France keen to avoid favourites tag

France have played down their billing as favourites to win the RBS 6 Nations ahead of this weekend's opening match against Scotland at Murrayfield. [more]

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France have played down their billing as favourites to win the RBS 6 Nations ahead of this weekend’s opening match against Scotland at Murrayfield.

Les Bleus, who won the Grand Slam in 2002 and 2004 before finishing second to Wales in last season’s competition, have built up a head of steam after beating Australia, Canada, Tonga and South Africa in their November Test matches.

Those victories, combined with a favourable draw which sees them play just two away games – against the Scots and Welsh – in the 2006 RBS 6 Nations, have led the French to be installed as front-runners to be crowned Europe’s leading side again.

However, team manager Jo Maso insists France are not thinking that way and are focused only on making a winning start to the competition against Scotland.

"The British consider us to be favourites this year and we are lucky in terms of the schedule since we welcome Ireland, Italy and England, but we will have to start by winning in Scotland,’ Maso said in L’Equipe.

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Captain Fabien Pelous has also paid little attention to the favourites tag.

"This does not mean much,’ he said. ‘Last year the only match we lost was at the Stade de France against Wales.

"Who could have guessed we would fail? Who could have guessed as well that the Welsh would win the Grand Slam?

"As far as I am concerned I believe that Scotland have progressed a lot, that England are getting rejuvenated, that Wales will be a tough side to face and that Italy, with the arrival of Pierre Berbizier as coach, will not be easy either."

Pelous is set to make his return to the French starting line-up when coach Bernard Laporte names his side for Sunday’s game against Scotland on Tuesday.

The Toulouse lock was banned for nine weeks last November after elbowing Australian hooker Brendan Cannon during Les Bleus’ 26-16 victory over the Wallabies and missed France’s final three matches of the year.

Pelous is looking forward to the match against Scotland as he embarks on his 11th edition of the Five/Six Nations.

‘The excitement is different every time,’ he said.

‘The best part is that you play a new competition where there are five matches to win with a huge degree of uncertainty.’

Laporte has just one injury concern ahead of Tuesday’s team announcement with a question mark surrounding the fitness of fly-half Frederic Michalak.

‘I injured myself again in my right groin,’ Michalak explained. ‘I am annoyed because this has been a niggling injury for a while.’

Should the experienced playmaker fail to make it then Laporte could give the nod to newcomer Benjamin Boyer from Bourgoin.

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