WHEN Steve Tandy was unveiled as Scotland’s new defence coach last December, it hardly set pulses racing with excitement. The Welshman had been recruited from the Waratahs, who had just finished 12th out of 15 teams in the southern hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, having previously spent six unspectacular years as head coach with the Ospreys.

After the trauma of Scotland’s early World Cup exit, this, on the face of it, was hardly an appointment to raise hopes that better days might lie ahead. But 11 months is a long time in professional sport, and while fans should be wary of getting too carried away by the run of five wins on the bounce leading into this afternoon’s clash against France, there is no denying that there is a solidity to how this Scotland side operate when they do not have the ball which was conspicuously absent before.

“I just think confidence,” replied Tandy, when asked what the key difference is between the team which coughed up four tries against both Ireland and Japan during the World Cup, and the team which has conceded an average of only one try per match in seven games since then.

“When I watched the boys before I got the job, and speaking to [head coach] Gregor [Townsend], there are really good defenders in the team, they are fit and have a good appetite. They are an amazing group to work with, they train really hard and they enjoy defending.

“So, I think it is just growing a little bit of confidence, a change of stimulus, and realising how important to the game it is. The defence can benefit the attack, and Scotland are renowned for playing some really good football. Hopefully, when we defend it is an opportunity to get the ball back so we can complement our attack.

“We have a bit of fun with it too. Every day we are looking at that small detail in defence and attack, and how to get better. They are not satisfied, and I don’t think we can be, even if it was a really good Six Nations for us. Ultimately if we want to be better and really push performances on, we have to continue to drive standards and grow as we go along, which we are doing. It’s really pleasing for me as a coach.”

Scotland will face a real test of their defensive mettle this afternoon, and Tandy does not expect it to be any easier because Romain Ntamack, France’s prodigiously talented stand-off, is injured.

“Matthieau Jalibert [Ntamack’s replacement] is an unbelievable player, I’ve seen him play in Europe and he’s an outstanding footballer,” said the coach.

“Like Ntamack, he has a great kicking game, he takes the ball up to the line, and if you start focusing on one person when France have got threats right across the board, you’re on ropey ground. It’s more about how we defend as a whole and impose ourselves on the game.

“They’ve definitely grown and are genuinely one of the best teams in the world because they’ve got a bit of everything – they can off-load, they’ve got strong set-piece, they know how to win games and they’ve won big games in the Six Nations as well.

“There’s a real confidence in their team and it’s a youthful team as well. You look at the age, there’s growth in the French team and they’re building confidence in what they do.”