SCOTLAND pulled off the great escape in extraordinary circumstances at Gala last night to put one hand on the European Championship.
The Bravehearts will win the title for the first time on their 20th anniversary as long as Ireland do not beat Wales by at least 41 points in Wrexham on Sunday afternoon.
That is unlikely, but then so was this.
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Trailing 38-6 at half-time to a magnificent France, Scotland were shell-shocked and the dream looked over.
They still needed two converted tries going into the last ten minutes. To the delight of a packed Netherdale, they did it. The Walker twins, Jonathan and Adam, both scoring to become heroes on a night when the home team had looked like blowing it. Needing to avoid a defeat by 18 points, everyone at Gala expected them to do it. Instead, the dream turned into a first-half nightmare as France raced in seven tries.
Scotland were off to a fine start when loose forward Ben Kavanagh barged over from close range following a penalty after two minutes, Danny Brough adding the conversion. Kavanagh’s opposite number thought he had scored for France, but Eloi Pelissier’s pass was deemed forward.
Remy Marginet showed tremendous pace to beat Ben Hellewell to Theo Fages’ adventurous kick and touch down, Marginet drawing France level with the conversion.
The visitors went ahead two minutes later, Fages sending a pass for Jason Baitieri to crash over. Marginet made it 12-6.
It was soon 16-6, Tony Gigot combining with Mathias Pala to send Marginet racing clear from halfway.
The pain continued at the next attack, hooker Pelissier darting over from close range. Pelissier slipped a tackle and put Marginet in for his hat-trick, Scotland reeling from the whirlwind of Gallic speed and fine handling.
Having been humiliated by Ireland and struggled to see off Wales, France’s Super League stars were in the mood to show their class in a flawless first-half display.
The Bravehearts didn’t give themselves a chance with reckless offloads handing over possession, France capitalising through Aurelien Decarnin on the right wing.
Needing to score the next two tries, it was no surprise the men in a Halloween special lime green kit had the better of the second half.
Teenager Harvey Burnett came on for his debut on the right wing and did well go take Brough’s towering bomb but Corbyn Kilday couldn’t turn it into points.
Scotland put a rare passage together midway through the second half and looked like scoring on the left only for Fages to force a hurried pass from Joe Wardle.
Scotland finally got the crowd going when Danny Addy broke the line and Ben Hellewell raced away to score in the corner, Brough unable to convert from the touch line.
Adam Walker made the last seven minutes exciting when he plundered a try with four Frenchmen on him, meaning a converted try would do it.
Brother Jonathan was the man to do it. Blasting through with three minutes left, Brough converted – just – and Scotland saw the clock wind down to celebrate a remarkable defeat that could well see them become that rarity – a Scotland side to lifting a major trophy.
Scotland coach Steve McCormack said: “At half time we told a few home truths. That wasn’t the Scotland way in the first half, but credit to France, everything they did was good.
“The second half I thought was sensational”.
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