Scotland beat France in Paris for first time since 1999 in stunning injury-time finale
The 27-23 victory was not quite enough to secure their highest ever placing in the Six Nations table and fourth seemed scant reward for a campaign which included away victories at Twickenham and the Stade de France But this was a coruscating performance on a night of high drama which handed the title to Wales.
Duhan van der Merwe’s try in an extraordinarily tense injury-time period wrestled the game back from the hosts who had committed the cardinal sin of not kicking the ball out with the clock showing 80 minutes.
With both sides down to 14 men - Finn Russell saw red for a forearm to the throat of Brice Dulin while France sub Baptiste Serin was sent to the sin bin - Scotland were given a glimmer of hope. Trailing 23-20, they kicked for the corner and built the phases - 18 of them - before Adam Hastings’ long floated pass found van der Merwe and the winger stepped inside Damian Penaud to score the try. Hastings, the substitute stand-off, converted.
Van der Merwe had scored the game’s opening try and sub hooker Dave Cherry notched another in the second half - his third in two games - but France scored three of their own through Dulin, Penaud and Swan Rebbadj in a game that ebbed and flowed.
Scotland had made a confident start. Russell, in his adopted home city, looked in the mood, finding touch with an early range-finder. George Turner’s inclusion was a vote of confidence from Townsend and the hooker looked keen to repay the coach’s faith. His throwing in was accurate and he looked a threat in the loose.
But it was France who drew first blood. Ntamack’s grubber put van der Merwe in trouble in the corner of his own deadball area and he was forced into conceding the scrum by some muscular French attention.
The Scots were overpowered at the set-piece and penalised by referee Wayne Barnes, allowing Ntamack to kick France ahead.
The next 15 minutes were all about the visitors.
Russell set up a decent attacking platform by kicking a penalty to touch five metres from the French line and Scotland sniffed a try opportunity. Another lineout saw another surge from Turner. When he was stopped, van der Merwe stepped in with a pick and drive which took him over the line at the second attempt. The try was awarded despite the suggestion of a double movement.
Russell’s conversion put the Scots 7-3 ahead and the stand-off extended the lead with a penalty shortly afterwards after great work from Jamie Ritchie at the breakdown.
The home side looked stung but another scrum penalty afforded Ntamack the opportunity to reduce the deficit and his kick from all of 44 metres was straight and true.
Scotland were starting to creak and their bad habit of conceding multiple penalties reared its ugly head. It was one after another and forced Barnes to warn the Scots that the next one would mean a yellow card.
He duly made good on his promise but not before France scored the try their pressure deserved. With five minutes of the half remaining, Gregory Alldritt picked out the scrum, and gave the ball to Dupont. The scrum-half’s looping pass found Penaud and the winger stepped inside van der Merwe far too easily before passing inside to Dulin for the score.
Ntamack converted from the corner to put France 13-10 ahead.
The Scots were clinging on and Hogg was sent to the bin for being off his feet at the breakdown but the visitors somehow managed to keep France at bay and went in at the break three points adrift.
But the home side didn’t have long to wait for their second try and it was a thing of beauty. Virimi Vakatawa delivered a superb one-handed pass to Penaud and the winger’s chip and chase was perfection as he left Price in his slipstream to ground the ball.
Barnes would have awarded a penalty try if Penaud hadn’t grounded it and Fabien Galthie probably wished he had when Ntamack missed the conversion.
Hogg rejoined the fray and Scotland reduced the deficit to 18-13 with a Russell penalty.
The return of their captain seemed to have a galvanising effect on the visitors and Sam Johnson stirred memories of Twickenham 2019 with a superb surging run but the combined efforts of the French defence stopped him short.
But this was a good spell for Scotland and they showed their ambition but eschewing kickable penalties, preferring instead to put their trust in the lineout. It paid off with a try from substitute hooker Cherry.
It looked a little messy but the Edinburgh No 2 showed great alertness. Scotland seemed to have lost the ball from the lineout maul when Rebbadj ripped it away but it bounced off Zander Fagerson’s back and Cherry collected and dived through for the try.
Russell’s conversion put Scotland 20-18 ahead at the midway point of the second half but Rebbadj hit back within minutes, plunging over as the Scottish defence was stretched to breaking point.
Ntamack’s missed conversion gave Scotland hope and they continued to kick for the corner rather go for the posts as they chased the try to win the game.
The loss of Russell looked to have ended their chances but then came the impossibly dramatic finale.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.