Scotland come so close to stunning victory in France as mid-game drop-off costs Gregor Townsend's team dear
Gregor Townsend’s side produced a stirring fightback in the final 20 minutes after trailing 27-10 early in the second half. Tries from Duhan van der Merwe, Rory Darge and Kyle Steyn – his second of the match – brought the Scots level at 27-all but France nicked it with a late, late penalty from Thomas Ramos after Rory Sutherland had gone to ground at a scrum.
It was harsh on the visitors who had started the match brilliantly with Steyn’s first try but paid the price for a mid-game drop-off during which they conceded tries to Romain Ntamack after 31 minutes, and Damian Penaud and Charles Ollivon early in the second half. The stark stat was that France scored 24 unanswered points.
This was as tough a test as Scotland could have wished for. Fabien Galthie had picked a full strength side and the home team were backed by a noisy 42,000 crowd inside the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard where the temperature was 27 degrees at kick-off.
Scotland began brightly, scoring the opening try in the fourth minute. An early diagonal kick from Finn Russell had France in all sorts of trouble as the wonky bounce confused the home defence. Van der Merwe grabbed it and although he was halted, Cyril Baille had strayed offside, leading to a penalty inside the France 22. Scotland showed their ambition and kicked to the corner and Ritchie took clean lineout ball to set up the attack. The ball was moved out from Price to Jones to Kinghorn, the full-back gathering the bouncing ball before playing in Steyn to score.
Russell’s conversion had the Scots 7-0 up but the lead was soon cut as they failed to deal with the restart. The visitors were penalised for not releasing and Ramos knocked over the three-pointer. Scotland got a penalty of their own a couple of minutes later when France were guilty of playing the ball in the ruck and Russell opted to take the points on this occasion. It was 10-3 after ten minutes and there had hardly been time to draw breath.
The boisterous home crowd had been silenced by the Scots but soon found their voice again as Damian Penaud danced across the pitch before being stripped of the ball by George Turner. It was the cue for France to exert some control and Townsend’s team were struggling to keep a lid on it. They began to concede a string of penalties – six in the opening quarter – which led to a warning from Nic Berry, the referee.
It was all France and there was doubtless a degree of relief in the Scottish camp when they opted to kick for goal rather than continue to press for the try. Ramos duly slotted over the penalty to make it 10-6. The respite was only brief. France continued to attack and Scotland continued to concede penalties. One was taken too quickly for the visitors who hadn’t retreated the requisite 10 metres, most notably Price who tackled Dupont into touch and was shown the yellow card for his troubles.
Another warning followed from Berry to Ritchie and the concern now was that Scotland could suffer a second sin-binning. France had opted for the scrum after the latest penalty and took full advantage of their extra man to score their first try. Dupont sparked it, running hard at the Scottish defence before playing in Ntamack who finished clinically between Steyn and Kinghorn. It was the first time France had led and Ramos’ conversion made it 13-10, the lead they retained into the half-time break.
If the first half had been notable for Scotland’s stunning start, then the hosts outdid them in the second 40, scoring two tries in the opening three-and-a-half minutes. When Pierre Schoeman dropped the ball, France took full advantage, with Dupont playing in Penaud for the score. Dupont was a constant menace and set up the next one, running at Scotland before finding Ramos who played it inside to the supporting Ollivon to finish. Ramos converted both and Scotland, who had led 10-3, now found themselves 27-10 behind. The ball burst shortly afterwards and it seemed a perfect metaphor for the visitors’ travails but they showed great courage and skill to fight back to parity. France thought they’d got a fourth try but a knock-on by Ntamack, who later went off injured, was picked up by the TMO. Scotland took heart and were boosted by reinforcements from the bench, with Stuart McInally, Sutherland, Javan Sebastian, Sam Skinner and George Horne bringing much needed zeal.
Russell was seeing openings and his miss-pass found Huw Jones who hared in from 25 metres only to be stopped short of the line when he should have offloaded to Horne. Scotland quickly recycled and Skinner flung it out to van der Merwe to score in the corner. Russell couldn’t land the conversion but a few minutes later his quick tap penalty caught France napping and he was able to feed McInally. The hooker was held up at the line but Darge came steaming in to score the try. Russell’s conversion reduced France’s lead to 27-22 with about ten minutes left and Scotland had the bit between their teeth. Ollie Smith produced a try-saving tackle on Gabin Villiere and then Steyn drew Scotland level with a splendid try, made by Horne. The scrum-half’s grubber down the right touchline was perfectly judged and Steyn gathered neatly, staying just the right side of the line to score. The conversion from the corner was just too tough for Russell.
It looked like finishing in a draw until France’s late penalty after Sutherland’s scrum transgression gave them the chance to win it at the death which Ramos duly took. Scotland had one last attack and kicked a penalty to the French 22 but lost the lineout and went down to a narrow defeat.