SCOTLAND have a new coach but it was a depressingly familiar result in Paris. The Scots scored the only try of the game, displayed great spirit and no little skill, only to be out-muscled by a powerful French squad who made full use of their bench. Stand-off Camile Lopez did the damage, aided by Scots’ indiscipline, kicking five of his six penalties.
France kicked off and France kicked on, the home side on the score board as early as the second minute after Scotland were penalised for holding on at the breakdown, Blair Cowan the guilty party. Lopez kicked that early attempt, helped in off the post, and added another couple in the first 40 when the Scots were lured offside. Greig Laidlaw replied in kind with three points when the visitors won a rare kick at goal.
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The Scots had an early chance for more points but Stuart Hogg’s effort flew wide from just two metres inside his own half and Laidlaw might have been better advised to go for the corner.
The cat-and-mouse kicking game doesn’t suit either side’s psyche and, sure enough, the match soon opened out, with chances going begging at both ends of the field.
Teddy Thomas popped up in the midfield where he linked beautifully with Wesley Fofana, a little reverse flip out the back of his hand, to spread some panic in the Scottish ranks. On another occasion, Rory Kockott got away down the left flank and chipped ahead just as Alasdair Dickinson’s tackle came in. The crowd roared for a penalty but the referee waved play on.
The Scots had their chances, too, and many of them came courtesy of Stuart Hogg, who enjoyed one of his most effective days in a Scotland shirt despite the odd error with the boot. The nimble-footed full-back stepped his way between two lumbering front-five forwards and the Scots laid siege to the French line. After several attempts to score failed the Scots lost patience and Finn
Russell sent a drop goal wide.
As half time loomed, Hogg and Tim Visser combined beautifully up the left flank. A little later Mark Bennett took out two defenders before popping the ball to Hogg, who was hauled down just short of the line, and this time the Scots showed the cool heads needed to turn pressure into points.
Alex Dunbar had a charge at the line, as did Visser but, when the ball was moved to the right, with players lining up outside him, Cowan took contact. The opportunity seemed to have gone but, several plays later, the Scots again had a huge overlap on the right and, this time, the ball sped its way to Dougie Fife, on the field for Tommy Seymour, via Bennett and Euan Murray, no less, for the first try of the game with the last play of the half. France only maintained a slender advantage at the break because Laidlaw’s touchline conversion bounced back off the woodwork, but France were obviously every bit as rattled as the post.
If Fife was the hero of the first half, the leggy winger’s first contribution to the second was not so clever. Lopez put in a harmless cross-field chip kick that was bound for touch but Fife caught the ball and carried it over the try line. Angry with himself he threw the ball away, referee Nigel Owens blew his whistle and Lopez slotted his fourth penalty without much ado.
The usual raft of substitutions around the hour mark seemed to favour France more than Scotland, especially when Rob Harley was replaced by Alasdair Strokosch, only to reappear exactly one minute later when Cowan was injured.
Now it was France’s turn to lay siege to the Scottish line, thanks to more indiscipline. With an entirely new front row on the field, France won a penalty at a five-metre scrum and Lopez hit the post again but this one stayed out. As the match entered the final quarter, the wind was in the French sails and their bench was making their physical presence felt. The mis-match became worse when Johnnie Beattie was sin-binned on 62 minutes for pulling down a French maul marching towards the Scottish line.
Three times in quick succession the Scots had to man the battlements and somehow they kept the French marching maul at bay. Ross Ford won a crucial turnover and Dunbar made a try-saving tackle on Lopez who was flying up the left wing. Visser went for the interception and missed, Yoann Huget went for the Scots try line and Bennett somehow dislodged the ball.
It was frantic stuff but the French enjoyed the last laugh when Lopez kicked his fifth penalty after the Scots conceded another penalty in their own half while attempting to run the ball from deep.
Scorers: Pen: 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), Benn ett, 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.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU). Attendance: 80,000.