France v Scotland: Could we get another monkey off our backs? Mais oui

A game billed as being played “outwith the international window” seems to come with a whiff of danger, doesn’t it? As if there might not be a referee available, as if the teams might have to relocate to an abandoned warehouse, as if the Rollerball rulebook would apply, meaning no rules at all.

Hooker George Turner at the tail of the scrum makes the break which leads to Scotland's first try.
Hooker George Turner at the tail of the scrum makes the break which leads to Scotland's first try.

But there was always going to be a rush to the gatepost of the IRB to have this one properly ratified, with the prospect of either France claiming a championship or Scotland claiming a best-ever Six Nations finish.

Or … who’s that coming over the hillside from the valleys below? Waving giant comedy leeks as if, rather than Rollerball, this was the equally lawless Jeux Sans Frontiers?

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What’s French for Jeux Sans Frontiers? Never mind, what’s Welsh for “You owe us, boyos”? In 1999 Wales’ Scott Gibbs crashed over the England tryline like a dad at a kids’ party desperate for a go on the bouncy castle before it was deflated - his glorious touchdown helping gift Scotland their last title. The Scots doing something similar would mean a 28th title for the Welsh.

The match did have a ref - Wayne Barnes - who seemed kind to Scotland with the award of the first try. It had been engineered by two runaway-bulldozer charges from George Turner, which compensated for Chris Harris twice being sacked.

This contest had needle. Postponed because of French Covid breaches - “Wafflegate” - with the new date ultimately costing Scotland the chance to field Sean Maitland. Whoever was going to impersonate Gibbs it wouldn’t be our top man under a high ball. No wonder captain Stuart Hoff declared himself “hurt”.

Not just that but “hacked off” by French anticipation of victory. Hoggy might well have gone into the game humming the old 10CC song which goes: “One night in Paris/Will wipe the smile off your pretty face.”

And this night in Paris began so well for the Scots who dominated with ferocious tackling which rattled France and at that moment you definitely wondered where their 21-point victory was coming from.

But in a first half of two halves France then turned on the power. A rash of penalties conceded by Scotland meant a try was inevitable, although it was greatly aided by Duhan van der Merwe’s fluffed tackle. Hogg might have been hacked off by that, but after the game threatened to descend into a Rollerball punch-up he’d have been more annoyed with the ten minutes he had to spend in the sin-bin. All of Wales must have been groaning at that moment.

With 14 men Scotland duly conceded another try but when the captain came back they roused themselves again, try-crazy hooker Dave Cherry diving over once more. France responded but Scotland came right back at them - it was a real slug-fest. Then Finn Russell went too far, an elbow to the neck of Brise Dulin and he was red-carded.

Advantage France? Not quite, for then they lost a man. In Cardiff and Swansea and Pontypool they could pop the corks to celebrate their title. The only question remaining in this strangest of Six Nations, with France just three points ahead, was whether Scotland could bookend the championship with magnificent away victories? Mais oui!

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