Scotland’s club players did the nation proud last night at Millbrae in Ayr with a victory that owed much to commitment and defensive effort embellished by one superb move which showed that Scottish players can score tries with the best of them.
rench indiscipline also cost the visitors dear, but in the end the Scots did enough to win on their efforts.
Many fans were caught up in the chaos on the A77 caused by a fire aboard an articulated lorry ten miles outside Ayr. Those who pressed on arrived late but still saw a fine match in front of a 1,200 crowd.
The Scots made a bright start and Lee Millar opened the scoring with a penalty after just three minutes. Bertrand Artero equalised three minutes later and added a second penalty after ten minutes.
Play was even from then on, both sides being fairly well-matched. The Scottish back row was making its presence felt, but the French backs always looked dangerous on the break.
Millar missed a couple of penalties before Scotland took the lead after 25 minutes with the first try of the match. Fraser Harkness made the initial break and the Scots had the overlap as the ball went left for Fraser Thomson to score in the corner, Millar missing the difficult conversion. The Scottish pack’s tenacity had laid the foundations of the performance to that point, with Ayr flanker and man-of-the-match Rob Colhoun covering every blade of grass and tackling anything in blue.
The French scrum-half Paul Dubert and stand-off Julien Lavie had formed a useful partnership, but the No 10 needed nobody to help him as he blazed through the Scottish defence for an excellent solo try which Artero converted for a 13-8 lead.
The Scots had to withstand some pressure at this period of the game, but the match took on a different complexion in the minutes before half-time when France lost two men to the sin bin. Artero saw the first yellow card by referee Mateo Liperini for tackling the man without the ball, and then hooker Alban Viozelange was also binned – a case of mistaken identity, perhaps – for cynically interfering with play at a ruck.
Scotland could not make it count before the whistle, but came out fired up and ready to attack the gaps. The French defended stoutly but the Scots battered away, and after a five-metre scrum, the ball was held up out on the left wing just long enough for the forwards to arrive and captain Sean Crombie made the touchdown. Millar struck the conversion from out on the touchline.
Scotland’s next score less than four minutes later would have graced the full international tomorrow. Millar’s garryowen was chased in midfield and Dean Kelbrick pounced on a Gallic guddle to send Thomson sprinting clear. As the Melrose winger was closed down, he cleverly chipped inside with pinpoint accuracy for local hero Ross Curle to score a quite stunning try which Millar converted to put Scotland 22-13 ahead.
Harkness had been having a sound game, his speed and jinking ability causing the French problems, never more so than on the hour mark when he carved through the Federale defence and drew men offside for a penalty which Millar goaled with ease.
The French now laid siege to the Scotland line, and despite some tough last-instant tackles, a score for the visitors seemed inevitable. It duly arrived after a series of ram raids by the French pack, Viozelange bursting over to score a try which substitute Robin Janisson surprisingly failed to covert.
France were handed a man advantage for the closing minutes when substitute Richard Hawkins got himself sin-binned after two minutes on the pitch for the ‘professional’ foul of not rolling away at a ruck the French had clearly won.
The French pack promptly laid siege to the Scottish line, but the men in white tackled their hearts out, and on the stroke of full-time a knock-on gave the Scots a relieving scrummage.
Still the French attacked, and in injury time there was a moment of controversy when the ball hit the referee in flight, Liperini correctly awarding the scrum to France.
Amazingly the French delayed forming the scrum, and the referee gave Scotland the free-kick which was kicked into touch for the end of an entertaining match.
Scotland captain Sean Crombie said: “It was a physical game and we did it the hard way as usual. The French punished us a couple of times but it still feels good to have won. We have never won two games on the bounce but there’s no reason we can’t go to Ireland and win.”