When Scotland take the field against France in Paris on Saturday, it is a reasonable assumption that no aspect of their play will have been subject to greater scrutiny in opposition camps than the line-out.
By common consent it was a rejuvenated Scotland that defeated Argentina and Tonga during the Autumn as well as coming up just short against world champions New Zealand – and the cornerstone of those displays was to be found along the touchline.
Scotland won 36 of their 37 line-outs, the one conceded coming against Tonga, while Jonny and Richie Gray helped themselves to a collective 12 out of 42 opposition throws.
Continuity was key with thrower Ross Ford developing rapport with the siblings but, as the kick-off in Paris approaches, the feeling grows that the ultimate test lies ahead.
Throughout France’s Autumn campaign – wins over Fiji and Australia, a loss against Argentina – Les Tricolores relied almost exclusively on a partnership between Pascal Papé and Yoann Maestri, and they too had some notable successes.
Only one line-out was dropped against the Wallabies and Pumas who were each pressurised into losing a couple of their put-ins. Scotland’s 42-cap second row Richie Gray plies his trade week in, week out, in the French Top 14 at Castres and knows what to expect.
“We go into a Six Nations where teams will be doing a lot of analysis. They will be sharper and we will have to be sharper as well,” says Gray who is keen to share credit for successes between head coach Vern Cotter and forwards guru, Jon Humphreys. “Vern and Jon have both been very good and all the attention is how well we can do things. We are not trying to re-invent the wheel or come up with anything magical.
“We are expecting in the first 20 minutes to hear a passionate crowd and France are going to be flying out of the blocks. We will have to weather the storm, put pressure on and hopefully the crowd will be silenced.”