Ally Dickinson is hoping Edinburgh’s notable record in dealings with French clubs over the past seven seasons can carry over into the RBS Six Nations Championship when Scotland begin their latest bid at the Stade de France on Saturday.
Acknowledging a huge gulf exists between the European Challenge Cup in which his Edinburgh side have beaten Bordeaux Begles (twice) and Lyon this season, and international rugby’s blue riband event, it has, nevertheless, not got unnoticed that in recent times the Capital outfit have overcome Racing Metro and Castres, both home and away, Stade Francais, Perpignan and Toulouse.
Of their last 17 encounters with French teams Edinburgh have won 11.
“There’s a massive difference from Challenge Cup to Six Nations and we can’t rest on that,” said Dickinson. “The matches have reminded us though that with the French you never know what you are going to get, you never know what team will turn up and we have to be ready.
“On their day the French side are world class and it goes to show when they put minds to it they can beat anybody comfortably. I tend to separate Edinburgh and Scotland. But you can pick up on a few French traits and guys can come in with a bit of confidence from the way Edinburgh have played in the last couple of months.”
Despite earning 39 caps Dickinson has made only two appearances against les Tricolours and the first, back in 2009, was memorable for several reasons. Firstly it was Dickinson’s first Test start after eight appearances off the bench and although normally a loose had prop what he calls a “drought” of available tight heads meant playing on the less familiar side of the scrum.
The ploy must have had benefits because although Dickinson was withdrawn after 46 minutes (for Moray Low) Scotland had reached the interval only 3-6 adrift.
“I remember being chucked in and it was a tough day at the office. I also learned that in the set pieces France are going to come at you. We will have to fight fire with fire if we are to have any chance. Our set piece went well in the Autumn so we’ve got to be confident but can’t get ahead of ourselves. We realise it will be a real grind.”
There are other reasons he relishes a return to Paris including the “crazy” hours before kick off. Recalling how visiting teams are escorted to the ground by police outriders, he said: “The French are crazy but in a great way.
“No way would it happen in Britain that police could drive along on one leg kicking cars out of the way. On the road to a great rugby stadium there is a huge buzz which adds to the excitement.”
Injuries have kept Dickinson out of the French fixture since 2010 but that has allowed him to take stock of what it means.
“You realise what you are missing when you are injured. When you are watching on television it really hits home how big the Six Nations is.
“Until game day all you see is the hotel or training pitch but when you are not involved you realise how much it means to people. That is really driven into your head.
“To play in this tournament which I had ingrained in me as a kid by my dad, Ian [a former player with Dundee University and Dundee High] is a little bit surreal. At the end of the day I am a Scottish supporter who came to Murrayfield to watch.
“When you first play it is a strange feeling to be in the arena rather than in the stands but I love it. You never get used to it. You grow more accustomed every year but it always gets harder so that you have to step up. Every time you play you treat it as if it is your last match. Hopefully this will not be my last match but I do treat it with a lot of respect.
“When I started the size and strength of the guys was nowhere near to now.
“Down in England I saw (he played with Gloucester and Sale before returning to Edinburgh last season) guys coming in who are machines – strong, fit, fast and hungry. It transfers on to the pitch. Some of the hits are pretty brutal and your body needs to get more robust.”
Now 31, the one-time rookie who arrived at Heriot’s from Dundee High to gain Premiership experience, added: “Winning would be a great start but I’m not deluded. It will be a really tough task but we have to be quietly confident recognising there is a fine line between confident and arrogance.”