SCOTLAND have come close in recent years but another trip to Paris ended in another close defeat. The wait for a Six Nations victory in the French capital goes on and will now take 17 years at the very least.
The Scots had the consolation of scoring the only try of the match, a zinger from Dougie Fife with the final play of the first half.
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The winger was only on the field thanks to the hip injury that saw Tommy Seymour limp off the field in the first quarter. The Scots were just one point adrift at the break but they failed to trouble the scoreboard in a second half which the hosts dominated.
Not for the first time, the Scots were undone by their own chronic lack of discipline as they conceded 12 straight-arm penalties in all. Six of them were within range of Camille Lopez and the French stand-off made good with five of his efforts. France failed to score a try all evening but they did enough to limp across the finish line ahead of Scotland.
The only Scottish score other than Fife’s try was one penalty from the boot of Greig Laidlaw, who also hit the post with the tricky touchline conversion.
Finn Russell missed with a drop goal attempt and another long range penalty by Stuart Hogg from two metres inside his own half sailed well wide of the posts. It was a rare mistake from the Scottish full-back who was otherwise one of the best players on the field.
“It is frustration we feel but there are mixed emotions,” Hogg said in the aftermath. “The result comes first and foremost and it’s not the result we wanted. The pleasing thing is that we know where we went wrong, come Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in training we can hopefully make amends for that.
“Vern [Cotter] wants us to play an exciting brand of rugby and, hopefully, we have done that over the last wee while. We had a good autumn and we are hoping to have a good Six Nations. It’s very much about going out there and enjoying your rugby by being able to express ourselves. We have a gameplan which allows us to go out and do that – within the boundaries, obviously. The boys love that style of playing and, hopefully, that continues.”
Hogg spearheaded the Scottish attacking threat, especially in the first half when the backs had a decent supply of ball to work with. With 97 metres to his credit he carried the ball further than any player on either side and he made it count. In the second quarter he sliced the French defence wide open with some Fred Astaire footwork, never mind that the duo he slipped past, prop Rabah Slimani and lock Yohann Maestri, are not noted for their agility. A little later and Hogg was exchanging passes with Tim Visser up the left flank to come close, and again he combined with Mark Bennett, the centre doing fantastically well to offload out the tackle to set up the field position from which Fife scored the only try of the match with Euan Murray’s pass earning an assist for the front row union.
A hamstring injury has kept Hogg out of action for the past few weeks and the only conclusion to draw from Saturday’s performance is that he should pick them up more often.
“It wasn’t a problem,” he said of his injury. “I’ve had a decent couple of weeks training and I’ve enjoyed it. This performance just brings a lot of frustration but after the last few months it’s just great to be back. I love playing for Scotland so, hopefully, that showed in my performance.”
It did, and Hogg offered a lot more than he did in his last Six Nations match, not that that was a particularly high hurdle to vault. It came against Wales last year in Cardiff when a late tackle on Dan Biggar saw the Scot dismissed in the first quarter, leaving his colleagues to play short-handed for over an hour. It was not his finest moment and he had put it firmly behind him until, of course, the journalists re-opened that can of worms.
“Mistakes will happen, I prefer to move on so it’s very much gone in my mind,” said the full-back.
“I’m hoping to make amends and I’ll take each game as it comes but hopefully I can continue turning in some good performances.
“The boys are really confident [for Wales], obviously we are really disappointed with this result but we know where we went wrong. Myself and the boys are massively excited for the challenges ahead and we are very much looking forward to facing Wales at BT Murrayfield next week.
“We watched their game against England on Friday night and we know it’s going to be a tough test. But we watched them closely and we know where Wales are strong and where their weaknesses lie and hopefully on Saturday we can exploit that.”
Whether the Scots can do enough to earn Vern Cotter his opening win in the Six Nations remains to be seen, but we can be certain that Sunday’s match will be a lot closer than last year’s 51-point shellacking.
Scorers: France: Pens: Lopez (5)
Scotland: Try: Fife. Pen: Laidlaw.
France: Spedding; Huget, Bastareaud (Lamerat 72), Fofana, Thomas; Lopez, Kockott (Parra 54); Menini (Ben Arous 40), Guirado (Kayser 47), Slimani (Atonio 54), Pape (Taofifenua 61), Maestri, Dusautoir, Le Roux, Chouly.
Scotland: Hogg; Seymour (Fife 16), Bennett, Dunbar (Horne 70), Visser; Russell, Laidlaw; Dickinson (Reid 65), Ford (Brown 67), Murray (Cross 70), R Gray (Hamilton 65), J Gray, Harley (Strokosch 53), Cowan (Harley 54), Beattie.