Stuart Bathgate @ Murrayfield
GREIG Laidlaw got it right, as he so often does. On the eve of the game, the captain suggested that, at this stage of proceedings, getting a result was perhaps more important than producing a big performance.
Ideally, of course, you want to do both. But, after last week’s heavy defeat in Nice, what was needed above all was a move in the right direction. And, while there were still errors aplenty in this second of four World Cup warm-up Tests, this was definitely a significant improvement.
Scotland showed the character to win despite their own limitations. They again conceded very early in the first half, and were 14-3 down before finding their way back into proceedings with a try shortly before the interval. They took the lead for the first time around the hour mark, and always stayed just on top after that.
It was not a classic by any means, and it should be said that France, sublime at times last week, contributed heavily to their own downfall this time. Even so, if you have a choice between a flawed defeat and a mildly fortunate win, you will take the latter every time.
The control shown by the home team in the closing moments was especially heartening after the ominous beginning to the game. The opening score of the game came with just one minute 50 seconds on the clock. Pete Horne tried to inject a bit of adventure into a somewhat static right-to-left move down the line, but only succeeded in having his pass intercepted by Damian Penaud, who raced 60 metres to the line. Thomas Ramos converted.
Scotland bounced back quickly, opening their account with a Laidlaw penalty, but it was a woeful start all the same. Last week in Nice they had conceded after 1min 36sec: you can only presume that when they talked in training about getting off to a better beginning this time round, lasting a mere 14 seconds longer was not what they had in mind. Tommy Seymour did not last long either, being replaced by Blair Kinghorn in the 12th minute after taking a third heavy hit from the French defence.
Some stability had been introduced by that time, and Scotland gave almost as good as they got until another spill produced a second try for Penaud with quarter of an hour of the first half to go. Finn Russell was the culprit with a dropped ball, and when France won the ruck the ball went quickly down the line to Sofiane Guitoune, who cruised between Ryan Wilson and Sean Maitland before putting the right-winger in. Ramos again added the two points.
It should be said that France were not without their faults either, and shortly after the injured Camille Lopez had been replaced by Romain Ntamack, a mix-up between Ramos and Penaud in their own 22 gave Scotland an opening back into the game. Kinghorn and Chris Harris started the attack, and eventually a floated pass from Russell put Maitland through on the far left. Laidlaw’s conversion made it 10-14 at half-time, a score that flattered the home side but also suggested that the French were not quite as lethal as they had been in Nice.
The first significant moment of the second 40 saw debutant Blade Thomson come off with a knock, to be replaced by John Barclay. Allan Dell came on at loosehead for Gordon Reid, the French made three changes up front, and a feeling of lassitude set in as both sides began to tire on a hot and humid afternoon.
Then what had been an increasingly soporific match burst into life, thanks to further French fumbles. The first allowed Scotland to clear from deep, the second gave them the put-in to a scrum inside the opposition 22, and the eventual upshot was a try between the posts for Harris, giving his team the lead for the first time in the game. Laidlaw’s conversion made it a three-point lead, and as the match entered its final quarter we had the prospect of a morale-boosting if not entirely convincing victory.
Hooker Grant Stewart became the second Scot to win his first cap – in an enforced reshuffle for the injured lock Sam Skinner. With replacement lock Grant Gilchrist having come on a few minutes before Skinner sustained a leg knock, Barclay moved into the second row and George Turner moved from hooker to back row, with Stewart taking up his usual position.
There was a more determined edge to Scotland by that time, and the reorganise did not unduly unsettle them. As the game entered the last ten minutes, France also began to look sharper again, but they were nearly undone by an astute chip and chase from Stuart Hogg before eventually exiting their own 22 thanks to a Scots offence.
The visitors threatened in the closing minutes too, but half-heartedly. Scotland have the result they needed before next week’s trying trip to Tbilisi.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour (B Kinghorn 12), C Harris, P Horne (R Hutchinson 66), S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (G Horne 70); G Reid (A Dell 48), G Turner (G Stewart 61) , W Nel (S Berghan 57), S Cummings (G Gilchrist 57), S Skinner, R Wilson, H Watson, B Thomson (J Barclay 43).
France: T Ramos (M Medard 61); D Penaud, G Fickou, S Guitoune, A Raka; C Lopez (R Ntamack 38), A Dupont (B Serin); J Poirot (C Baille 51), G Guirado (C Chat 51), R Slimani (E Setiano 61), F Lambey ( R Taofifenua 51), S Vahaamahina, A Iturria, C Ollivon, G Alldritt (Y Camara 61).
Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Maitland, Harris. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pen: Laidlaw.
France: Tries: Penaud 2. Cons: Ramos 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-12, 3-14, 8-14, 10-14 half-time, 15-14, 17-14.
Referee: W Barnes (England).