France v Scotland report: Townsend’s boys sign off Six Nations with another historic win

Duhan van der Merwe scores two tries, including a dramatic injury time winner, to end long wait for a win in Paris

Duhan van der Merwe was a two try hero as Scotland secured a sensational win over France in Paris Image: © Craig Watson -
Duhan van der Merwe was a two try hero as Scotland secured a sensational win over France in Paris Image: © Craig Watson -

France 23

Scotland 27

IT was going to take something really special to eclipse Scotland’s historic victory over England at Twickenham at the start of this Six Nations, and their victory here in the delayed final match of the campaign achieved that.

The England win was a more polished all-round performance, but this one was full of courage and tenacity and nerve. Gregor Townsend‘s side shrugged off a disrupted build-up, then the loss of captain Stuart Hogg to the sin-bin for 10 minutes just before half-time, and then the loss of talismanic stand-off Finn Russell to a red-card towards the end, on their way to securing a first win in Paris since 1999.

The Scots came from behind three times, with Duhan van der Merwe‘s dramatic try in the fifth minute of injury time – after 22 phases bombarding the French line – finally sealing the win.

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It is a time to celebrate, but it was telling that both Townsend and Hogg spoke afterwards about their frustration with the two games that got away in this championship, against Wales and Ireland at home. Both were eminently winnable and if they had gone the other way then Scotland could have been celebrating their first ever Six Nations. Instead, they ended up fourth in the table, which doesn’t seem like a fair return for what the team has achieved.

France came into the match looking to score four tries and win by 21 points or more in order to pip Wales to the title, but despite spells in both halves when they played some imperious smash-and-grab rugby, they couldn’t shake off their opponents. As the home team’s goal drifted away from them during the final quarter, Scotland roused themselves heroically to roar back from the dead for a richly deserved win.

They needed an eight point winning margin (or a five point margin with four tries) to finish second in the table. It wasn’t to be, but that shouldn’t spoil the moment. This was an excellent achievement in its own right.

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Despite needing a big score, France were clearly determined not to get a head of themselves and opted to take the three points through a Romain Ntamack shot at goal from in from of the posts on 10 minutes rather than go for the try.

The Scots bounced back immediately, with hooker George Turner leading the charge when he broke from the back of a line-out maul, and while the hosts held out on that occasion, the visitors kept the pressure on and grabbed the lead when van der Merwe rolled his sleeves up and burrowed over from close range like an auxiliary flanker. The were more than a hint of a double movement but referee Wayne Barnes didn’t even bother asking the TMO.

Scotland extended the lead when an excellently executed kick into the corner isolated French full-back Brice Dulin, and Jamie Ritchie swallowed him up to win the penalty, which Russell had no problem turning into three more points.

The French were clearly rattled and the Scots had their tails up. Russell and Hogg were torturing their opponents with some razor-sharp kicking, and the dark blue scrum even squeezed a penalty out of their vaunted opponents.

But the tide turned when Julien Marchand got over Ritchie on the deck to win a penalty, and at the next scrum the French decimated the Scots to earn another penalty which Ntamack fired home to narrow the lead to four points.

Ritchie then gave away a penalty when he took Anthony Jelonch out in the air at the restart, and Scotland then gave away four more penalties in quick succession as France bombarded their line. Barnes warned Hogg that a yellow-card was coming, then in the next play Antoine Dupont fired a looping pass out to Damian Penaud on the right wing which caught van der Merwe napping, and the French winger made five vital yards before sending Dulin over. Ntamack nailed the touchline conversion to make 13-10 with four minutes of the half remaining.

Scotland continued to give away penalties like they were going out of fashion, and it was Hogg, himself, who ended up being sent to the sin-bin for going off his feet at a ruck. It had been a torrid last 10 minutes to the first half, but Nick Haining did mange to get up and steal the ball at the five-metre line-out  after Hogg’s indiscretion. Going in at the break three points down was a lot better than being eight or even 10 points adrift.

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France flew out of the blocks at the start of the second half and 14-man Scotland had to dig deep to hold them out, and they managed that pretty impressively on the while, but they couldn’t do anything to stop a wonderful try created by Virimi Vakatawa‘s sublime offload to Penaud, with the winger then chipping ahead and gathering himself on his way to the line.

Ntamack missed the touchline conversion, meaning Scotland had managed to limit France to five points during that period of being a man down.

Then, once back to full strength, the Scots drove themselves back onto the front foot, earning an offside penalty which allowed Russell to pull it back to a five point game.

A clever move off a Scottish line-out saw Ali Price send Sam Johnson clear, but the centre was pulled down just short, and Hamish Watson was rag-dolled 15 feet backwards as he tried to recycle, but France’s discipline had gone the same way as Scotland’s had at the start of the first half.

A penalty kicked to the corner set up a close-range line-out, but Swan Rebbadj got a hand in to dislodge the ball as Scotland tried to build the maul. Fortunately, the bounce was kind to replacement hooker Dave Cherry, who didn’t need a second invitation to scamper over the line. Russell’s conversion put the Scots two points ahead with 20 minutes to go.

But then the momentum shifted again, and some serious French power led to Rebbadj crashing over for his team’s third try – which put them three points ahead. With 14 minutes to go, they needed 18 points and one more try. A big ask, but you wouldn’t have gambled your mortgage against them at that point.

It looked like the writing was on the wall for Scotland when Russell raised his arm to fend Dulin and Barnes ruled that it was dangerous play, brandishing a red-card at the stand-off, which was harsh but the right decision by the letter of the law. It was a classy move by Russell to seek out Dulin and give him a warm embrace before leaving the field.

The loss of Russell did not end up being as critical as we all initially feared because just a few minutes later replacement French scrum-half Baptiste Serin picked up a yellow for side entry at a ruck, meaning it was 14 versus 14 for the final seven minutes (plus five minutes of injury time).

With 35 seconds left on the clock, France had possession – after fairy brainless chip ahead by Adam Hastings – but then gave away another soft penalty five yards inside Scotland’s half by flopping over the tackle, handing the sort of lifeline the Scots could not have hoped for.

Even then, it looked like Scotland’s chance to make history had passed them by when France won a turnover in their own 22 just a few metres in from the touchline with the game into its second minute of injury time. France were not going to get the winning margin they needed so all Dulin needed to was kick he ball deep into the empty stand, but he decided to run sideways and was tackled, with ended up conceding a turnover in the tackle.

Scotland took full advantage, withHastings sending out a long looping pass which picked out van der Merwe on the left, who stepped inside Penaud and propelled himself over the line. It was his eighth try in 10 caps for Scotland, but the powerful winger would be the first to highlight that this was a triumph of the collective rather than the individual.

Teams –

France: B Dulin; D Penaud, V Vakatawa (T Thomas 60), A Vincent, G Fickou; R Ntamack, A Dupont (B Serin 71); C Baille (J Gros 56), J Marchand (C Chat 56), M Haouas (U Atonio 61), B Le Roux (R Taofifenau 50), S Rebbadj, A Jelonch (D Cretin 63), G Alldritt, C Ollivon©.

Scotland: S Hogg©; D Graham (H Jones 67), C Harris, S Johnson, D van der Merwe; F Russell (A Hastings 71), A Price; R Sutherland (O Kebble 49), G Turner (D Cherry 59), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 63-69), S Skinner (A Craig 75), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining (R Wilson 67).


Scorers –

France: Try: Dulin, Penaud, Rebbadj; Con: Ntamack; Pen: Ntamack 2.

Scotland: Tries: van der Merwe 2, Cherry; Con: Russell 2, Hastings; Pen: Russell 2.

Scoring sequence (France first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-10; 6-10; 11-10; 13-10 (h-t) 18-10; 18-3; 18-18; 18-20; 23-20; 23-25, 23-27.


Yellow cards –

France: Serin (73 mins)

Scotland: Hogg (39mins)


Red cards –

Scotland: Russell (70mins)

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  1. Delighted to have eaten the most delicious humble pie based upon my pre-match prediction.

    A thoroughly top drawer performance when we were in very difficult positions. We deal with “card adversity” well it seems.

    There are some serious contenders for a Lions inclusion. The breakthrough performance of the tournament for me was Dave Cherry. First class considering where he was playing 3 years ago.

    My one big takeaway here is we need to eradicate the errors under pressure. It is stopping us from becoming true title contenders.

    The last phases were just sublime. The pass from Hastings to VDM is what dreams are made of, and the finish was spot on.

    Well deserved and a bit of karma delivered to La Porte at the same time. Delightful.

    Overall, this has to be the platform we use to go into next year as serious title contenders.

  2. I’ve watched a fair few of these games in the pub over the years, but that’s not allowed any more, so text messages were flying backwards and forwards. Just before the Russell red card, one of my correspondents reported he wasn’t watching any more, as his wife had commandeered the tv. I kept him up to date with developments, with my final message starting “You’re not going to believe this”.
    I’ve not been a fan of Townsend’s throughout, but credit where it’s due, he picked the right team from what he had available and the tactics were sound. If ever there was a team performance, that was it and what a performance.
    The greatest player in the world had little influence on the game and our scrum held up well when the French pushed straight. That 2nd row deserves more outings and I can only agree re Haining, he’s earned more opportunities too. It’s good to see George Horne back in action today, as Price hasn’t been at the top of his game, but we generally seem to have real options in most positions, the irreplaceable Hamish Watson excepted.
    Well done one and all and what a great end to a strange 6 Nations. I look forward to real crowd noise next time.

    PS Wayne Barnes was terrible, again.

  3. I thought it odd that France did not compete against Scotland line outs for the first hour given our poor show v Ireland. Ironically they did compete later on after Cherry came on … our more reliable thrower … and we lost a couple. I can understand not competing at a line out 5 metres out and concentrating on stopping the maul, but strange to not compete elsewhere ?

  4. Well that was a great game, back and forth , in poor conditions , which Scotland adjusted to and played well in. Just what was Dulin thinking at the end, just kick it off and win the game.
    That said we have competed well in all the games and we managed to get two away wins in Paris and Twickers. The forwards have stood up well , Watson, Ritchie and M Fagerson have been a great back row. The front row with what could be thought of as our 3 & 4 string hookers played well and Cherry has been exceptional with 3 vital tries and Turner was excellent as well. I still think our 9/10 axis needs Horne Jnr but Finn has been poor all tournament and has not done his Lions chances much good. The rest of the backs I think Hogg has been a great captain and his passion is there for all to see, and VDM has had some great moments.Finally nice to see Wilson get his 50th cap. That said still not sure how Wales managed to win the triple crown an championship, but we are in the mix now.

  5. Think another thing worth noting was the speed of recycle. Far quicker than when we were playing the “fastest rugby in the world”.

    • Agreed David, the way we were going before with that mien, we were fast becoming the Northern Hemisphere equivalent of Fiji: great to watch and capable of the odd surprise but generally outgunned. This style is far more pragmatic. Scott Cummings is a case in point – athletic, mobile etc -and has his fans but he needs to work big-time on his physicality, dominance at ruck time and in mauls ;if he does he could be a real star. He was bossed big time by the Irish pair but Skinner has those heavyweight, slugger-like qualities from playing in Premiership.

    • What’s ironic here is that pre-match the analysis concentrated on the French ruck speed. They were averaging under 2 seconds to get the ball out at every breakdown according to Barclay et Al. But Ritchie and Watson, along with a few others, disrupted that well.

      Its definitely put Dupont off his game, as they had top scrap for every ball.

  6. Great win! What we had last night was a pack capable of properly mixing it with a heavyweight, matchfit opponent. The back-row has a better balance with Haining because he brings something different; his carrying was excellent, he was in the midst of mauls interfering/disrupting and he was dishing out some nice wee psychological touches. Watson was indefatigable and though he was sometimes thrown back and doubled-up on, he was always there probing and keeping France on their toes. Ritchie likewise, he was a real menace defensively at rucks with a few nice carries to boot. We played sensible, compact rugby in the backs and any questions around Harris’ defence were scotched, no pun intended.

    • Aye, Watson was a marked man but that opens up space elsewhere on the pitch. Haining looked like the No. 8 we’ve been missing. And Harris more than justified his selection.

      The way the team in general and Hogg in particular deal with the ref has improved immensely. They brought it back from the brink after a pretty horrendous second quarter. Credit to Hoggy – I didn’t think he had it in him to be that kind of skipper but am glad to be proved wrong.

  7. Probably the most exciting championship ever with so many last minute dramas, including this one.
    A great win, deserved just.
    Back row was amazing: dynamic, huge workrates and real pests.
    Just like the old days: reminded me of Calder, White and Jeffrey.
    They were that good.

    • Watson and Ritchie, I’ve run out of superlatives for that pair, they’re a backrow combination for the ages. Also thought Hastings gave us something different when he came on. Well done Toony, we’re so close with this side. Hope burns bright that this side can win some proper silverware but as a Scotland fan it’s the hope that always kills us.

  8. Amazing end to an amazing match. How the players put together than final set of phases beats me. What resilience.

    Well done to all especially Townsend. He can be pleased with a famous victory and the emergence of a very good side.


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