Scotland produce stunning second-half comeback to defeat France at Murrayfield - but win comes at cost
Trailing 21-3 at half-time, and then reduced to 14 men due to Zander Fagerson’s red card, the Scots played with great skill and courage to rescue what looked like a lost cause. Tries from Darcy Graham, Pierre Schoeman and Dave Cherry turned the game around, with the home side withstanding a late French onslaught to win 25-21.
The victory came at a cost. Fagerson, an automatic pick at tighthead prop, will now face a disciplinary hearing. The fear for Scotland is that any ban could include their Rugby World Cup opener against South Africa in Marseille on September 10. There is also worry around Ben White after the scrum-half hobbled off on 30 minutes with an ankle injury.The fate of both players will be of concern to Gregor Townsend but the coach can take heart from the performance against the World Cup hosts which was Scotland's biggest ever comeback win. With the tournament a little over a month away, this was the sort of morale-boosting performance that will lift the squad who face the same opponents in Saint-Etienne next weekend.
On the occasion of his 70th cap, Finn Russell led Scotland to a win which owed much to the stand-off's own second-half performance after a poor first 40 from the hosts. Townsend had stressed the importance of starting well after Scotland’s failure to do so in Paris in the Six Nations and they responded by taking advantage of some early scrum problems for France. Demba Bamba was the culprit and Russell kicked the resultant penalty. That was as good as it got for the Scots in a difficult first half in which they conceded three converted tries and lost their first-choice scrum-half to a serious looking injury. White had been caught in the face by Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s swinging arm after 16 minutes but when he limped off 14 minutes later it seemed to be his ankle that was the problem. Either way, it was a worrying sight with the World Cup just five weeks away.
He was replaced by George Horne, who was soon involved in what was Scotland’s best move of the half, linking up with Hamish Watson and Duhan van der Merwe after a break by Huw Jones. Van der Merwe finished with his usual aplomb only for the try to be chalked off because Kinghorn’s pass to Jones in the build-up had gone forward.
Scotland were already 14-3 down by that point and things got worse just before the interval as Cameron Woki burrowed over after a period of French pressure. This was supposed to be an experimental France team but you wouldn’t have known it. The understudies were seizing their chance and were heavily involved in the first two tries. Antoine Dupont was a noticeable absentee in the visitors’ 23 but Baptiste Couilloud stepped up at scrum-half to score the first. A long kick by White was gathered by France who launched a devastating counter-attack. They were too quick in thought and deed, with debutant Emilien Gailleton flying down the right wing before passing to fellow new boy Bielle-Biarrey, who fed Mathieu Jalibert, who in turn played in Couillard for a superb try.
Bielle-Biarrey got the second himself. It started with a scrum and from a second-phase maul Jalibert played in the Bordeaux winger who shaped to pass but then darted into the gap between Watson and Kinghorn to score. With Jalibert converting all three French tries the lead at half-time was 21-3.
Scotland needed a spark and it was Russell and Graham who provided it. They began the second half with purpose and when the stand-off cross-kicked to the corner Graham still had plenty to do but showed great anticipation and appetite to get in ahead of France winger Ethan Dumortier to score in the corner. Referee Ben O’Keeffe wasn’t sure but TMO Ben Whitehouse confirmed that Graham had got his left-hand to the ball first. Russell converted impressively from the corner and Murrayfield was suddenly re-energised.
The next five minutes saw the old stadium in ferment. Zander Fagerson caught France hooker Pierre Bourgarit high at a ruck and a little bit of disciplinary history followed. O’Keeffe referred the incident to the ‘Foul Play Review Officer’, situated within a so-called bunker, which meant Fagerson had to leave the field as if it were a yellow card. The twist in the tale was that it could be upgraded to red if the FPRO thought it worthy of such. That’s exactly what happened, leaving Scotland with 14 men for the final half hour. “High degree of danger, no mitigation” was the verdict. Scotland didn’t seem unduly concerned and, in the time it took for the card colour to change, they scored their second try. The forwards started it, then Graham took the ball on before Schoeman finished it off, using all his strength to force his way over. Russell’s conversion brought them to within four points of the French and not even Fagerson’s dismissal could subdue the home crowd.
Scotland were rampant and thought they had scored a third try in the 60th minute but Kinghorn’s effort was chalked off for a knock-on earlier in the move by Graham. They weren’t to be denied, and three minutes later Dave Cherry, on for Ewan Ashman, finished off a lineout drive which was all the more impressive given the Scots’ numerical disadvantage in the pack. Russell’s conversion attempt from the right touchline struck the post but Scotland were 22-21 ahead with around 15 minutes to play. Russell increased the advantage to 25-21 with his second penalty of the afternoon after Horne had been blocked at a ruck to set up a grandstand finish.
France came storming back and Scotland had to defend desperately in the final minutes, but did just that to pull off a famous victory.