Scotland continue to love a Six Nations drama as Harry Paterson justifies more entries on his Wikipedia page
Previously, they’d snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, a classic Scottish outcome. They’d given a team 31 points of a start only to let the greatest-ever comeback slip from their hands.
Then last weekend they thought they’d scare the living daylights out of their fans by dabbling in schizophrenia and flirting with sado-masochism. “And for my next trick … ” as conjurers are wont to say. What on earth were Scotland going to do now? Would it be magic or would they be murder?
First off, because they seem to love a drama, how about a young stripling of a full-back with only eight club games to his name being thrust in front of 67,000 for a shock debut? Kyle Steyn had dropped out of the squad with his wife going into labour but Harry Paterson in rugby terms is a babe with a Wikipedia page stretching to just three puny lines.
And mere minutes after the Princess Royal was enquiring “And what is it you do?”, there he was in his orange boots being immediately shelled by three booming French punts. And zipping passes to Finn Russell after clean grasps in the drizzle, it should be said.
The wet surface helped Ben White skite and slither over the line for the afternoon’s opening try. And who made a thrilling dart to feed Huw Jones who then set up White? Harry Paterson. Surely worth another line on Wikipedia, that.
Murrayfield would probably have taken the most modest of wins. Something like five points to nil as it was for us on New Year’s Day, 1920, or 6-0, the score in 1957, these being our most humble successes in the 114-year history of the fixture. After Cardiff the faithful were surely done with the big, improbable blockbuster finale of the team dangling themselves over the great, yawning ravine before dragging themselves to safety. Yes, modest would do. Boring, even.
But it didn’t look like being that kind of contest. The Dark Blues versus Les Bleus rarely is. Last time in a World Cup warm-up in Saint-Etienne Scotland plundered four tries and still ended up losing. Presumably after prevailing – just – against Wales, Gregor Townsend had his team all laid out on psychiatrist’s couches as he urged them: “Repeat after me: ‘I know this bloody well doesn’t feel like it but we did actually win that game.’”
And what about France? A Frenchman, invited to describe Scotland’s performance in Cardiff, might have opined: “Comme ci, comme ca.” Neither good nor bad. Or rather good and bad. But the French against Ireland had simply been bad. Because of that, Murrayfield was wary. France have had lousy spells in the past but not recently.
It’s strange watching them without Antoine Dupont. Strange and – let’s be honest and partisan – a relief. Their brilliant wing, Damian Penaud, has a profound dislike of training and all the interminable analysis that goes with rugby these days. Just give me the ball, he implores. Their brilliant centre, Gael Fickou, was halted by - who else? - Paterson. (Always loved Harry’s work). But Fickou later could not be quelled.
Rory Darge, Scotland’s joint captain, had warned about the danger France posed, especially after that opening weekend battering. Acknowledging Cardiff’s game of two halves, he said: “We have to be in every moment. Being on it for 80 minutes is more difficult than it might seem, but that’s definitely the challenge.”
Actually a perfect performance, relentless from first whistle to last, sounds plenty difficult. One elite level team versus another, it almost never happens. What is baffling is being in complete control for 40 minutes and then falling apart, but Scotland weren’t about to do that again. Their defence was tenacious virtually throughout, apart from one fatal moment.
Scotland led at the interval but it could and should have been by more. Hopefully someone checked there was no bromide in the half-time tea and they resumed with Sione Tuipulotou doing his darnedest to blast holes in the visitors’ rearguard. France survived those assaults and tested Paterson with the high ball once again. The 15 launched a thumping return and, charging after his kick, made sure his opposite number Thomas Ramos wouldn’t be going anywhere except right out of play. The Frenchman took exception to the 22-year-old’s attentions, at least until the protective Jones jumped in for his mate.
The next time France threatened it was Paterson to the rescue once more but he was powerless to prevent Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s crucial try. How the latter’s opposite number, Duhan van der Merwe, must have envied that. The two-try man from Cardiff didn’t get the chance to open his legs and show his class.
In a tight contest there were few opportunities for anyone. Lots of grunt and grind, lots of kicking, lots of compelling defensive effort from both teams. With a Ramos penalty requiring Scotland to score a try for the win they threw everything at their opponents in a valiant bid for the line in the closing minute.
Did we get the ball down? The fans were confident after the first re-run on the big screen in the North Stand and absolutely certain after the 17th. One sat directly below stood up and stretched out an arm to point to the ball as it nestled between a yellow boot and a strong Scottish arm. See? Right there! Unfortunately after fully six excruciating minutes, the referee judged that the arm wasn’t quite strong enough and the boot wasn’t quite superfluous enough.
Thus Scotland, who continue to love a drama, contriving new ones all the time, went from a win which felt like a loss to a defeat which could and maybe should have been a victory.
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