Six Nations: Scotland let themselves be undone by ‘Dupont’s Law’

Hosts surrendered control of their own destiny by indulging in a game of kick-tennis which suited their opponents far more than it suited them

Scotland's Finn Russell has an excellent kicking repertoire but he played into France;'s hands on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
Scotland's Finn Russell has an excellent kicking repertoire but he played into France;'s hands on Saturday. Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

SOMETIMES in life (and in sport), you don’t get what you deserve. Scotland are entitled to feel hard done by after Saturday’s heart-wrenching defeat to France at Murrayfield, and it stings even more because it is the second time in as many weeks that they have been denied a try at the death by the TMO.

But in any clear-eyed analysis, Gregor Townsend, his coaching team and his match-day squad must acknowledge that they shoulder the lion’s share of responsibility for the final 16-20 score-line, having taken their foot off Les Bleus’ throat midway through the second half, thus leaving themselves vulnerable to one unpredictable referee decision in the final minute going the wrong way.

As co-captain Finn Russell said immediately after the final whistle: “We can’t let the referee decide what happens in the game. It is up to us to play better and make these matches a victory.”


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A fair point, but worth noting that Russell played a leading role in allowing France to gain the scoreboard advantage midway through the second half, having been hapless and hopeless in about equal measure – at least in an attacking sense – up until that point.

Whether it was by accident or design, Scotland ended up playing a game of kick-tennis which neutralised all the advantages they had previously enjoyed in terms of cohesion, focus and desire to play positive rugby. They lost their structure and for a crucial period they lost the plot.

The game definitively shifted to an aerial rather than a ground battle just after Scotland had stretched into a 16-10 lead through a second successful Russell penalty on 57 minutes – but the emphasis at this stage was on contestable and space finding kicks.

Then Russell launched an audacious drop-goal attempt from halfway on 62 minutes, which was perhaps an indication that the contrary side of his personality was getting the better of the disciplined, game-plan orientated side.

A minute later, the quality of rugby descended into a snore-fest, with the ball looping back and forward between deep kickers/receivers six times, before Russell took a 10 second breather then launched an ambitious 40-yard clearance into touch.

France’s response was to take a quick-throw and they made good ground with ball in hand. Did this push Scotland further towards indulging that low-energy, low-ambition kick strategy which had the Murrayfield crowd booing in protest.

Eventually, in the 67th minute, France’s Tomas Ramos took his time in the same way as Russell had a few minutes earlier, but in this instance he broke the monotony by choosing to run the ball back instead. A neat exchange of passes with Yoram Moefana helped make good ground, before the full-back prodded a scuffed grubber forward which slapdash Scotland made a hash of tidying up, with Grant Gilchrist scooping the ball between his legs five yards diagonally backwards to nobody, then Russell appeared on the scene to deliver a wild fly-hack of the loose-ball straight into Pierre Schoeman’s crown jewels.

The Scottish prop did well to absorb the impact with not much more than a grimace, and Chris Paterson in commentary wisely stifled a snigger because while this was a comedy of errors, it was no laughing matter from a Scottish perspective.

The accidental offside handed France a scrum which proved to be the launchpad for Louis Bielle-Biarrey to streak past Scotland’s unconnected defence for the match-winning try.

 

 

“At 16-10, the game that was presented to us – the game of kick and stay in front of the kicker – we dealt with that fine,” claimed Townsend, after another second half slump from his team.

“It’s not really a case of whether it suited us or not – a wet ball doesn’t suit teams, so you need to adapt,” he later added.

Finn Russell, Harry Paterson and Ben White were the main people involved in terms of making the decisions to kick, and Finn could have waited ten minutes, held the ball and the game would have ended,” he reasoned.

“I’ve complained about this law a year ago when we were playing France. I think it’s a terrible part of the game. We saw it in the Bath versus Gloucester game [five weeks ago] with 12 kicks in a row [two kicked by Russell].

“We don’t want to be a team who takes part in that, so a couple of times we kicked the ball out, and a couple of times Harry ran with it.”

 

 

Townend is bemoaning what has come to be known as ‘Dupont’s Law’ – ironically named after France’s talismanic scrum-half and erstwhile captain who is currently on sabbatical playing sevens in the hope of becoming an Olympian in Paris later this year, and who is widely acknowledged as one of the most entertaining and innovative players in the history of the game.

It is actually a loophole (rather than a law), initially exploited by Dupont at Toulouse after he figured out that players in an offside position after a kick don’t actually have to retreat until they are onside according to the current law book. Instead, they can stay static (so long as they start more than 10 metres back from where the ball has come down) until the catcher of the ball either runs five metres, kicks or passes, at which point they are deemed to be onside once again.

That means that it is possible to cover both the backfield and frontline at the same time after a kick, leaving the catcher stranded between a rock a hard place. As soon as he (or she) moves five-yards to counter-attack, all those 10 or 11 players in the frontline are back in the game, so the odds are stacked against the ball-carrier. However, if you choose to kick long, the backfield is policed by as many as four or five catchers, so finding grass is next to impossible.

It turns into a game of cat-and-mouse which bores paying spectators, and on Saturday it derailed Scotland’s momentum.

However, there are ways to break the cycle with a bit of cunning and a dose of courage, as France demonstrated in the lead-up to their second try on Saturday, and Wales demonstrated the week before when Cameron Winnett stuck a high ball up which he chased and won back himself.

Duhan van der Merwe is one of the most celebrated broken-field runners in the game, so why not have him lined up in the back-field ready to take the ball off the catcher at full-gallop to see if he can replicate his long-range try-scoring exploits from Twickenham in 2023 and the Principality Stadium in 2024?

France’s line-out was a shambles on Saturday so why not kick the ball into the stand and try to pressurise them there?

Scotland were well aware that France might want to turn this game into a kicking battle, and they had the personnel to stop that from happening if they really wanted to.

It feels like at six points ahead, they decided they had done enough against a poor French side so were happy to see the game turn into a non-event and wait out the clock. It was a big risk with less than a converted score cushion – it was also an unnecessary risk – and they got their fingers burned.

 

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About David Barnes 3817 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.

25 Comments

  1. The premise behind this article is incorrect.

    Scotland clearly won the kicking game. If we had thrown it around and lost, the same journalist would blame Finn’s game management. If the ref had awarded the clear knock on, we would have had our put in on their 22 with 9 mins to go.

    This is a very good French team that we made look average by playing the conditions really well.

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  2. Great article.

    However, one point I’ve been thinking about. The conditions suggested the ball was going to be greasy and kicking the ball away seemed like the correct decision. Although, as mentioned in the article, Scotland got bogged down. Contradicting this is Scotland’s try in the first half. A free flowing, beautifully crafted try full of slick handling. So Scotland could play in that weather, so why did we fall into the French trap.

  3. I think there is some truth in the thrust of this article and for me it boils down to one thing more than anything- mentality. This has plagued Scotland for two decades, an occasionally fragile mentality and at times lack of self belief. There are a number of examples in recent years that still illustrate these same failings. Yes we have been much better since 2015 and have become competitive again and on our day very good, but look at some of the examples of where that lack of ruthless mentality has let us down.

    2020 in Dublin- Eminently winnable and had Hoggy not dropped that ball there is a good chance we might go on and win that game, but we couldnt take advantage of a passive Ireland team in transition

    2021 home to Wales- THAT game we should have won, 17-3 up and absolutely cruising. We let Wales back into the game, then a totally needless red card and alas the rest is history. In my opinion that match may well have cost us the 6 Nations championship that year.

    2021 home to Ireland- awful first half but second half we dominated the Irish and brought it back to 24-24. We had the ascendancy and in the last 5 mins we give away a really daft penalty, Ireland knick it

    2022 home to New Zealand- dominate them for 55 minutes and storm into a lead, playing fantastic rugby. We allow them back into the game around 65 mins and the roof caves in

    2023 home to Ireland- brilliant first half and at half time we look well in this game. Ireland decimated with injuries have a patched up side 2nd half and we simply fail to turn up after the break. We actually didnt know how to deal with the fact they had auxiliary forwards playing in different positions as they had no other options. We got caught on the hoof and we couldnt cope mentally

    2024 away to Wales- Storm into a 0-27 lead and should go on to utterly humiliate Wales. We totally switch off, discipline falls apart completely and we almost lose that game. Unbelievably

    2024 home to France- As poor a French performance as we have been up against in years in the 6N, we are in complete control and as the writer says we just stopped playing. 16-10 up and we dont press home our advantage. Yes the kick tennis wasnt ideal and we had to manage that phase correctly, but lets be honest we barely fired a shot in that second half until the very end. France completely there for the taking and we really blew it (as much as the last second decision wrongly went against us)

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    • Interesting. But Scotland did win the kicking battle. You can watch the replay. France knocked on but referee ruled it went sideways.

    • No doubt part of it is a mental fragility Addie, however, the majority of those games you listed appear to be 2nd failures. My question therefore is could it in large part the fitness of the squad that is an issue? Mistakes are made under pressure, of which includes physical fatigue.

      Despite popular opinion by media and the coaching team that Scotland are one of the fittest sides on the planet, could this in fact be the major problem for us at the highest level?

      • I get the point you’re making about mental fragility. I just don’t think you can make a case for it for this particular match.

  4. Have to say I completely disagree.

    Yes, of course Scotland could have taken a risk to break out the kick tennis cycle. But I will bet you all the whisky on Islay that if we had taken that risk and lost the ball in our own half and it had led to a French try everyone would be complaining about it.

    Time after time I have seen folk (including me) on here complaining about Scotland playing too much rugby in their own half and losing as a result. I’m not going to criticise them for being a bit more pragmatic for the sake of a couple of minutes of less than enthralling rugby which, by the way, pales in comparison to the amount of time wasted watching scrums being reset.

    The French lineout may have SEEMED flaky at the beginning but they didn’t lose any more than Scotland did, so they were winning the vast majority of their throws especially later in the match – maybe you should credit Finn for realising that and choosing not to just hand them a launch platform around halfway.

    You do, after all, point out that the French try was scored after A MISTAKE gave them a launch platform there. Surely, then, you can’t possibly argue that we should have just given them the ball in that position?

    Both France and Wales were losing when they tried to break out the cycle. They would not have if they were 6 points up playing in the last quarter, nor do I think any team with championship ambitions would.

    What happened on Saturday is that we ended up losing while not being very entertaining and that is the only reason this is being discussed in this way. Had we won it is likely this would have been cited as a masterclass in keeping the French strike-runners out of the game.

    We can all accept winning ugly or losing all guns blazing but losing ugly is a big problem which will have financial consequences if repeated too often. But, I do think if we have pretensions about winning this tournament, it is a chance we have to take.

    It seems to have taken a few years for the coach / team to understand this. Maybe the majority of supporters aren’t quite there yet – and it would be no surprise given the dearth of success in recent times.

    Unless you are one of the best teams in the world, you will have many more days than not when you can win or entertain but not both.

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    • Correct….nut to mention we did touch down enough times to win, but officials had decided it was a France win no matter what. Can’t beat the officials.

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      • Nut is an appropriate word for you. Officials deciding it was a France win no matter what. You really are a child aren’t you?

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    • completely agree with you mate. Scotland were winning the game, the kick tennis suited us. Russell is also pretty good at manipulating those situations to get an opportunity at a 50/22. The game hinged on 2 key refereeing abominations. 1. Penaud drops it outside his 22 and Berry decides the laws of physics don’t apply, and claims it went back. France go up the field, get a scrum and score a try from it. 2. the decision at the end, not much to be said about that, we all know it was a farce.

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  5. Have to say I completely disagree.

    Yes, of course Scotland could have taken a risk to break out the kick tennis cycle. But I will bet you all the whisky on Islay that if we had taken that risk and lost the ball in our own half and it had led to a French try everyone would be complaining about it.

    Time after time I have seen folk (including me) on here complaining about Scotland playing too much rugby in their own half and losing as a result. I’m not going to criticise them for being a bit more pragmatic for the sake of a couple of minutes of less than enthralling rugby which, by the way, pales in comparison to the amount of time wasted watching scrums being reset.

    The French lineout may have SEEMED flaky at the beginning but they didn’t lose any more than Scotland did, so they were winning the vast majority of their throws especially later in the match – maybe you should credit Finn for realising that and choosing not to just hand them a launch platform around halfway.

    You do, after all, point out that the French try was scored after A MISTAKE gave them a launch platform there. Surely, then, you can’t possibly argue that we should have just given them the ball in that position?

    Both France and Wales were losing when they tried to break out the cycle. They would not have if they were 6 points up playing in the last quarter, nor do I think any team with championship ambitions would.

    What happened on Saturday is that we ended up losing while not being very entertaining and that is the only reason this is being discussed in this way. Had we won it is likely this would have been cited as a masterclass in keeping the French strike-runners out of the game.

    We can all accept winning ugly or losing all guns blazing but losing ugly is a big problem which will have financial consequences if repeated too often. But, I do think if we have pretensions about winning this tournament, it is a chance we have to take.

    It seems to have taken a few years for the coach / team to understand this. Maybe the majority of supporters aren’t quite there yet – and it would be no surprise given the dearth of success in recent times.

    Unless you are one of the best teams in the world, you will have many more days than not when you can win or entertain but not both.

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  6. I didn’t enjoy watching the kick tennis and the law should be changed to what I think it once was, players in front must immediately retreat until onside.
    That said, lots of teams play this these days, for good reasons, some explained well in the article.
    I can also guarantee that has we run one back into that defence and been turned over then France scored, the article would have been bemoaning our naivity in not kicking the ball to hell out of the 22. As Ive read so many times before.

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  7. Lots of ‘ifs’ ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ in this. The reality is, the conditions weren’t great and if Scotland did choose to play more expansive and then made a mistake, they would have been ridiculed for that as well (which they have often been in the past).

    There are undoubtably things they could have done different tactically, but I think it was more the decision making at crucial points which cost them such as the end of the first half when they should have come away with 3 at a minimum.

    The decisions from the officials clearly had a much bigger impact, the forward pass int the lead up to France’s last try, a clear punch thrown by Tuilagi, the clear knock on by Penaud. Then finally the ‘no try’ that was definitely a try. Scotland were in control but it’s difficult when all this is against you whilst playing the number 4 team in the world.

    You can’t get more Scottish than that result.

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  8. It was certainly at least an interesting maybe misjudged decision to totally negate Scotlands main weapon (attacking against weaker/poorer teams – which France were on Saturday). France did nothing outwith a lovely individual 10 seconds of excellent play (try).
    Go for a 50-22 at kick the ball out deep into their 22, launch a garrowowen with Dempsey and VdM chasing at least to keep them honest. The overthrow by Ashman was a real momentum killer however not unexpected.

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    • But how, John?

      It is virtually impossible to kick to touch into the opposing 22 from wide in your own 22 when the backfield is defended, let alone get a 50/22.

      You can’t launch a garryowen and have people who are in front of you chase it.

      There is literally nothing that could be done without taking an unnecessary risk deep in our own half other than kicking to touch for a substantial loss of yards or kicking deep in play. That is why everyone is screaming for the law to be changed so that players in front of the kicker don’t magically become onside just because the receiving team chooses to run or pass the ball.

      I get that people would like to see risks taken in the name of enterprising and entertaining rugby but if we are serious about winning anything why on earth would you do that when you are 6 points up and into the last quarter?

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      • Garry, I wonder of those now saying we should have kicked less and run more are the same folk who loved to criticise Scotland when they tried to run everything.

        BTW, your earlier post was worth posting twice!

  9. If Finn just sat on the ball, could the Scotland team filter back to get in position to run the ball across the pitch – perhaps even for a cross kick – with plenty of space between them and the defenders – rather than just standing still too? Might be worth at least moving the ball centre field providing options for our much vaunted backs left or right.

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  10. Agree whoelheartedly with this analysis as I’ve said (in not so many words / articulately as this!) elsewhere.

    It was a very strange decision to drop tempo, engage in kicking, make everything passive. Not sure why we did that. But thinking we’d done enough to win a game of rugby at 6 points ahead was madness

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  11. Good analysis. Scotland however can also be faulted, in the final few seconds, for trying to batter their way over the France line without thought of moving the ball wide at some point. Risky strategy when the ball is so often held up. It was the same in the dying minutes of the game against Wales when Scotland were in pursuit of a bonus point try. Scotland should have learned from their opponents by the way France engineered Fickou’s try. Ireland too are adept at suddenly switching the ball wide after hammering at the opposition line. And England showed this lateral sightedness against Wales for the Dingwall try.

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    • It wasn’t held up tho it was clearly grounded….add in clear forward pass on french try and the knock on they should have penalised for on their 22 it’s churlish to blame players / coaches. Officials chose to not let Scotland win and noone can beat the officials once they have made their minds up.

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    • A very good and most pertinent point, well made. More wit, intelligence and variation in play by Scotland at the end of both games would present a very different picture now.
      Against Wales we would have scored a bonus point try and possibly deprived Wales of their losing bonus point.
      In the French game we would have won and gained 3 more pints and deprived France of 3.
      Small margins.
      However the main problem for me has been the mediocre performances of our back row. Our back rows have nearly always been one of our traditional strengths but this season our weakness. Selecting players returning from injury with little game time and short of match fitness has not worked. Townsend needs to pick the form players so we can win the break down and win more turn over. Selecting players like Christie or the out of favour Bradbury.

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