France 27 - 10 Scotland: Makeshift Scots fall short again in Paris
Bedevilled by injuries, Gregor Townsend’s men now face a fierce fight to salvage anything more than that opening-day win over Italy from this year’s tournament following a torrid afternoon in the French capital.
The fear that Jacques Brunel’s under-pressure side would come out “all guns blazing” was realised but Scotland contributed to their own downfall with another poor away performance. Hesitant and slipshod, the visitors were duly punished by a home side who secured a bonus point in added time.
France’s recent troubles were not reflected in a typically passionate rendering of La Marseillaise as Romain Ntamack kicked off with the pitch shadowed from the warm Parisian sunshine by the steep slopes of the vast bowl that is the Stade de France.
After gaining a penalty from the kick-off, Scotland made a mess of their first lineout and the French in their all-white change strip dominated the early exchanges.
Blair Kinghorn appeared to have dealt routinely with a kick through into the Scottish 22 but, when the ball was stripped from his grasp, trouble was brewing and the French surged to the line before right wing Damian Penaud flopped over in the corner.
To the fury of the home crowd it went to TMO and, while there was nothing wrong with Penaud’s finish, there was incandescence when it was chalked off for a definite knock on by scrum-half Antoine Dupont at the base of the ruck moments before.
The let off didn’t last long as the sight every Scottish fan didn’t want to see unfolded - France’s young guns cutting loose and ripping the opposition to pieces with a thrilling counter attack try to well and truly get the Gallic mojo back.
Peter Horne’s speculative left boot into the home 22 was gathered by full-back Thomas Ramos, who slalomed his way to halfway and released Penaud. A pass inside saw Dupont make a lethal incision and, when the ball was recycled France had an embarrassment of numbers out left but only needed Ntamack to get over the line.
Ramos converted and then added a penalty soon after as the Scots, like so many sides in dark blue have in Paris before, struggled to cope with the fire and tempo of a French side in full flow.
That needed to be stemmed and quick. Things continued to go wrong, however, as a Greig Laidlaw penalty after Peter Horne’s neat break had put the Scots on the front foot in the home 22, came back off the post.
The skipper got a second, more straightforward, chance five minutes later and made no mistake as he moved into second place on the all-time Scotland pointscorers list.
The penalties continued to come as the Scots settled and the next one had the bonus of a yellow card as experienced wing Yoann Huget was guilty of an outrageous offside.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, the home side continued to look dangerous. A second France try was ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on by Louis Picamoles after Horne’s failure to take a high ball led to Ntamack’s gorgeous chip being gathered by Gael Fickou to go under the posts.
After being worked over by the mammoth French scrum, Ramos then missed a fairly easy penalty and, as Huget returned, somehow the Scots were still within just one converted score.
Scotland headed into the break knowing that a malfunctioning setpiece and slack ball management had to be sharpened up considerably in the second half.
Instead, it couldn’t have started any worse. France picked things up straight away and an incongruously delicate piece of skill from the hulking Mathieu Bastareaud as he chipped over the defence and collected, opened the visitors, and Huget cut in down the left.
Ramos missed the conversion and Horne was temporarily replaced for treatment, Adam Hastings remaining at stand-off when the former returned to slot in at centre in place of Sam Johnson.
Sean Maitland made a brilliant incursion onto the right wing for one of most direct attacks but he was hauled down short and the French mopped up.
Scotland continued to look edgy, vulnerable and were clinging on by their fingertips as Townsend emptied his bench in the 65th minute.
It sparked some life, Hastings almost breaking through at one point, but it continued to be a one step forward, two steps back afternoon of toil as mistakes and frustrating inaccuracies continued to blight.
The French knew this bout was sewn up on points as it headed towards the final bell but landed the knockout blow anyway as sub Gregory Alldritt crashed over after another dominant home scrum.
Replacement scrum-half Ali Price scurried over for what couldn’t be dismissed as mere consolation as it did give the Scots a shot at the losing bonus point in the final two minutes.
Instead it was the French, enjoying themselves far too much to kick dead when the clock went red and in search of a try bonus themselves, who finished on the charge and Alldritt barrelled over from another scrum, Anthony Belleau converted, for a final score that Scotland could have no complaints about.