Scotland Fall Short In Paris

France 32 v 21 Scotland

Scotland’s unbeaten start to the championship was ended by France after a pulsating clash in Paris. Arriving full of confidence, Scotland’s mettle was tested after the early red card of Grant Gilchrist, and they trailed 19-0 after twenty minutes, even after Mohamed Haouas’s red card had levelled the playing numbers. Scotland fought back hard, and with fifteen minutes remaining, they had edged within a score and appeared to have the French on the ropes. France held firm, however, and the ever-excellent Gael Fickou’s try in the last minute gave them a potentially vital bonus point. Scotland’s comeback was admirable, but such was their dominance of territory and possession; you felt the win was within their grasp.

France were seeking to bounce back from their bruising defeat against Ireland and soon struck the first blow. Scotland struggled to cope with the relentless physicality of France’s ball carriers, and the pressure quickly told, Romain Ntamack dotting down the game’s first try. The Scots needed to respond quickly, but they were soon reeling when Grant Gilchrist was sent off for catching Anthony Jelonch’s head with his shoulder. France promptly took advantage; Scotland were caught slacking at a ruck in their 22, the ball spilling out, and the French needed no second invitation, rapidly spreading the ball to the opposite touchline, where Ethan Dumortier scored. At 12-0 down, with fourteen men, things looked bleak for Scotland.

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However, they were soon handed a lifeline when France’s prop Mohamed Haouas was sent off for a reckless head-on head clear out on Ben White, his moment of madness levelling the playing field. Scotland started to enjoy a sustained period of possession, seeking to play with pace and width, moving the large French pack around. Scotland repeatedly turned down opportunities at goal, seeking to go for the corner, with their maul functioning well. Zander Fagerson almost got them on the board but just lost control of the ball over the line. France then landed a killer blow, Thomas Ramos picking off Finn Russell’s pass to scorch clear, Russell’s slight delay proving costly.

France’s clinical edge gave them a 19-0 lead, but Scotland refused to give in and almost scored through Duhan van der Merwe, the winger just muscled into touch. Scotland’s pressure finally paid off, with Huw Jones picking a fantastic line from Russell’s flat pass to dive in under the posts after Scotland’s drive had sucked in the French defence. France enjoyed a brief spell of possession afterwards, able to make easy yards when going through the phases, Scotland’s defence struggling to cope, constantly backpedalling. Romain Ntamack botched a surprise drop goal attempt, but Ramos slotted a penalty soon after to give them a 22-7 lead at halftime.

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Scotland flew out the blocks in the second half, their forwards carrying with greater intensity, pushing the French defenders backwards. They soon had their second try, Huw Jones finishing an attack he had started with a busting run into the French 22, dragging Scotland within eight points. Russell’s kicking game started to pen the French back, but some over-ambitious offloading gifted France a scrum from which they nearly scored. After a typically busting run from Penaud, they roared into the 22, eventually spreading the ball wide where Ben White did superbly well to hold up Durmortier over the line. Ramos did extend their lead a couple of minutes later with a penalty as the game headed into the final twenty minutes.

Russell’s influence was starting to grow, and a typically clever chip in behind gave Scotland a 5-metre scrum, providing a perfect attacking opportunity. Russell made sure it wasn’t wasted; Scotland’s power at the scrum gave them a free play, with Russell sliding in between two defenders to score, and after converting his try, Scotland were only four points behind. With ten minutes remaining, the momentum was firmly with Scotland, but France finally gained some territory, denying the Scots the chance to attack. Scotland’s hopes disappeared when Fraser Brown overthrew a line out on the halfway line. Forced to go from their own line in the final minutes, the Scots conceded a penalty, which led to Gael Fickou’s try and gave France the bonus point.

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Gregor Townsend described Scotland’s effort as their “best performance of the season”, but there will be a lingering sense of disappointment. Scotland had swathes of territory and possession, and if they executed their chances, they likely would have won. Crucially, Scotland made 17 handling errors, often curtailing promising attacks. However, they deserve huge credit for their comeback and continued willingness to play; there’s admirable confidence in this Scotland side, exemplified by their repeated decision to turn down three points. Special mention must go to Huw Jones, who has been a revelation since his return to the side and caused France multiple problems all afternoon. Scotland welcome Ireland next, a game they must win to keep their title hopes alive.

For France, the win keeps their title hopes alive, with Fickou’s try at the death giving them a potentially vital bonus point. France’s clinical edge ultimately won them the match, ruthlessly exploiting their first-half attacking opportunities, leaving Scotland always chasing the game. It wasn’t France at their sparkling best, but they showed their character in the second half, hanging on when it looked like Scotland might steal the game. France have yet to produce an eighty-minute performance yet in the championship, and Head Coach Fabien Galthié will be particularly concerned with the drop-off in their second-half performances. They face a trip to Twickenham next, where they have a wretched record, their last win in London coming in 2005, but France will travel with quiet confidence.

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