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Scotland 17 France 36: Six Nations hopes shattered by impressive Blues

THERE is no shame at all in losing to a French team of this quality. But there will be a lot of disquiet in the Scotland camp about both the scale and the nature of the defeat as the home team’s hopes of challenging for the Championship were comprehensively shattered.

France did not merely remain steadily on course for their first Grand Slam and first Six Nations title since 2012, they accelerated towards that destination with a performance of devastating effectiveness. They scored six tries, thanks in large part to some sumptuous offloading, and might easily have had two or three more. Had full-back Melvyn Jaminet been on form with the boot, they would have passed the 40-point mark.

Scotland managed two tries, one in the first half from Rory Darge, who was his team’s most impressive player on his first start, and the other late in the second by Duhan van der Merwe. They too might well have had a couple more, from Ali Price and Stuart Hogg, but the former’s effort was deemed not to have been touched down and the captain’s chance went when he knocked on a difficult pass from Chris Harris.

France went on to score at the end of the first half to go in at the break with a 19-10 lead, and they scored again within minutes of the restart to emphasise their superiority. Given those tries and the Scots’ two near misses, it could be argued that the last minutes before the interval constituted the crux of the match, perhaps even a turning point. 

But that would be too flattering to the home team, and too dismissive of France’s evident quality. At best, had Scotland stayed closer during that middle section of the match, it would only have delayed what already seemed inevitable – a defeat that has ended their hopes of being in the running for this year’s Championship.


After all, the signs were ominous nearly from the start. France did manage a couple of errors before they settled into their rhythm, with Romain Ntamack sending his kick-off out on the full and Melvyn Jaminet missing a very kickable penalty, but by the time Paul Willemse opened the scoring with a try from an Antoine Dupont break it was clear they were very much in the mood to do severe damage to their opponents. 

A penalty from Finn Russell got Scotland off the mark, but the French then took command with a second try thanks to some inspired recycling, above all from loosehead prop Cyril Baille, who offloaded the scoring pass to Yoram Moefana despite the best efforts of five defenders to shut him down. 

Price’s near thing was followed by a touchdown that counted, with Darge finishing off well by wrong-footing two defenders. Russell converted to put Scotland to within two points, and the picture would have brightened further if Hogg had held on to Harris’s pass or the centre had carried further before distributing.

As it was, a 10-12 deficit at the break would have been an acceptable outcome given the balance of play, but on the brink of half-time Gael Fickou claimed his team’s third try. It began with a penalty to touch on the right, then Jonathan Danty bounced out of a tackle before Moefana was held up on the left. The ball was sent back to the right, and Fickou managed to drift over into the far corner, not even needing to use Penaud outside him.

Harris failed a head-injury assessment and was replaced by Mark Bennett at the start of the second half, after a couple of minutes of which Danty stretched his team’s lead. Price lost possession in the tackle, France counter-attacked, and a kick ahead was collected by the centre who ran in unopposed.

We had to wait until the hour mark for the fifth try, which came after Darge was turned over. Another lightning-quick counter-attack got the ball to Damien Penaud, who almost strolled across the line.

The Scotland bench was emptied just after that score, but the arrival of fresh legs failed to provide the requisite injection of energy and direction. And, with the home team looking ragged, almost all of the last quarter became an exhibition class in French continuity.

With five minutes left, Penaud scored again, from a Ntamack cross kick this time. But Scotland at least had the last word, as Blair Kinghorn embarked on a solo break which began in apparently unthreatening fashion but ended with him putting Van der Merwe in for a score that was no more than the slightest of consolations. With Russell off the field, Hogg added the two points.

It is now next stop Italy for Scotland a week on Saturday, when they will try once more to put in the kind of complete performance that has evaded them thus far. For France, the next date is Cardiff, and the fourth stage of their bid for the Grand Slam which their talents appear to richly deserve.

Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Darge, Van der Merwe. Cons: Russell, Hogg. Pen: Russell.

France: Tries: Willemse, Moefana, Fickou, Danty, Penaud 2. Cons: Jaminet 3.

Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (M Bennett 41), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell (B Kinghorn), A Price (B White 49-58, 69); P Schoeman (61), S McInally (G Turner 56), Z Fagerson (W Nel 56), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (J Hodgson 61), N Haining (A Christie 44), R Darge, M Bradbury. 

France: M Jaminet (T Ramos 72); D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, Y Moefana; R Ntamack, A Dupont (M Lucu 74); C Baille (J Gros 58), J Marchand (P Mauvaka 54), U Atonio (D Bamba 48), C Woki (D Cretin 68), P Willemse (R Taofifenua 54), F Cros, A Jelonch (T Flament 54), G Alldritt.

Referee: K Dickson (England).

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