Iain Morrison gives his take after Scotland kept their Six Nations campaign alive with a battling 32-26 victory over France.
Sean Maitland’s Try... 12.45 minutes
After another sluggish start from the home team and it was Cardiff all over again! Scotland faced a 10-0 deficit inside the opening ten minutes while France had their tails up and were playing with increasing confidence. Scotland desperately needed to get themselves off the mark and into this game.
Stuart Hogg came into the line and grubbered the ball behind the French defence. It was hacked into touch by the covering Teddy Thomas, giving the home team their first attacking opportunity. The driving maul went nowhere fast and eventually splintered under pressure from the French forwards but Scotland retained possession.
The ball was moved to the left and a couple of plays later Jonny Gray bumped off French scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud. Grant Gilchrist arrived and ripped the ball off his second row partner, passed to Finn Russell who found Maitland unmarked outside him for the wing to score in the corner.
Scotland breathed a sigh of relief and so too did the fans who had been bracing themselves for a repeat of last weekend’s debacle. Even better was to follow as returning scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw nailed the touchline conversion and, from looking dead and buried, the Scots had proved to themselves that they could score tries against and compete with this French team.
Finn Russell’s kicking from hand... all match
Russell is known as a running stand-off and after this kicking performance you can understand why the Scotland stand-off prefers to keep the ball in hand. In what was always likely to be a close game Russell’s inaccuracy kicking from hand cost Scotland acres of territory and too much precious possession. In a close match such as yesterday’s it could have cost Scotland victory.
In the second half Russell missed touch from a straight arm penalty, conceding possession tamely. In the first half he kicked another penalty dead to give France the lineout and territory. When he did find the sidelines successfully on 36 minutes the crowd offered up an ironic cheer.
But it wasn’t just the penalties that Russell butchered. One kick from hand boomeranged about ten yards forward and thirty yards sideways before finishing up in the arms of France’s most dangerous runner Teddy Thomas.
Late in the first half, with a penalty advantage coming his way, Russell’s chip kick was charged down. Incidentally Stuart Hogg was also charged down from a restart although with no lasting damage. On 24 minutes Russell kicked the ball straight out in open play, again gifting France possession and territory. More than once he kicked high, but too long for anyone in white to challenge for possession.
He can be very good for Glasgow, especially with the cross-field pass kick which he didn’t try all match, but it is possible that Russell’s confidence has been dented by that Cardiff experience. The stand-off was replaced on 64 minutes by Ali Price with Laidlaw moving to ten which we had not anticipated and neither, you suspect, had Russell.
The bench and Greig Laidlaw moves to flyhalf... 58 minutes onwards
Gregor Townsend left four players unused on the subs’ bench, which is unusual, but those that did get their chance grabbed it with both hands.
Lock Ben Toolis entered the action on 58 minutes and David Denton six minutes later. The two are big athletic lumps and they carried well, bringing a lot of go-forward against a tiring French team which allowed Scotland to dominate the final quarter. By contrast French replacement eight Louis Picamoles was relatively subdued, marshalled out of the game and he fumbled one pass to turn over possession.
With Russell out of sorts and the game too close to bench Laidlaw, his best kicker off the tee, Townsend asked the little scrum-half to move to ten and threw Ali Price onto the field. It was a gamble, Laidlaw hasn’t played ten for years, but it worked well.
Price’s running game kept the French pillar and post honest and Laidlaw’s first kick from hand elicited a handy knock-on from stand-off Lionel Beauxis to gift the Scots’ promising field position.
Laidlaw kicked Scotland into the lead for the first time on 70 minutes and the same man gave his side a little breathing space with another penalty six minutes later after Denton had carried into the heart of the thin blue defensive line. Neither kick was particularly difficult but the crowd simply knew that the little Borderer would convert, and he did.
Inevitably Laidlaw won the man of the match award and he earned an ovation from the raucous Scottish fans when interviewed on the pitch at the end. Welcome back fella.