A rueful Hamish Watson gave France credit for maintaining their ferocious push for victory yesterday just at the moment the Scots were hoping they would run out of steam.
The Edinburgh flanker is becoming accustomed to Test match rugby – yesterday was his seventh cap and fifth on the bounce – but after the game it was clear he had found this one a particularly hard day at the office.
“That was very tough,” he grimaced. “Obviously they’ve got big players, a big pack, so it was pretty bruising. I think, when we got the ball and held on to it, we all made yards. At times, though, we would just give the ball away a bit stupidly.
“There were a lot of turnovers in the game. We didn’t look after it as well as we wanted. So, when we didn’t stick to our game plan, it didn’t go our way.”
Watson said he felt Scotland’s start to the second half, which saw them score a try through Tim Swinson after five minutes to move 16-13 ahead – it would have been 18-13 if not for Finn Russell’s perplexing conversion miss from in front of the posts – could have provided a platform for a first victory in the French capital for 18 years.
“Yes, the game was there to be won. Definitely,” said the 25-year-old.
“When Tim scored that try, I think you saw that France were there for the taking. Then, from the kick-off, we gave away the ball straight away – and they scored a penalty two minutes later. They managed to draw it level pretty quickly.
“If we had kept that lead and just exited properly, maybe got another penalty, their tails would have gone down. We could definitely have gone on and won the game.”
As the clock ticked past 70 minutes, with the scores tied 16-16, Watson sensed that France’s immense physical effort might take its toll but, rather than drop off, they actually strengthened their grip on the contest and two late Camille Lopez penalties took the game away.
“They looked like they were tiring at times. But when they get the ball, that’s when they’re dangerous – all the big forwards love that sort of stuff,” added Watson.
“If we could have kept the ball longer, they would have tired. But, in that second half, we didn’t keep the ball as we would have liked.
“Another score for us after that [Swinson] try, their heads would have dropped and that would have made them feel tired.
“The problem was, when they drew it level straight away and then went into the lead, we were trying to chase the game.
“That’s a problem. If you’re chasing the game, boys are going to try little off-loads that they didn’t need to try.
“We needed to realise it was still just a three-point game at that stage. When it got to six points, it was always going to be tough. We weren’t looking after it.”
Watson lamented the fact that Scotland couldn’t replicate the kind of composed play which led to their first try, which was finished off by Stuart Hogg, who extended his Scottish Six Nations try record to ten.
“If you look at the first try, we didn’t panic, we went through the phases, didn’t try any stupid off-loads – and then scored in the corner,” said Watson.
“In the second half, I don’t know what the exact figures are, but there were a few stupid off-loads, a few penalties over ball because we didn’t get support over the ball quick enough. We didn’t do enough to tire them out and use our backs wide.
“But we’re still in the Championship, definitely. We’ve got Wales at home, which is a huge game for us. We won our first game at home – so there’s no reason why we can’t beat Wales.”