France marched on to their fourth successive win in the RBS Six Nations under-20 championship by defeating a resistant Scotland side at Netherdale last night in a match that might prove to be a turning point for the developing Scottish side.
Considering what France have achieved already in the championship, with wins over England, Wales and Italy, the expectation was that they would sweep Scotland aside but, in the event, they came close to defeat to a Scotland side which defended magnificently, which scrummaged well, which was accurate in the line-out and which, with the injection of pace at half-back from replacements Gavin Lowe and Ben Vellacot, showed an attacking flair in the last quarter that bodes well for the future.
“Against a very good French side we showed we’re moving in the right direction. There are a lot of youngsters in this side, so, from a coaching point of view, this was a satisfying performance. Unfortunately, we leaked seven points in front of goal and that’s something we must address,” said U20 head coach Sean Lineen.
It was France who had the first chance at points but, at the end of a powerful piece of multi-phase play, stand-off Brandon Fajardo was wide with a drop-goal attempt. But, when the Scots were presented with an opportunity after a line-out offence by France, Ben Chalmers showed accuracy with his first kick at goal for a 3-0 lead.
France threatened to hit back immediately but good scrummaging technique by the Scotland pack engineered a successful wheel allowing the Scots to win possession.
Then, after Fajardo had missed a long-range penalty attempt, the Auch stand-off showed his running talents by supporting a break by flanker Jean-Blaise Lespinasse before outpacing the defence for a try, which he converted.
A second kick at goal by Chalmers this time went wide but, at the other end, Fajardo, at the conclusion of slick short range passing by the French backs, made no mistake with his penalty attempt to give France a 10-3 interval advantage.
Five minutes into the second half, Scotland gave away a scrum penalty in front of the posts, giving scrum half Anthony Meric, who had taken over from the substituted Fajardo, an easy kick at goal to increase the French lead to 13-3.
With confidence growing, France launched a series of attacks close to the Scotland line. The Scots defended tenaciously but eventually the power of the French forwards took its toll as prop Tommy Reynaud forced his way over.
Scotland’s forwards had shown up well in the match and it was a just reward that they claimed the next score, from a driven line-out and then a number of forceful drives at the French line that ended with a try for lock and man of the match Andy Cramond.
The Scots then produced a second score, again from a penalty line-out, but this time it was the backs who took the honours. Replacement stand-off Gavin Lowe did the damage with an accurately placed cross-kick.
Jamie Farndale gathered the ricochet and flicked a pass to Damien Hoyland for the full back to cross for his side’s second try, again unconverted. Scotland, having gained self-belief, finished strongly but they were unable to bridge the gap. But at least their performance at Netherdale signalled a new sense of promise and proof the Scots can play at this level.
Scorers: Scotland – Tries: Cramond, Hoyland. Pen: Chalmers. France – Tries: Fajardo, Reynaud. Con: Fajardo. Pens: Fajardo, Meric.
Scotland U-20: D Hoyland; J Farndale, B Hutchison, R Young, S Pequeur; B Chalmers, M McAndrew; J Cosgrove, J Malcolm, D Rae, A Cramond, L Carmichael, T Spinks, G Carroll, M Bradbury. Subs: I Miller for Malcolm (53), P Cringle for Rae (58), G Young for Carmichael (68), N Irvine-Hess for Carroll (65), B Vellacot for McAndrew (40), G Lowe for Chalmers (54).
France U-20: P Justes; K Hamdaoui, X Mignot, P Riva, L Black; B Fajardo, A Meric; O Ishchenko, F Ardiaca, T Raynaud, F Lambey, J-B Singer, J-B Lespinasse, J Thomas, F Cros.
Subs: R Ruffenach for Ardiaca (66), H Vaslin for Reynaud (58), A Iturria for Lambey (61), L Bachelier for Lespinasse (58), B Serin for Meric (61), L Meret for Fajardo (48), I Roux for Mignot (52).