Iain Morrison: French thrilling in full flight but Scots tough campaign continues

I know I am probably not supposed to say this but there is something about the French in full flight that so stirs the soul of anyone who loves this game that I was almost happy to see them back to something like their best. It’s been a long time coming but just about worth the wait.
France's players react after back row Greg Alldritt scored a try. Pic: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty ImagesFrance's players react after back row Greg Alldritt scored a try. Pic: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
France's players react after back row Greg Alldritt scored a try. Pic: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

France scored four tries and had another four wiped off by the TMO, correctly by the look of things, but if one or two had stood then they might have cut loose even more. If nothing else, the home side deserved their win for the ambition and execution of their opening two tries, the second of which went the length of the field at the start of the second 40..

That final four-to-one try count flattered the French a little because this one was in the balance far longer than the score suggests.

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Even with Scotland trailing by 12 points and the match edging into the final quarter, the feeling remained that this one was there for the taking if only Scotland could up the tempo and run through the phases. Several of the French players, backs and forwards alike, where reduced to walking pace any time the phases ran into double figures and, with so many players missing, Gregor Townsend will take comfort from the fact that his side remained competitive for much of this match, in a stadium that hasn’t exactly been kind to the Scots.

The visitors carved out enough chances to make a Lazarus-like comeback but Scotland lacked composure in front of goal. Blair Kinghorn and Adam Hastings made brilliant breaks but ran out of support. Nick Grigg came close but had the ball ripped out of his hands by Yoann Huget. Zander Fagerson, in his first Test appearance for months, allowed his enthusiasm free rein, conceding a needless penalty, and Gary Graham was lucky not to do the same for a unnecessary nudge to Ntamack’s kidneys.

A sole Scottish try eventually arrived with the match already won and lost.

Peter Horne picked off Mathieu Bastareaud late in the game for Ali Price to score but it was too late to make a difference.

Scotland looked better with Hastings at ten and Horne at 12, certainly they looked more dangerous with the ball in hand because Hastings plays flat to the gain line like Finn Russell, so the outside backs can time their runs better off a like-for-like stand-off. Still the improvement must have owed something to French fatigue.

There were any number of intriguing little cameos. Jamie Richie and Damian Penaud both collecting high balls with unhurried aerial excellence. Greig Laidlaw missing a penalty kick that you’d have put your mortgage on him getting and Ramos missing just about everything. Both men managed to hit the post which you’d have got long odds against happening.

Bastareaud showed an unexpected neat touch with one little chip and chase in the build up to Huget’s second half try. And it is one of life’s unfathomable mysteries how on earth Horne managed to get back to his feet after being caught with one of the sweetest tackles you will ever see by French skipper Guilhem Guirado.

Gael Fickou was fended off by Sean Maitland on 55 minutes and it looked like the Kiwi winger might go all the way only for the French centre to show his pace, getting back to make the vital tackle.

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And there was one surreal moment in the second half when the French laid siege to the Scots’ try line and the entire Stade de France seemed to sing in unison; “Allez les Bleus, Allez les Bleus” with the visitors sporting the only blue shirts on the field..

There was another nice moment late in the game for those of a certain vintage. Hastings made a superb break after coming off the bench and he was only halted by an equally excellent tackle back from Ntamack. Two of the best young stand-offs in Europe, whose fathers faced each other more than once, at the start of what promises to be a long journey for both.

France looked good but they are a long way off the best in world rugby right now. This isn’t a turning point, more of a blip, a good afternoon at the office for which they will be immensely grateful.

All the old problems, poor conditioning and a certain cluelessness in attack after several phases of play, are all present and correct.

They should dig into those coffers and offer Joe Schmidt whatever it takes and then pay the clubs to get first dibs on the players as and when they need them.

The season has been a tough for the Scots – with Wales and England still to come it isn’t about to get any easier.

The good news is that Scotland have been competitive thus far despite that long injury list and a few names are coming back.

If they can get their best XV on the field, Scotland will be a force at the World Cup but when does that ever happen in the modern era?