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Vern Cotter wants Alex Dunbar and Josh Strauss to counter France physicality

Published 11/03/2016

Alex Dunbar is back in Scotland's starting XV
Alex Dunbar is back in Scotland's starting XV

Vern Cotter hopes to nullify France's muscular threat after recalling Alex Dunbar and Josh Strauss to his Scotland line-up.

Les Bleus have lost only one of their three RBS 6 Nations clashes so far but have been criticised for their lack of flair after new head coach Guy Noves adopted a more physical approach.

But Cotter is worried the French could punch a hole in his side's fragile confidence following their first Championship win in two years when they meet at Murrayfield on Sunday.

To combat their robust game-plan, he has handed 16-stone Dunbar a return at centre following a year of injury frustration, while South African-born number eight Strauss will add power to the pack after replacing Ryan Wilson.

Cotter said: "If you look at the French rugby culture, the first thing they talk about is physicality, winning their one-on-ones and dominating up front. We know that is what they have been talking about but we also know it's coming. We need to get ready for it.

"Josh provides a different profile. If you analyse the two [Strauss and Wilson], he has a little more carry, a little bit more power and presence in the game.

"We'd like to start well against the French and if we can keep the ball from them and stop them accessing the game the way they like, to that will be good.

"Alex has played well too. He offers something that perhaps we haven't seen until now and a change-up may cause them a few headaches preparing for the game.

"He hasn't played for a year and is very, very keen. He will bring the qualities he has and will change the way we look a little bit and the way we play.

"You can see from the way France were playing, they like to get the ball wide. They create space by doing that and if you give them space they will cut you apart. They have ball-winners and ball-carriers and it will be a tough game.

"We will need to keep them behind the advantage line as much as we can but that will be difficult to contain."

Strauss, though, insists Scotland cannot worry too much about what France are planning as they look to build on the 36-20 win over Italy in Rome a fortnight ago.

"We definitely need to focus on playing our game," said the Glasgow back-rower. "We can't get sucked into doing what the other team wants us to do.

"We have to stick to our strengths. We've got a game plan that has been building since the first game. It was just a little bit off in our first two games but worked against Italy and now we want to build on that this weekend."

Dunbar has not been seen in a dark blue jersey since rupturing knee ligaments on the eve of last year's clash with England.

His comeback was hampered by a series of niggly injuries but he has now proved both his fitness and form to Cotter with a series of impressive displays for Glasgow.

But his inclusion has come at the expense of club-mate Mark Bennett, who is surprisingly omitted entirely from Sunday's 23-man squad.

Cotter, though, believes a rest will do him good, saying: "It was always going to be tough making a choice when you've got a player like Alex coming in.

"As you can imagine, he's very excited about playing. He's had a couple of set-backs but his preparation to get himself right has been good and this is a big opportunity for him. He's looking sharp on the training field.

"We spoke to Mark during the week and spoke about the fact he hasn't had a lot of time off since coming back from injury, so this weekend is a chance for him to sit back and take stock of things before moving forward again. He's still a good player."

Scotland have not beaten France since 2006 but are now targeting their first set of back-to-back wins in the Six Nations for three years.

"They are not the type of team to get ahead of themselves," said Cotter, though. "W e are by no means the finished article. I still feel we have more to give and can become more accurate.

"But it's a great challenge to be in the situation where you have worked for a win and can then go for another."

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