RWC23: Scotland v France: heroic fightback secures home win, but at what cost?

Injured Ben White and red-carded Zander Fagerson face anxious waits

France's Sekou Macalou tackles Scotland's Duhan van de Merwe high during a full-blooded contest at Murrayfield. Photo credit should read: © Craig Watson -
France's Sekou Macalou tackles Scotland's Duhan van de Merwe high during a full-blooded contest at Murrayfield. Photo credit should read: © Craig Watson -

Scotland 25

France 21

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield Stadium

A STUNNING second-half fightback by Scotland was all the more impressive because it was achieved despite playing with 14-men for the last half hour.

Let’s not worry too much about the extent to which this second string French side lost their way once their bench was cleared during the third quarter, the home team deserve enormous credit for showing tenacity and problem-solving ability to turn things around after a woefully one-sided first half. This result will provide a major confidence boost to the Scots as they move forward in their World Cup preparation, and the jubilant scenes amongst the home coaching team at full-time underlined just how important this result was psychologically to the Scots.

Alas, it was a win which came at a considerable cost to Gregor Townsend‘s squad. They lost first choice scrum-half Ben White to an ankle injury midway through that harrowing opening 40, and there will now be an anxious wait for a medical update.

Worse still, tight-head prop Zander Fagerson – the anchor of the Scots scrum and arguably their most important forward – picked up a red-card 10 minutes into the second half for head-on-head contact with French hooker Pierre Bourgarit. The disciplinary hearing will be this week and the concern is that this is not the first time the Scot has been sent off for this sort of thing against Wales during the 2021 Six Nations, which could affect the level of mitigation the panel are prepared to offer.

According to World Rugby regulations: “Cases involving an Ordering Off shall, where reasonably practicable, be heard within 48 hours and other than in exceptional circumstances, no later than 72 hours of the conclusion of the Match in which the Player was Ordered Off.”

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Bourgarit knocked the ball on almost straight from kick-off, France were penalised for driving upwards at the scrum, and Finn Russell added credence to the rumours that he’s suddenly got all sensible on us by opting to go for the posts, nudging his team into a three point lead with as many minutes played. But that’s as good as it got for Scotland during the first half.

After a cagey eight minutes, featuring lots of aerial ping-pong, France flashed their teeth for the first time with a fine counter-attack try off an unpressurised White kick down the middle of the park. Slick hands put Scots-qualified debutant Emilie Gailleton into space on the right, he lured Duhan van der Merwe in before offloading back inside to fellow new boy Louis Bielle-Biarrey, then came Matthieu Jalibert in support and Baptiste Couilloud finished off.

France continued to look the more assured and hungrier, and soon bullied their way back into the home 22, with Yoram Moefana‘s dancing feet leaving van der Merwe rooted to the spot. To his credit, the big winger did well to get back and barge the Frenchman into touch as he dived for the line.

It remained one-way traffic, and France did finally score again on 24 minutes when hard running and tidy hands saw Bielle-Biarrey dart over on the left.

At one point, Scotland’s line-out maul got marched backwards and turned towards the touchline, leaving White with a near impossible task of trying to feed Russell – but rather than instructing the big boys to sort it out, he tried anyway, and it took some frantic scrambling to rescue the situation.

The hosts were clearly rattled and when they did manage to get their vaunted backline moving, with Russell looping round to send Kinghorn on a gallop, the next phase fell apart thanks to a wild pass back in-field from White.

In fairness, the scrum-half  who had been clobbered high by Ethan Dumortier after the whistle a few minutes earlier may have been struggling by this point, because he soon limped off and then disappeared down the tunnel with a heavily bandaged ankle, which is a big concern ahead of the final World Cup squad being confirmed over the next week and a half.

France got their third try just before the break when a series of penalties conceded by the Scots accompanied by a series of powerful drives from the visitors culminated in the immense Cameron Woki forcing his considerable frame over the whitewash.

The 5-1 turnover count in France’s favour at half-time told the story of the first half.


Things started to look up straight from the restart with Scotland finally zipping through a series of attacking phases before Russell angled a kick rightward into the in-goal area, with Darcy Graham managing to nip in ahead of Dumortier to provide the finishing touch – the try finally being awarded after a fairly laborious review by the TMO.

Then came Fagerson’s costly head-on-head collision with Bourgarit. Referee Ben O’Keeffe explaining that the yellow card he was showing would be upgraded to a red if the Foul Play Review Officer – aka the Bunker – decided it was worthy of the ultimate sanction. Inevitably that is exactly what happened.

Despite this setback, Scotland managed to claw their way to just four points adrift a few minutes later, when Graham and Ewan Ashman both carried hard in heavy traffic before Pierre Schoeman burst round the side of a ruck and over the line.

And it looked like the hosts had taken the lead when a looping pass from George Horne sent Kinghorn over on the right  but that try was chalked off before Russell had a chance to slot the conversion due to the eagle-eyed TMO spotting a Graham knock-on earlier in the move.

All the momentum was, however, was with the 14-men of Scotland, with France having cleared their bench and lost their way. Eventually, the relentless pressure inside the visiting 22 paid off when replacement hooker Dave Cherry burrowed over off the back of a line-out maul, although Russell couldn’t add the touchline conversion meaning that the home lead was a single point with 15 minutes to go.

A 72nd minute Russell penalty after Horne was blocked at a ruck eased further ahead before France spent the final five minutes camped deep in Scots territory.

The Scottish scrum was under serious pressure before France opted not to pack-down again and  kick a penalty to the corner instead, only to find that there was no way through that route.

An excellent low tackle from WP Nel and brilliant jackal from Rory Darge brought the final whistle, prompting jubilant scenes on the pitch and in the stands, not least from the Scotland coaching team who looked like they had just won the World Cup.


Teams –

Scotland: B Kinghorn; D Graham, H Jones, S Tuipulotu (C Redpath 57), D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (G Horne 30); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 57), E Ashman (57), Z Fagerson, R Gray, G Gilchrist (S Cummings  71), M Fagerson, H Watson (R Darge 57), J Dempsey (W Nel 57).

France: B Duli; L Bielle-Biarrey, E Gailleton, Y Moefana, E Dumortier (A Vincent 57); M Jalibert (A Hastoy 6), B Couilloud ( B Serin 68); J Gros (R Wardi 55), P Bourgarit (P Mauvaka 55), D Bamba ( S Falatea 44), C Woki, B Chalureau (P Willemse 55), P Boudehent, S Macalou (D Cretin 55), Y Tanga.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand).


Scorers –

Scotland: Try: Graham, Schoeman, Cherry; Con: Russell 2; Pen: Russell 2.

France: Try: Couilloud, Bielle-Biarrey, Woki; Con: Jalibert 3.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-12; 3-14; 3-19; 3-21 (h-t) 8-21; 10-21; 15-21; 17-21; 22-21; 25-21.


Red cards –

Scotland: Fagerson (50 mins)


Attendance: 56,256

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About David Barnes 3663 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. The early tackle on Duhan should have been a red, as were one or two other French tackles

  2. O’Keefe is an appalling referee who entirely failed to penalise the French players for some careless/cynical play, especially Buggery who antics were worthy of a 1st division football player they were so pathetically obvious

  3. These early run-outs are all about finding out, but not showing your hand, pre RWC. In which case Fabien Galthié will be best prepared….

  4. Awesome second half. Stupid red card, for an unnecessary clear out. Loads of first half kicks with no kick chase giving France plenty of time to respond and counter attack.Shocking first half defence awesome second half defence, not sure what was said at half time but it worked. A number of French Head high tackles and late tackles particularly on our 9 that should have been picked up. But amazing second half and Finn really looked the Captain – took on the pressure with consummate ease and seemed to gradually bring the ref on side. Well done but worried that ZF will miss the RWC

  5. Come the World Cup, our best chance of qualification from the pool is to beat South Africa, Ireland have us in the bag.
    The Saffers are renowned for their kicking game and we must be able to counter it. Unfortunately Russell , accurate though he is, has no real distance with the boot and Kinghorn runs it back more often than kicks. From the north stand yesterday I was thinking how often we could have relieved pressure with the boot of Hogg or Healy. Of course Hogg has retired and Healy has nowhere near Finns level of threat ball in hand but our lack of kicking options will, in my opinion hurt us.

    • The chances of beating SA are somewhere between nil and zero. The Boks 2nd team took out a motivated Puma’s side at the weekend. They are bigger, stronger and faster.

  6. Firstly an excellent outcome. Need the dependable Cherry to start at hooker, can’t afford for the line-out to mis-function. Crosnie renains an option Horne did ensure the ball went quickly to Russell (which is good) White was clunked high but was guilty of a couple of poor over-cooked kicks.
    Need to think about replacements to come on to up the tempo (like Horne Redpath Darge and Horne did yesterday)
    Russell is maturing and looked a calm and effective captain.
    Z Fagerson is in serious doubt of missing (at least some) of a tournament he could’ve been a star.
    IMO could still do with more back kicking options on the field/bench

  7. Fagerson is a nailed on starter at TH…and also a nailed on 2-3 breakdown/scrum penalties in most games…this isn’t even a criticism, it’s just two facts that don’t sit well together.

    Russell captained and bossed the game more and more as it went on.

    Tuipolutu came into the game as a carrier but was arguably at fault for the first two French tries, caught way out of position on kick chase and around ruck clear out for second French try.

    Darcy Graham is a bloody rock star who finds a way to impact games. Great finisher but also ferocious in contact with ball in hand and in defence. As a wee guy myself, Im always going to appreciate the wee guys who make that kind of impact in a big man’s game!

    Darge should get the nod at 7. I love the Mish, but Darge is him Mark 2.0!

    Could talk more about other players/positions but others on either already have or will do more eloquently than me!

    On the positive side, whatever French team we were playing, to sort ourselves out and claw the game back in the Second Half, playing a man down for the final quarter, scoring 22 unanswered points, is a very good outcome. I don’t expect us to win against their full noise lineup in France next week, but let’s take the positives from this.

    I guess it’s now time to wrap WP Nel in cotton wool?!

  8. Firstly – clear red. Much worse than the debatable one he got against Wales. No way he’s served his time before the South Africa game unless Super 6 games somehow can be counted.

    Secondly – Scotland won, somehow. Awesome effort from the pack in the second half. Blew France away despite being down a man and created a great platform for Finn to make the rest of them “look good”. One day we actually will string it all together for the full 80 minutes and it will be glorious. Christ, maybe we are saving it for Ireland in the WC…

    Thirdly – I’m getting fed up with constant TMO intervention. Frankly I don’t care if there was a debatable knock on 10 phases ago or if someone accidentally grazed somebody elses lug when clearing out back in the other half of the field. Grinds the game to a halt and is often completely unnecessary. Ref should be the one to call in the TMO if they feel foul play has occurred or if they need another form of support. If they don’t see it? Deal with it – play on, cite afterwards if necessary.

    Fourthly – this was one of the few examples of a game with an early red card not being totally ruined. Largely due to the superhuman forward effort mentioned above and the fact that the French team were too inexperienced to weather the initial storm and put their foot on our throats. I cannot understand why we don’t trial a power play system like ice hockey. Yellow card – player in the bin for 10 mins but can return early if the opposition scores 5 points or more during that period. Red card – similar, player in the bin for 15 mins or until opposition scores 5 points or more. Carded player may not return but can be replaced once one of the conditions above has been met. Fairly simple, fairly proportionate and prevents paying fans from having to sit through an awful foregone conclusion.

  9. How Schoeman’s “try” wasn’t chalked off for a double-movement was wondrous to see…

  10. Chalk and Cheese performance, and even though they might not be the first choice there were enough probable first choice players in the French XV and bench to at least be reasonably happy with the second half, and well done the 14.
    I thought Horne was much the better of the pair, quicker service and quicker of thought. As for the Horne being tackled a tad late after he had lobbed out a pass it makes you wonder whether the TMO was paying attention.
    As I’ve suggested our best bet against SA is to catch them cold in the first game but there again they have had several games under their belt versus their Southern Hemisphere opponents.
    Now my opinion on the Yellow to Red, the revue: forgetting for the moment the fact that again Fagerson Z went in head down, the French player saw him, made no effort to move [although you could say why should he] but wasn’t deemed after his Oscar required to go for a head injury check. Frankly you can’t have it both ways, the player observing somebody coming in head down yet allows himself to be hit. I know, I know, but the point I am making is in my view the French player did contribute, played the injured party yet doesn’t have an HIA and kept looking at ZF and effectively let him hit him. Pedantic perhaps but there either is mitigation in full or is it only one way, they nearly all go in head down. Anyway rant over and so is Fagerson Z no doubt for the SA game at least and having been there on the naughty step before in a similar way against Wales don’t be surprised if the Kangaroo Court give him 6 games.
    Ps: as the photo at the top shows, more than a few round the neck Head Hunters in the French side.

  11. What’s they point in having Zander in the team if he’s going to do stuff like that? A penalty machine. It may be a blessing in disguise if he doesn’t start v SA.

  12. Thank goodness they turned it round in the 2nd half. The first half we looked so lethargic and the French had so much more pace in both attack and defence and it looked like a hiding on the cards. We were falling in to the usual trap of giving away penalties and losing a few line outs.

    In the 2nd half we upped the tempo, held on to the ball and played with so much more aggression. Then we had the Fagerson red- very similar to his red against Wales a few years ago. He really needs to learn when you’re clearing out you need to be so precise about where you make contact. Hopefully its just a 2 week ban but not sure how previous is factored in.

    Players in credit for me from today would include Kinghorn who must have secured the fullback slot. George Horne, Finn, Duane and Darcy in the backs. In the forwards Dave Cherry went well when he came on and Dempsey, Schoemann and Gray were good. Great last 30 minutes with 14 men.

    Will be interesting to see how they go next week having a game under their belt.

  13. Though I suppose Jamie Ritchie will return as captain next week it just feels right for Finn to remain in the role…

  14. Can I say a game of two halves, without fear of stoning. The 1st half was abysmal from Scotland. The backs were missing in action, things were slow and the French really got in our faces and smothered us. The Jones / Tuipulotu axis never got going. Things looked better when Horne came on and the 2nd half was immense. Think we are looking at Kinghorn at 15 finally, Graham looks better and better , do not think Ashman is our 1st choice , M Faggerson another great shift, Darge , Dempsey good games as well.
    As for Zander , I think Bourgarit set him up really well and he fell for it again.
    Next week will see the full French team against us that will be much harder.

    • No sure how much the backs were missing in the first half as they had very little useful ball to work with and some of the kicking wasnt effectively chased. The main thing in the second half was the team collectively won a lot more ball and hung on to it. The backs were also all over the place in defence in the first half.

      I think the likely defence for Zanders hearing will be that Bourgarit saw him coming and lowered his head. But the whole clearout was unnecessary.

    • It’s as relevant as the Autumn tests are to the 6 nations however winning becomes a habit, that is relevant

      • Look again, Iain.
        He said “reliable”.
        You said “relevant”.
        Henry Ford said “history is bunk”.

      • “You cannot win the World Cup during the warm-ups but you can lose it.”
        Old adage, Iain. Go figure.

  15. Was it an outstanding 2nd half from Scotland or was it just a very poor second half from France and vice versa in the first half ? Personally didn’t think either team played particularly well , both looked very rusty which is worrying given that was pretty much Scotlands first team line up.
    Jones looked completely off it in 1st half , really poor defensive error not tracking the French inside support line which would have snuffed that try out. Tuipilotou was quiet but has credit in the bank.
    Not sure how Kinghorn got MOTM over Graham who was very good.
    Fagerson should not have to worry about suspension because he should be dropped anyway , absolute liability that can’t be carried in to the games with Ireland or SA.

  16. Time to register Zander for a few super series games to clear him in time for SA, better bring biscuits and show ‘remorse’ at the hearing also. His previous offence of a similar nature was against Wales and that was a 4 match ban.

    Stock going up

    Going down
    Ashman (very average for me)

  17. Fagerson never learns , his brainless penalties lose games , that was 4 penalties and a red and he should have had a 5th penalty. All of his penalties break momentum and let’s be clear , Scotland are not good enough to tolerate a liability like this. Again his dumb , insolent smirking response to being penalised does not endear him to anyone. No team can tolerate this level of indiscipline from an individual and expect it not to impact on results. His sending off , like most of his penalties , was absolutely brainless , he see the French player , has time to adjust and make a better decision but still ploughs in stupidly.
    A strange game , poor performances from each team in either half , don’t think either team looked particularly good , more that they both had an exceptionally poor halves of rugby.

    • Maybe he’s smirking because despite all of that, he knows he’s the nailed on starter at TH because we have no one else.

      • Overrated and without any serious competition for the TH jersey. WP is a better all round player and it’s a pity he’s nearing the end of his career.

  18. I think George Horne had a big impact on that game, not to say Ben White wasnt playing well but when we started to get more ball and play at a faster tempo he was at the heart of it.

    I hope that is not Ben White’s world cup over.

  19. Outstanding second half. One day we’ll put in an 80 minute performance and really pull out a performance.

    Thought Russell really grew in to the Captain role. I thought he did a great job especially in the last couple of minutes really motivating the forwards that in the end won us the game. Would love to know what was said at half time and by who.

    What can you say about Zander? Frustrating! Lets hope its no more than a 3 week ban.

    • The comeback was great, but we’re not coming back against Ireland or SA if we gift either a couple of try headstart.
      But fairly astonishing how much we dominated with 14 men.

      • Well, Boab – that was by no means a full France international selection, and important to recognise that player dismissal can impact upon both sides, in very different ways.

  20. Not quite sure what I watched today…loved it but played merry hell with my blood pressure! Truly a game of 2 halves….on to France!!

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