Scotland Under-20s 22
France Under-20s 29
DAVID BARNES @ Netherdale
THE body language of the Scotland team at the end of this gruelling contest suggests that they felt that this was one that had got away, but in the cold light of day they will look back and take enormous encouragement from the way they bossed proceedings for large chunks in the first half, and refused to be killed off by their bigger and more experienced opponents after the break, despite spending the best part of half an hour under the cosh.
A first ever win over France at this age-grade (at the 15th time of asking) wasn’t to be, but there was plenty in this performance to suggest that Scotland can go down to Colwyn Bay next Friday and finish their Six Nations campaign on a high by beating Wales.
“They are disappointed, but I am just so proud of the boys in terms of never giving up and fighting right to the end,” said defeated head coach Sean Lineen. “They set high standards for themselves, and losing is hard to take after playing so well against a strong Italian team last time out, but we now just need to make sure we keep the environment positive, learn from the experience and get ready to take on Wales.
“It is better learning when you are winning than when you are losing, I suppose, but we need to go down and make a statement next week. It is going to be incredibly tough, but this group of players are definitely capable of beating Wales.”
Even after Gauthier Maravat flopped over the line on 66 minutes to make it 17-29, the Scots wouldn’t lie down and they got it back to within seven points with a Ewan Ashman try to set up a tense finale – but they just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank during that last five minutes.
“The bottom line is that they were better than us,” conceded Lineen. “They were more powerful than us and squeezed us in that third quarter. We weren’t used to the line-speed, it was a real challenge to our skills, and we needed to work incredibly hard to get over the gain-line.
“We made a lot of line-breaks in the first half and just couldn’t finish them off. They scrambled hard but we thought we had them on the ropes there at one point. Our set-piece wasn’t as good as it has been, so they really challenged us there.”
A lively Scottish start saw Robbie McCallum break the line with an exceptional show-and-go then back-handed feed to Matt Currie, and Nathan Chamberlain release Ollie Smith from deep with an equally elegant offload a few minutes later. Then, after Smith had pushed France back to deep inside their own 22 with an excellently weighted kick to the corner, the visitors finally got their reward on 17 minutes when Chamberlain had no problem turning an offside penalty into three points – although he seemed to take an age to line-up the kick.
That sparked France into life, and they struck back almost immediately when Yoram Moefana nipped up the blindside of a ruck near halfway and made good ground before feeding back in field to Joris Moura, who then sent captain Jordon Joseph streaking unchallenged under the posts. Moura added the easy conversion, and then three more points when Thomas Lambert was penalised for holding onto the ball on the deck in front of his own posts.
It was a double-whammy, but the Scots bounced right back off the ropes, with Cameron Henderson – not for the first time in the championship – showing the ball playing ability of an outside back to fire a long pass across the park, which moved the point of attack and eventually led to Currie sending Rufus McLean over in the corner, after a number of dangerous interventions from Chamberlain, Smith and captain Rory Darge.
Chamberlain nailed the touchline conversion to square it, only for France to strike right back again when lively full-back Erwan Didi collected an inside pass and shrugged off three tackles on his way to the line, but the Scots wouldn’t lie down and they were soon back on level pegging again when Chamberlain kicked a penalty to the corner and the subsequent line-out drive created the platform for scrum-half Roan Frostwick to send Jacob Henry over.
Scotland ended the half where they had spent most of the previous 40 minutes, camped in French territory, thanks to a powerful midfield burst from Connor Boyle, but it was a different story after the break as France cranked it up a gear.
The visitors snatched the lead for the third time when stand-off Thibault Debaes picked out right winger Nethaneal Hulleu with an inch-perfect cross-kick, and although Scotland recovered briefly to earn a couple of scrum penalties, they couldn’t sustain it.
As the pressure continued to build, the number of handling errors made and penalties conceded began to rack up, and eventually the dam burst when Scotland’s scrum – which has been such an important part of their game in recent weeks – was totally overwhelmed on it’s own five-yard line, and Maravat picked up and dived over unchallenged.
It looked like a killer blow but proved to be a catalyst for a brave Scottish revival, which delivered a try from Ashman after France had courted a yellow-card by continually flopping off their feet as Scotland tried to build pressure through the forwards.
When Scotland won a ruck penalty straight from the restart, and a scrum penalty on halfway a few minutes later, the prospect of a famous Scottish victory was on the cards, and even when Cameron Scott’s kick to the corner missed touch they managed to keep the pressure on – earning one final turnover. But then a penalty conceded for crossing meant a pulsating match ended in disappointment for the young Scots.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 27)
Scotland Under-20s: O Smith; R McLean (H Paterson 67), M Currie, R McCallum, J Henry; N Chamberlain (C Scott 64), R Frostwick (K McGhie, 51); T Lambert (A Maxwell 72), E Ashman (R Jackson 72), M Wilson (G Breese 58), K Watt (J Campbell 51), C Henderson, G Brown (J Hill 51), C Boyle, R Darge.
France Under-20s: E Dridi; N Hulleu, Y Moefana, J Moura (E Retiere 62), N Farissier (R Fusier 70); T Debaes, N Legarrec (T Idjellidaine 68); S Lotrian (A Ikahehegi 54), G Cramont (L Zarantonello 54), P Mallez (R Montagne 40), J Brennan, G Maravat (Lachaise 60), M Guillard, M Haddad (T William 67), J Joseph.
Referee: Adam Jones (Wales)
Scotland: Tries: McLean, Henry, Ashman, Con: Chamberlain 2; Pen: Chamberlain.
France: Tries: Joseph, Dridi, Hulleu, Maravat; Cons: Moura 2, Debaes; Pen: Moura.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-10; 8-10; 10-10; 10-15; 10-17; 15-17; 17-17 (h-t) 17-22; 17-27; 17-29; 22-29.