Tommy Seymour looks on the fact Scotland haven’t won at the Stade de France for 18 years as an “opportunity” rather than anything to be weighed down by as Vern Cotter’s side look to shake another monkey off their backs.
After ending the 11-year wait for an opening win in the Six Nations with last weekend’s fantastic win over Ireland, the Scots now target ending a winless run in Paris that has lingered since the Five Nations-winning legends of 1999, which the current squad has been frequently likened to.
The truth is that this is more than an 18-year hoodoo, of course, with only four wins recorded in the French capital in the past half century but the wing sees no reason why the players should feel burdened by that, and is relishing Sunday’s match.
“I use it as motivation and look at the fact that we haven’t won there since 1999 as an opportunity,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s actually exciting for us rather than something we have to overcome. It’s an exciting possibility for everyone in this squad to go out and do something which hasn’t been done in a long period of time.”
Scotland have performed well on their previous two visits to the Stade de France, with Seymour playing in both the 2015 Six Nations game, in which Dougie Fife scored the only try in a 15-8 defeat, and the World Cup warm-up a few months later in which the Scots spurned a draw-securing penalty in front of the posts in the dying stages and went down 19-16. “We’ve had some very hard fought losses recently over there, so before last year’s Six Nations when we played them at home we wanted to claim a win over them because of how close the previous fixtures had been,” said Seymour, who recently signed a new two-year contract with Glasgow Warriors.
“We’ve played very well in Paris in recent years and had very close games with them, but they’re a different side than what we’ve faced in some of the previous years and they look incredibly strong.
“They’re one of the strongest sides in the Six Nations, certainly in an attacking sense because they’ve got threats all over the park. They play from absolutely everywhere and their elusiveness is especially devastating so we have to be on top form.
“But we’ve got confidence against France certainly, although when it comes to playing at their stadium it’s a big motivator for them.”
Seymour’s coach at Glasgow and future one at Scotland played a big part in that 1999 epic, of course, with Gregor Townsend completing his run of scoring in every match of the championship with one of the incredible five tries the rampant Scots ran in during a remarkable first half.
“Obviously, inspiration can be taken. You want to remember the good times,” said Seymour. “You want to remember the times that your nation has done something they should be proud of, but it is a completely different group of players. There is such a gap.
“It’s not the case even of three or four years ago where there are slight things you can look at. We can’t review the ’99 game and say, what did they do here at how did it work.
“But you want to look at those occasions. More for us it’s a nice motivator because they went out and did something that’s incredibly hard to do. You look at what they were able to achieve, what they get out of it, how they inspired a nation – and wouldn’t it be great if we could replicate that?”
If selected when Cotter names his team today, Seymour will be keen to add to the 14 tries he has already scored in his 32 caps so far but is equally focused on defence, with France’s back three of full-back Scott Spedding and Fijian-born wingers Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa just as dangerous to Scotland’s prospects as the monster pack they will field on Sunday.
“You’ve got to be very wary,” said Seymour. “They are very good with the ball. Having played with Leone Nakarawa and Niko [Matawala] and people like that at club level, these guys have similar abilities in terms of being able to get the ball out the back of the hand or suck guys in and manage to get the offload away. You have to be mindful of how much space you give them.”
That said, Seymour believes if France start offloading and playing off the cuff, it will give Scotland opportunities to counter-attack. “We have looked at things and we will identify things that we want to try to exploit,” said the Nashville-born wing. “We certainly don’t want to kick down the throats of Vakatawa and Nakaitaci.
“Scott Spedding played incredibly well against England last weekend. They want to be coming onto the ball at pace, they want the ball in front of them.
“We’ve got to be very smart about how we operate around them. We’ll be looking to identify areas where we can avoid them getting the ball on their terms.”