that before? That happened because we fronted up, got in their faces, got stuck into them. I don’t think they’d ever come across anything like that. So this time around we’ll be doing the same.”

France's Mohamed Haouas was sent off when Scotland beat Les Bleus in March 


Such is the focus on defence that it is driving selection – how else to account for Chris Harris at outside centre in place of Huw Jones – and monopolising the Scots’ focus. When Hogg was asked what Scotland need to do to make it a trio of successive wins over France, it unleashed a soliloquy about the beauty of turning defence into attack.

“We want to be tough to beat and to fight for absolutely everything that we can,” he said. “We want people to be getting off the deck and smashing lumps out of guys, going time after time after time. Teams will break down eventually. If we continue to go after them, they’ll get bored and kick us the ball. That’s what we want. Any time France kick on Sunday, we’ll see that as a little victory because they no longer want to attack.”

Hogg is merely articulating what has become Scotland’s default method of winning games. Under Townsend, what could once be characterised as “score so many tries that it’s enough to overcome your defensive frailties” has become “stop the opposition scoring by winning a breakdown penalty, kick to the corner and score a line-out drive try”. It is telling that in their past four matches, Scotland’s hookers have scored six tries.

Whether such an approach will work against a France side featuring such stellar talents as Antoine Dupont and Virimi Vakatawa in the backs, and Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt in the back row, will become apparent at Murrayfield. But it is undoubtedly the approach Scotland intend to deploy.

“Absolutely not,” said Hogg when asked whether he missed the Scotland which overwhelmed opponents by scoring tries out wide. “We’re winning Test matches and that’s what we’re here to do. France have got some world-class talent all over the field, but we know that defence will win us this game.

“We need to be getting our bodies in front and stopping offloads at every opportunity because they’ve got some unbelievable players. It’s all about us fronting up and using our defence as a real strength and a real tool.

“Defence is a mindset, an ability to really attack the opposition’s attack. A large part of the game now is turnover attack and the ability to punish teams after defending.”

The message is unmistakable: no more Mr Nice Guy, nor more plucky losers. Now to see whether it works out as planned.