WINNING World Cup warm-up matches isn’t a priority, but Scotland would have at least wanted to feel like they were in the game. The good news is that there does not seem to have been any major injuries picked up – although Jamie Ritchie, who was one of the few players to come out of this ordeal with credit against his name, had clearly been in the wars after a hard shift at the pit-face battling against the general momentum of this one-sided encounter.
Meanwhile, Duncan Taylor, in his first game for over two years, made some important defensive interventions and showed his class with the ball in hand early on with an excellent cut-out pass; and Rory Hutchinson had one or two nice touches after coming off the bench for his debut in the 47th minute.
The bad news is that Gregor Townsend’s men can draw little else from this experience which can even charitably be described as a useful buildin block as they look forward to Japan.
There has been a lot of positive noise coming out of the Scotland camp these last two months, but this was a shuddering wake-up call. Everyone else has been working hard as well, and Townsend’s side are going to have to up their game significantly if they are to have any chance of keeping pace with the big teams on the world stage.
All they can do is reset ahead of next weekend’s rematch against France at Murrayfield. At least Russia lost 85-15 to Italy in their match earlier in the day, which means Scotland didn’t quite have the worst experience this weekend of all the teams in Pool A at the World Cup.
It started ominously for Scotland, with Byron McGuigan struggling to collect the kick-off and the subsequent line-out malfunctioning. Then, after several powerful tight phases from the French forwards, burly Fijian-born winger Alivereti Raka marked his debut for his adopting country by powering past some slow-moving Scottish defenders to score under the posts off a neat inside pass from Wesley Fofana. There was one minute and 36 seconds on the clock.
Camille Lopez added the conversion and then stretched France further ahead with a 14th minute penalty after the Scottish scrum gave way in front of the posts.
Scotland tried to rally but the decision-making and accuracy was rusty, which is inevitable to a degree in a first warm-up game, but France didn’t seem to have quite the same difficulty clicking.
More hunger, slick hands and hard running brought a second home try on 21 minutes, with full-back Maxime Medard nipping over in the corner; and, although Scotland were able to narrow the gap with an Adam Hastings offside penalty straight from the restart, there was no doubting that Gregor Townsend’s men were staring down the barrel.
Hastings was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on on the half hour mark, with the fact that he was in an offside position at the time compounding the crime. France kicked the penalty to the corner and No 8 Gregory Aldritt peeled out of the line-out maul and powered over for try number three.
France were thrusting. Attacking from deep with the vivacity of Les Bleus masters of old. Their set-piece was well on top, too; and Scotland spent the last few minutes of the first half clinging on for dear life on their own line through a succession of punishing scrums, until a rather surprising free-kick award in the visitors’ favour allowed Ali Price to kick the ball dead to snatch some much needed respite for his team.
Zander Fagerson came on for the second-half, in place of Jamie Bhatti, with Simon Berghan moving across to the loose-head – giving an indication of how Townsend might look to free up an extra slot behind the front-row in the 31-man squad for Japan by only taking five props. The first scrum of the second half went down, but it was Fagerson – not the out of position Berghan – who was the culprit. Gordon Reid replaced Berghan before the next scrum, meaning the props were back to their established positions, bringing the experiment (if that is what it was) to an end before any meaningful conclusions could be reached.
France were slightly lethargic during the first 10 minutes of the second half, but they burst back into life when Lopez, Francois Cros and Antonie Dupont threaded their way through Scotland’s flailing defence, and Medard romped home for his second – and his team’s fourth – score.
Dupont followed that up with France’s fifth try of the evening after Damian Penaud galloped through two Scottish tacklers.
France cleared their bench and lost cohesion, while Scotland pushed hard during the last 20 minutes to secure something positive from their trip to the south of France, but apart from one attack which faltered when McGuigan’s offload strayed forward, they didn’t really trouble their hosts.
France: M Médard; D Penaud (T Ramos 64), G Fickou, W Fofana (R Ntamack 66), A Raka; C Lopez, A Dupont (B Serin 64); R Slimani (E Setiano 55), C Chat (D Priso 55), J Poirot (P Mauvaka 55), S Vahamaahina, P Gabrillagues (F Lambey 71), Ollivon, G Aldritt (L Picamoles 35-40, 61), F Cros.
Scotland: S Hogg (B Kinghorn 55); D Graham, H Jones, D Taylor (R Hutchinson 47), B McGuigan; A Hastings, A Price (G Horne 55); J Bhatti (Z Fagerson 40), S McInally (G Turner 66), S Berghan (G Reid 51), B Toolis (S Cummings 55), G Gilchrist, J Barclay (M Fagerson 51), J Ritchie, J Strauss.
Referee: N Owens
France: Try: Raka, Medard 2, Aldritt, Dupont; Con: Lopez, 2; Pen: Lopez.
Scotland: Pen: Hastings.
Scoring sequence (France first): 5-0; 7-0; 10-0; 15-0; 15-3; 20-3 (h-t) 25-3; 30-5; 32-5.
Yellow cards –