Rarely has the phrase “cock-of-the-walk to feather duster” been acted out for all to see in quite such a painful manner as it was yesterday evening at Murrayfield.
Duncan Weir was the hero in Rome and for a while it looked like the young stand-off was going to repeat the feat against France after he kicked the Scots into a 61st minute lead.
It was not to be. With Scotland already leading by one point, Greig Laidlaw fluffed a long penalty on 59 minutes that proved just beyond his range. Perhaps Weir should have taken it. Two minutes later the Scots earned another opportunity, only this one was ten yards closer to the French posts and this time Weir stepped up and… missed. Perhaps Laidlaw should have taken it. Add in the fact that Weir threw the pass that Yoann Huget plucked out of the air for France’s only try and the stand-off’s fortunes had come full circle in two short weeks. Sport can be cruel.
This is hardly a vintage French team but they kept playing for the full 80 minutes and they made one late and increasingly rare foray into the Scottish 22. With the clock and a vocal, partisan crowd firmly on their side, all the Scots needed was calm heads and stout defence. What they got was a moment of madness from Tim Swinson who ignored the referee’s advice to release the tackled Frenchmen and paid the price.
Chris Pollock’s arm went up and Scottish heads and hopes fell. With the score 17-16 in Scotland’s favour, the French replacement scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain stepped up to kick the winning penalty with less than two minutes left on the clock. The French could hardly believe it and they certainly didn’t deserve it. Floodlight robbery. Scots fans will watch the replay today and still expect to win.
Things started well for the French, who were 6-0 to the good after two early penalties, but that and the final score was just about all that went right for the visitors. This is a desperately limited French side and they have just one year to sort themselves out before mounting a World Cup bid.
The Scots know what it is like to try and play without a lineout and yesterday it was France’s turn because their poor hooker Brice Mach fluffed six throws in the first half alone and he might have surpassed even that figure in the second had he not be yanked from the field on 46 minutes.
If the home side dominated the sidelines, the set scrum was more nuanced, with the French having the whip hand in the opening exchanges. Geoff Cross conceded three points at the first engagement, but the Scots improved as the match progressed until, with Ross Ford on the pitch, they even won a turnover in this key department midway through the second 40.
The Scots took a little time to match the physicality of the French in the collisions but once they were up to speed they looked comfortable and dominated long passages of this game, especially in the second half. Despite that, their two tries both arrived before the break but only after Huget had threatened to score in the early exchanges.
The Scots’ first touchdown came after just 12 minutes when Jim Hamilton earned his side an attacking position thanks to a charge down on Jules Plisson. A few plays later, with the referee playing advantage for a Scottish penalty, the Scots momentum seemed to have stalled so Stuart Hogg, standing at first reciever, hoisted the ball skywards more in hope than expectation. Alex Dunbar made a nusiance of himself when it landed and Hogg himself was first to get hands to the bobbling ball to touch down over the goal line.
Twelve minutes later the Scots enjoyed their second score when the simplest of inside passes from Matt Scott found Tommy Seymour who had come off his right wing to pop up in the midfield and wriggle his way through some half-hearted tackling to touch down in the left corner. Laidlaw’s conversions and Maxime Machenaud’s third penalty meant the Scots led 14-9 at the break.
The free-scoring game tightened up after the break, even if both teams were committed to moving the ball. It might not have been Philippe Saint-Andre’s plan A but his side needed to chase the game and there was a feeling that they wouldn’t win this one with the boot.
Sure enough, the French eventually scored a try but in the most fortunate manner possible. The Scots totally dominated every aspect of play after the break with wave upon wave of attack on an increasingly fragile French defence. It seemed only a matter of time before a try appeared and so it proved. French flyer Huget latched on to a long floating pass from Weir and sprinted the length of the field to score.
Machenaud’s conversion gave France a narrow two-point lead which was wiped out by Weir’s 61st minute penalty but it was all to no avail. With just one win over France in the entire history of the Six Nations, the Scots must wonder when they will get a better chance to improve that sorry statistic.
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Hogg, Seymour. Con: Laidlaw (2). Pen: Weir. France: Try: Huget. Con: Machenaud. Pens: Machenaud (3), Doussain.
Scotland: Hogg; Seymour, Dunbar, Scott, Lamont; Weir, Laidlaw; Grant, Lawson, Cross, R Gray, Hamilton, Beattie, Brown, Denton. Subs: Ford, M Low, Murray, Swinson, Wilson, Cusiter, Taylor, Evans.
France: Dulin; Huget, Bastareaud, Mermoz, Medard; Plisson, Machenaud; Domingo, Mach, Mas, Pape, Maestri, Vahaamahina, Lapandry, Chouly. Subs: Guitoune, Debaty, Slimani, Flanquart, Claassen, Doussain, Tales, Fickou.
Referee: C Pollock (New Zealand).