Scotland v France report: Les Bleus show their class with emphatic win

Six tries to two demolition is sobering experience for Gregor Townsend's side

It was a frustrating afternoon for Finn Russell Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk
It was a frustrating afternoon for Finn Russell Image: © Craig Watson - www.craigwatson.co.uk

Scotland 17

France 36

DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield

A SOBERING experience for Scotland. They were a distant second best here. The gulf in class was vast. By the end, the French were toying with their harassed hosts, who deserve credit for digging in to claim a last minute consolation try.

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said during the week that this was a must-win for his team to stay contenders in this Six Nations. Scotland are clearly a long way off that level, and while you’d still back them to be good enough to despatch Italy in Rome in a fortnight’s time, that is not quite the foregone conclusion which we all bought into three weeks ago. The pressure is certainly on.

One bad performance/result does not make a bad team, and this is not a bad Scotland team. They are just not in the same league as France in full flow – and Les Bleus were a formidable proposition here. Fabien Gathie‘s side don’t have a particularly happy recent history against Scotland, so this performance provided further evidence that they are building something meaningful heading into next year’s World Cup on home soil. Certainly, the atmosphere among the French supporters in the ground suggests that there is a belief about this team which hasn’t always been evident during their more capricious eras.

First up, however, a first Six Nations title since 2010 beckons for the only unbeaten team left in the tournament, but Wales [away] and England [at home] will have something to say about that.


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France’s kick-off went out on the full, which might have been a mistake, but may also have been a ploy to secure an early opportunity to pile pressure onto Scotland’s scrum, because it was clear from the start that this was an area the visitors wanted to target. Scotland held on – just – this time although possession was scrappy and Finn Russell‘s snap clearance was charged down, leading to an accidental offside scrum for Scotland from which they conceded a free-kick, and France then demonstrated their solidity on their own ball to launch a scything attack.

Melvyn Jaminet missed a straight-forward opportunity to put his side ahead after Stuart McInally was penalised for going off his feet, but the sizeable and vocal French support at Murrayfield didn’t have to wait long for their opening score, because Antoine Dupont ran a fairly aimless kick from Russell back with real venom a few minutes later, and Paul Willemse finished off.

Russell struck back with an offside penalty to make it 3-7, before a fine 50-22 from Jaminet created the platform for a another terrific French try, with Jonathan Danty crashing up the middle, then some slick hands – particularly from Damian Penaud and prop Cyril Baille to keep the ball in play under serious pressure – sent Yoram Moefana over on the right.

There wasn’t much for the home support to get animated about during this first 20 minutes, but they were brought to their feet when Grant Gilchrist stole line-out ball near his own 22 and Jaminet misjudged Ali Price‘s box-kick, handing Duhan van der Merwe then Chris Harris a chance to gallop in open prairie. Sam Skinner collided with Jaminet as he tried to collect Russell’s pass and France escaped downfield, only for referee Karl Dickson, under pressure from the crowd and the big screen, to belatedly pull play all the way back downfield for a penalty. Correct call: Jaminet had indeed body-checked Skinner without the ball.

Scotland went to the corner and came close to a try off a Price snipe, but he couldn’t ground the ball, so play was brought back for a high tackle and the hosts kept the pressure on before finally getting their try through Rory Darge, hitting a great line coming back against they grain to wrong-foot opposite number Anthony Jelonch.

Russell’s conversion brought it back to a two-point game, and Scotland could have had the lead by the break when some inter-passing behind the gain-line opened up a gap for van der Merwe to burst through. He worked a brilliant scissors with Harris who had men lining up on his left, but the pass was in front of Stuart Hogg and the full-back couldn’t quite collect.

Instead, France awoke from their slumber and surged back to have the last word of the half, with Gael Fickou going over in the corner off an arcing run past some fairly pedestrian Scottish defence.

 

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The second half started disastrously for Scotland. Mark Bennett, on as a half time substitute for Harris, hit the line hard, but Price was indecisive off the quick recycle and ended up being dispossessed, with France taking full advantage. Penaud kicked ahead and the bounce out-foxing both Hogg and van der Merwe, allowing Danty to sail in for the try.

With France comfortably ahead, the game loosened up, and Scotland did manage to find gaps in their opponents defence, but tended to be out-muscled and dispossessed at the breakdown when they got within striking distance.

On the hour mark, Darge was caught in possession in the middle of the park, and with minimal support he was powerless to stop the ball being ripped away and sent right for Penaud to trot home unchallenged.

And the winger doubled up with six minutes to go with another gift-wrapped effort, collecting Romain Ntamack‘s cross field kick in acres of space and nothing halting his progress to the try line.

A last minute try, created by Blair Kinghorn running int back from deep through France’s half asleep defence, and finished off by van der Merwe, provided some consolation to the hosts.

 

Teams –

Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris (M Bennett 41), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell (B Kinghorn 60), A Price (B White 48-57, 68); P Schoeman (O Kebble 60), S McInally (G Turner 55), Z Fagerson (W Nel 55), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (J Hodgson 60), N Haining (A Christe 43) R Darge,  M Bradbury.

France: M Jaminet (T Ramo 71); D Penaud, G Fickou, J Danty, Y Moefana; R Ntamack, A Dupont (M Lucu 73); C Baille (J Gros 57), J Marchand (P Mauvaka 53), U Atonio (D Bamba 47), C Woki (D Cretin 67), P Willemse (R Taofifenua 53), F Cros, A Jelonch (T  Flament 53), G Alldritt.

Scorers –

Scotland: Try: Darge, van der Merwe; Con: Russell, Hogg; Con: Russell.

France: Willemse, Moefana, Fickou, Danty, Penaud 2; Cons; Jaminet 3.

Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5; 07; 3-7; 3-12; 8-12; 10-12; 10-19 (h-t) 10-24; 10-26; 10-31; 10-36; 15-36; 17-36.


U20s 6N: France see red twice but still too strong for Scotland

About David Barnes 3112 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.

34 Comments

  1. When Price drops the ball it is picked up by Woki who is on both knees and passed giving France instant momentum. This should have been a penalty to Scotland not a try to france

  2. Completel agree with every point here. I was way more angry at the choke in Cardiff than getting skelped by France. That was the game, as you say – mentally, belief-wise, it was critical that we won that game. having lost that, with no momentum and punctured confidence, I predicted we’d not win today and I think we got leathered by a team that would beat anyone just now. No shame in that. But this campaign will fizzle out now. And it went with Jamie Ritchie IMO. What a shame. We have great players, but lack leadership (without Ritchie), composure and belief. That is the difference. Hogg has been great, but needs to give up captaincy and focus on his game – how much longer does he have left? Russell needs to get serious and get in the gym. Townsend needs to develop more of a winning, ruthless, bloody-minded psyche in the team. Gah.

  3. I feel there’s a bit of a form and fitness issue in parts of the squad. A few players, most notably those playing in England and France, are carrying quite a few extra pounds and look to be lacking form, agility and acceleration. In the backs Hogg and Russell, in the forwards, Gray (I know he wasn’t playing yesterday). Look back to the better games in the last five years and you can see that the physical performance of these players is more athletic and dangerous ball in hand. I hope there will be a big fitness push to get these guys lighter on their feet when Scotland camp gathers for the RWC. I’m assuming a culture of bulking up in the Premiership and perhaps less of a focus on fitness in France. They’re great players, but some edge in breaking the space has visibly been lost.

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      • Sorry Hugues, I agree that national team look very fit indeed. However, it is oft reported that there is less of a focus on fitness at some of the French clubs than players may have been used to before moving there. I remember reading comments on that by both Johnny Beattie and Richie Gray, although that is going back a bit,and which is why I speculate with ‘perhaps’ rather than stressing the point. Either way, Finn is looking a wee bit soft around the edges. He’s definitely stepped up his game management, but I would say he’s lost a little of his edge ball in hand, where darting through breaks in the defensive line fairly regularly was a significant part of his game.
        Hogg is always more of a threat when he goes slight, rather than pumped. Look back at some of the games 2017/18 where he was absolutely electric, scything through defences (and good defences – not just naive ones). Quite a different build and quite a different threat.

  4. Lets be honest, we can pick over the bones of this post mortem but our championship was in ruins 2 weeks ago in Cardiff. That was the game, that was our moment to be in the hunt for the championship come the final weekend, to really show the others we mean business, and we absolutely failed. A complete bottle job is what it was.

    Yesterday we came up against an incredibly powerful and skilful French team. Yes we left some points out there and we could have defended better, but I think on the basis of that French performance there was only ever gonna be one outcome.

    The truth is that the way we are playing we might labour past Italy without a BP win and we will almost certainly get hammered in Dublin, the campaign is going to leave us with far more questions than answers and what a shame after we came so close to actually winning it last year (again, a bottle job in a long line of bottle of jobs against Wales costing us then too).
    Sorry for the grumpy analysis but yes im grumpy, wounded and frustrated

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    • Completel agree with every point here. I was way more angry at the choke in Cardiff than getting skelped by France. That was the game, as you say – mentally, belief-wise, it was critical that we won that game. having lost that, with no momentum and punctured confidence, I predicted we’d not win today and I think we got leathered by a team that would beat anyone just now. No shame in that. But this campaign will fizzle out now. And it went with Jamie Ritchie IMO. What a shame. We have great players, but lack leadership (without Ritchie), composure and belief. That is the difference. Hogg has been great, but needs to give up captaincy and focus on his game – how much longer does he have left? Russell needs to get serious and get in the gym. Townsend needs to develop more of a winning, ruthless, bloody-minded psyche in the team. Gah.

  5. That was a chastening experience. When France click they are exceptional. Almost to the point where you cant defend against them. The slick inter passing was great to watch.

    I said before the game that we had to be at the top of our game to get anything from this. Sadly too many players weren’t.

    Hopefully regroup and win in Rome.

  6. OK, time to put on the tin helmet.
    Let’s start with the coach … he talks a great but suitably modest game, but is he a hard enough “b”?
    Next, Hogg, who is still cashing in on memories of past achievements but currently only shows odd flashes of these past moments of brilliance.
    Russell: I am a great fan but think he may have lost his mojo.
    Price: I think he played a stormer.
    The Ref: not ready for this level of rugby & that is being kind.
    France: they need consistently better opposition than the 6N can offer.

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  7. I thought we hired a new attack coach last August. I do not see any positives in any of the matches since then! Indeed I think we shave gone backwards by a long way.

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  8. Losing a try just before and just after halftime was deflating, especially the nature of the 2nd one. How different it might have been if we hadn’t had the seemingly inevitable long hurl towards Hogg, we’ll never know, but we played better rugby for more of the first half than in the rest of the championship so far. France may not be flattered by the final score, as it turned out, but it could well have been a different game if that pass had gone to Hogg’s hands and we led at halftime.
    Darge made the sort of impact on the match that could make it difficult for the less than 100% fit Watson to get his spot back. Bennett brought more to the attack than Harris did and our pack was solid in the scrum, irrespective of the angle Atonio pushed in.
    A solid performance in Rome is needed and that might mean keeping Bennett. The team selection will be interesting.

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    • Honestly behave…..cotter gave us our worst ever defeat against England….no wins against England SA NZ or OZ m no wins away against England Wales or France….whilst toony has won home n away v Oz only lost one in four v English n has away wins in France wales n England which cotter never got even vaguely close too. Cotter was a shocking coach in terms of results n most of players hated him. Is it time to look beyond Townsend….oh absolutely…but to cotter?? No absolutely never he was an utter charlatan.

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      • I knew my comment would split the crowd – and indeed it has. But whatever you say, Cotter gave Scotland a solidity we completely lacked, transforming a basket case into a team that could – and should – have reached a World Cup final, but for a Saffer ref who ducked the biggest decision of his officiating career. The Kiwi’s reward was not to have his contract renewed by the SRU, which was nothing short of shabby. Toony is a national treasure – we loved him as a player, Glasgow folk will still bask in the success he brought them and above all Scotland can at least claim it has one of its own managing the national side. Emotionally, that makes any criticism of him hard to bear, but no less true – and there are questions to be answered. The selection policy is suspect, the team is not motivated and – despite its undoubted talent – it does not perform when it really counts. Whether that’s in a World Cup, a test match against the Saffers or in the Six Nations versus the Welsh and French when there are prizes to be won. We haven’t really progressed over the past four years, not really, and that hurts. In particular I am heartily sick of the ‘there, there, let’s focus on the positives’ attitude whenever the wheels come off. What is needed is a swift kick up the bihooky, as would be administered in any other walk of life, or with any other coach. I often wonder where we could have been had a different decision been made over four years ago. The honeymoon is long since over.

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  9. Agree with Comments re Kinghorn. Why are we not blooding Thomson or keeping faith with Hastings who has never let Scotland down. Kinghorn would be great from fullback in second half.

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  10. Ok let’s try and make some sense of this fro my point of view. France were outstanding and when they are on a roll they are unstoppable. They were a joy to watch. From Scotland’s point of view Price was in poor form, he telegraphed pretty well everything and did not offer enough variation to keep France honest. Zander Fagerson is a liability as he gives away so many penalties. Russell is by a long way off form, but Blair Kinghorn by a long way is not the second best 10 eligible to play for Scotland. When you see players like Hutchinson playing at the highest level in English rugby as a ind of second 10 I really do not understand the selection process. Scotland have lost their way, big time. They seem to think that somehow Darcy and VDW will get them out of jail, if they just keep defending long enough. Townsend has to take the blame as his tactics , strategy and personnel are not working.

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    • Hutchison has been electric at times no idea why he is not being given a chance to spark attempts to break defences which we are struggling to do when in possession

  11. Can’t believe anyone sane would look at cotter’s records statistically and think he’s a better option than Toony….that said we look jaded and predictable and are failing badly at the fundamental aspects of the game. Maybe we should promote the women’s coaching team who were tactically astute rock solid if not dominant at set piece and happy to read the picture ahead of them. The ref today was an utter disgrace. He clearly made his mind up a couple of weeks ago. French tacklers not rolling away, playing ball on the ground blatant blocking and cheating at line outs and haining being cheap shotted all ignored. The haining pen should have been a card as with previous week against Wales. Ref didn’t even want to check our possible try for Ali Price.That should be refs last international. Yes France are excellent but we cannot win when we struggle with passing or set piece play. Harris butchering a four on one typifies his lack of ability at top level. It’s scandalous that Bennett has been left out for so long when he did more in forty min than Harris ever has in his entire Scottish career. Also if Harris is our defensive lynchpin how can we can concede more tries with him on the park than when he left. It’s been an awful weekend for the male set up but years ago many of us said this would be the result of the Dodson / Johnson dogs dinner of a structure and if we don’t totally change our SRU management then this will be our future. Italy genuinely look like overtaking us given their development programme. We need to stop spending any money on foreign vanity projects like DC, stop spending money on foreign scouting, scrap the unsustainable s6 and start pumping that cash into grassroots and youth rugby. If we can’t afford a third pro side then we can’t afford pay cheque journey men from anywhere but Scotland playing for the two we do have. The pro sides and even S6 are full of guys who are only tenuously SQ and over thirty years this has provided nothing but failure compared to likes of Ireland and Wales….the Ireland CEO earns roughly one third of Dodson…let that sink in when you compare their national and club achievements during Dodson’s reign.

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  12. No problem with result . Well beaten by a side who picked us off and knew how to do it . Carl Dickson is not an international referee and we had him today and that was a given ,but unfortunately we have listen to criticism of Mike Adamson ? That is a very good French side but we did make them look even better by being very predictable without the physicality to carry it out and isolated runners . Darge outstanding

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  13. No problem with result . Well beaten by a side who picked us off and knew how to do it . Carl Dickson is not an international referee and we had him today and that was a given ,but unfortunately we have listen to criticism of Mike Adamson ? That is a very good French side but we did make them look even better by being very predictable without the physicality to carry it out and isolated runners .

  14. How many times did we get penalised for not releasing at the tackle? No matter what we think of the referee, we weren’t getting to grips with his interpretation of the breakdown. What was the penalty count in the end?
    On the plus side, Rory Darge was immense….and that’s about it

  15. Bennett did well as did Darcy Graham as usual, Harris put in a couple of essential tackles, whilst watching the game I had just thought that I would say in my comment ‘why was Kinghorn on for Russell’ and then he strolled through a huge gap and sent VdM away who also put in a good shift, but there again I don’t think Kinghorn offered anything more significant than Russell who truth be told didn’t have one of his best, but at least when Finn does hit a hot streak he is lethal: then there was Darge what a first Cap.
    Let’s look at the facts however, this is the best French Team home or away for a generation or possibly longer and as Johnson said on the BBC summary, Scotland had to have every run of the ball and a bit of luck on top to get a result, that didn’t happen, but take the positives and move on.
    Three times the ref suckered into giving France a penalty at the line out even after he warned them the first time for holding up Woki, what a ludicrous decision, tell them not to repeat it but still give a penalty! Why not let it go if he thought they were ‘milking it’ and just warn them, enough Refs hand out free advice these days why didn’t he?
    Hope is eternal, how many times have we said ‘in many respects we will play worse and win? I am loath to blame a Referee but I just couldn’t work out some other ‘whistle’s’. The truth is France are good enough not to need to sucker the ref for penalties, if you get my ‘Corinthian’ drift.
    The final thoughts the killer blow was when we nearly scored twice just before half time and then the French take tries either side of half time, the fact that Scotland stayed in there was creditable.
    We need a disciplined and ruthless performance in Rome and if nothing else I am less worried about the fixture in Dublin than I was after I viewed the France/Ireland game but we will need to look at the positives, select the correct XV and bench and improve on today’s performance because Ireland weren’t that far off in Paris and Dublin isn’t a happy hunting ground.

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  16. The stats on the 6N website make fascinating reading. We had 59% possession. France made 177 tackles v our 78 and we made 187 passes v Frances 97. Make sense out of that – you’d hope to win games with that much ball. I think it confirms my earlier comments that we did have plenty ball but lacked the cutting edge to do much with it. Statistics1

  17. There are some good players coming through like Ollie Smith but AFAIK they’re all backs.
    We could do with a really horrible 2nd row. Grant Gilchrist nearly there but not quite imo.

    France looked exceptional. They’ve threatened this for a while and yes they got some luck but they rode it.

    They’ve got everything. Massive forwards who can take on a pack like the Boks and backs who can tear you up like the ABs.

  18. A good win from a very good French side. The had lucky breaks a couple of times but 6 tries to 2 is a comprehensive win. The positives from Scotland Darge that’s it , I thought he might not step up but he did in spades. Thought the scrum and line out went well for us. However Finn is taking nonchalance to a ridiculous level, he was very poor yet again. I would drop him for Italy and bring back Hastings , but not Kinghorn please.
    VDM and Graham hardly saw the ball but Bennett looked good when he came on.
    The game really was lost by not playing through the hands with the move ending with Hoggs dropping the ball just before half time. Just watched Wales v/s England and they both are like Scotland missing the cutting edge, defensively strong but all three just run into contact and make little progress. That said Scotland missed a good few chances today it can be a habit. Our 6N now hinges on beating Ireland, good luck with that one.

  19. Wow I also just got back – not sure we were watching the same game. Scotland were a very very distant second best in the second half – unfortunate for Hogg he’s a great player and everyone makes mistakes but the pass wasn’t great. Second half capitulation was very hard to watch. We have some really good players, the coaching team leaves a great deal to be desired. Attack for most of the game non-existant, vaunted defence found wanting please please bring back Cotter steady forward progress not loads of we’re great and no delivery as we have under Townsend. second half the worst scotland performance since the one against Ireland in the World Cup.

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    • It’s the same old again – we have to listen to the same tune – isnt it time to look at freshening up the management team
      On todays performance I would drop Hogg and Blair and Russell should be on his last chance

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      • Russell on his last chance? You’re having a laugh, right?!
        The boy is the best Scottish talent of his generation – he’s entitled to have an average game now and then.
        Hastings is decent but nowhere close to Finn’s level.

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  20. The blootered try was a real turning point. Great line by Harris but the pass to Hogg looked wrong as soon as it left the hand. I’ve been a big fan of the defensive grit and straight running Harris brings, but as someone else said on here – a defensive system that relies on one player isn’t a system. I thought we looked better when Bennett came on.

    Generally our transition from defence to attack has been poor all 6N and France took ruthless advantage. We looked vulnerable whenever we turned them over, whereas they looked lethal when they turned us over.

    Thought the ref was very poor, particularly around the first half line out pens which clearly came from the French lifters holding their man in the air for an absolute age.

    On a positive note, the scrum held up against some absolute monsters. And any England fans who think Tom Curry is the next Richie McCaw – do yourselves a favour and don’t watch Rory Darge play.

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  21. Just back from the game and real mixed emotions about this one. At times I though we played more and better rugby than against wales but end up getting a hiding. The butchered try just before half time was crucial and then they score in overtime. So instead of 19-10 to France it could have been 17-12 to us. Then we concede a killer try just after half time when we are on the attack and Ali Price drops the ball in the tackle and they score at the other end 20 seconds later. OK France are ruthless and a top side, whenever they had the ball they looked dangerous but it could have been a lot closer. We do however lack that clinical edge and make mistakes at the wrong time. The good teams don’t do that.

    Or perhaps I am being over optimistic and this is just like the Scotland of old where we have a lot of ball, play quite well in parts but lack the cutting edge and end up losing.

    Not sure where to go next – very frustrating

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  22. Darge was fantastic, and Bennett looked great when he came on.

    Kinghorn… is not a 10. So obvious. Great broken field runner at 15, why not play him there.

    Feel harsh saying it was poor from Russell – how many 10s would play well with the zero continuity and platform the forwards give.

    Actually thought Price played much better than previous, actually decided to run for once.

    Issues…

    Breakdown has been such a problem all tournament, completely undercommit to rucks, and we don’t break the gainline enough to warrant that. Backs need to put their head in.

    Set piece was much better than expected, but we cannot execute at all. Terrible at taking our chances (Harris, it was 4vs1, what are you doing?!? Hogg should catch, but still).

    Ref was terrible, but didn’t deserve anything from the game. Looking like a really dissapointing tournament, can’t see how it ever gets better. 2021 was the golden chance missed.

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