Scotland verdict: Cruel end against France but hosts will rue missed opportunity - they should have won this Six Nations match
Sport at the highest level can be cruel, as was demonstrated vividly by the manner of Scotland’s defeat at Murrayfield. Thinking they had scored a famous Six Nations victory over France, the Scots were denied in the most agonising fashion when a last-minute TMO decision went against them.
The clock was in the red as a cluster of players in dark blue swarmed over the line and it looked as if Sam Skinner had grounded the ball but, after repeated replays and an agonising wait for the 67,000 supporters inside the old ground, the try was not given. Nic Berry, the match referee, felt he couldn’t award the score and, after a lengthy consultation with Brian MacNeice, the television match official agreed. "There is no conclusive evidence to overturn my original decision,” said Berry. It meant the visitors held on to win 20-16, leaving the Scotland players looking slightly dazed.
France had only moved into the lead in the 72nd minute but their timing proved spot on as they collected their first points of this year's championship and atoned for last week's mauling by Ireland in Marseille.
Scotland, who picked up a losing bonus point, had controlled the first half but led only 13-10 at the break. Ben White's try, converted by Finn Russell, and two penalties from the stand-off were scant reward for their dominance and they will rue a period of pressure just before the interval during which they failed to add more points.
France stayed in touch with a try from Gael Fickou and five points from the boot of Thomas Ramos but had prop Uini Antonio sin-binned for a no-arms tackle on Matt Fagerson. In truth, they were lucky to escape with only one yellow card given the number of offside offences.
Russell extended Scotland's lead to 16-10 at the mid-point of the second half but a piece of brilliance from young France wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey turned the game. He chipped ahead then collected before outpacing everyone to score. Ramos converted then added a penalty to make it 20-16 before the nerve-wracking finale.
Scotland, who opened their campaign with a win over Wales in Cardiff, will view it as a missed opportunity. They could and should have won this match. The result ends any hope of their first Grand Slam for 34 years and they must now regroup for the visit of England in a fortnight’s time.
They were forced into a change before kick-off when Kyle Steyn left the squad to be with his wife who had gone into labour. Harry Paterson, the young Edinburgh full-back, came in for his debut, with Kyle Rowe moving from 15 to the wing. Paterson, who has played only eight times for Edinburgh, acquitted himself well although he looked a little out of position as Bielle-Biarrey raced through for his try.
Scotland defended impressively for the most part and curbed the penalty count that had spiralled out of control in Cardiff. They also kicked well and dominated the lineout which will make the outcome all the more galling for Gregor Townsend.
After a cagey start Scotland burst into life with a superb team try, started and finished by White. The scrum-half got things going with a box kick before the Scots backline showed slick handling to move the ball from Russell to Sione Tuipulotu to Duhan van der Merwe to Paterson to Huw Jones who played in White for a score which had the home supporters on their feet. Russell converted but France came straight back with a surging run from Ramos. Grant Gilchrist was deemed offside and Ramos’ penalty made it 7-3.
The visitors looked reinvigorated and it took a triple intervention from Van der Merwe to deny them a try. First the winger stopped Fickou in his tracks with a vital tackle; he then intercepted an offload before clearing the danger with a perfectly judged kick up the touchline.
Scotland were kicking well and White thought he’d nabbed his second try after a quick tap penalty. But the scrum-half was too quick for referee Berry who called play back. Russell went for goal this time, taking the easy three points to move Scotland 10-3 ahead at the mid-point of the half.
France were going offside again and again, and Russell took advantage to make it 13-3 but Scotland were caught out at the restart. France won a turnover, built the pressure and had penalty advantage when Matthieu Jalibert flung it out wide for Fickou to score in the corner. Ramos’ conversion made it 13-10, an unfair reflection on Scotland given the advantage they had in terms of first-half possession and territory. They should have added more points before the break as they pummelled France. Antonio was sin-binned and they were lucky to escape a further yellow card given the number of offsides. With Antonio off, Scotland opted for scrums but they couldn’t make it count, and eventually conceded a scrum penalty.
White looked Scotland’s most likely and he went close again at the start of the second half but opposite number Maxime Lucu just got a hand to the ball before him. France made a raft of substitutions and after a lengthy period of treatment for Gregory Alldritt the captain had to go off with a knee injury. Despite this, the visitors seemed re-energised and Paterson had to be alert to deal with a kick deep into Scottish territory. The youngster coped admirably.
We had to wait until the 57th minute for the first points of the second half and it was Russell who got them, kicking his third penalty after Jalibert was offside, and not for the first time. There was then a bit of a lull and you got the impression that both teams were keeping something in reserve. There were some rumblings of discontent from the crowd and the home fans in the stands would become even more disgruntled when France moved ahead for the first time in the match.
Bielle-Biarrey, their outstanding young winger, did the damage, chipping through then collecting his own kick to score. Ramos’ conversion made it 17-16 to France and the full-back added a penalty four minutes later to make 20-16.
Scotland came surging back, with Kyle Rowe leading the charge with a late breakaway that set up a pummelling of the French line. But Skinner's effort proved not to the match officials' liking and France held on.