Women’s 6N Summer Series: spirited Scotland U20s are overpowered by France

Bright start was soon overshadowed by a spate of injuries - and then a fierce French fightback

Scotland v France
Scotland try-scorer Gemma Bell in action against France. Image: Ben Brady /Inpho/courtesy of Scottish Rugby.

Scotland Under-20s 10

France Under-20s 69

THE conditions were tough and the opponents were tougher and after the brightest of starts Scotland went down to a second successive defeat at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi.

The Summer Series is all about gaining experience at this level, and the match against the French was certainly a memorable – and possibly very valuable – experience for Claire Cruikshank’s team.

Scotland took an early lead in the 30-degree heat of Parma, and for a time France appeared unprepared for the adventurous, running rugby that their opponents were producing.

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But the French are the best age-group team on the circuit, and after pulling clear by half-time, which came with them 26-7 ahead, they rammed home their advantage ruthlessly after the break.

“Everyone is disappointed, but we’ve been competitive against one of the best teams in the world,” head coach Cruikshank said. “The scoreline maybe doesn’t reflect that in the end, and the second half ran away from us. But we’re really proud of the effort.”

Scotland made life difficult for themselves straight from kick-off, first knocking on and then conceding a penalty. But they stole the resultant lineout, then a promising break by Hannah Walker took them up to halfway, and, although France initially regained the upper hand, the adventure shown by co-captain Walker was just a foretaste of Scotland’s willingness to spread the ball wide. 

It was that willingness which eventually produced the opening score, finished off by Gemma Bell and converted by Lucy MacRae. Kicking ahead would have been the safer option a couple of times during a lengthy attack, but instead Scotland kept plugging away until the flanker finished off from a few metres out.

By that time both lock forward Ellie Williamson and loosehead Chloe Brown had been forced off by injury, and tighthead Molly Poolman soon followed as France’s physicality began to take its toll. Scotland continued to defend resolutely, but midway through the half a break by scrum-half Anna de Almeida put inside centre Suliana Sivi through for France’s first score. 

Hawa Tounkara’s conversion attempt came back off an upright, leaving Scotland 7-5 ahead, but that lead only survived for another five minutes. The French scrum had got the measure of the Scottish eight, and after a heel against the head a break by full-back Kelly Arbey put Tounkara in for their second try. The outside centre made no mistake with the extra points this time, putting her team 12-7 up.

Arbey then came close to a third touchdown only to be stopped short by the defence, but the ease with which she made the initial break was an ominous sign. So was the superiority of the French scrum, and it was that strength which produced their third try, finished off by winger Lea Trollier after a No 8 pick-up had created the extra space. Tounkara converted again, and did the same moments before half-time after tighthead Amala Bazola had got France’s fourth from close range.

MacRae could have narrowed the deficit slightly in time added on, but her penalty attempt fell short, leaving the score at the interval 7-26. That promising start by Scotland felt like a distant memory as the teams walked off for the break, and they appeared sure to be in for a very difficult second half.

After missing that late first-half chance, MacRae was on target a couple of minutes after the restart when the French again offended. But that was no more than a brief respite, and De Almeida soon stretched her team’s lead with their fifth try, again converted by Tounkara.

With the French forwards continuing to dominate, the sixth soon followed, finished off by Patrice-Grace Libali and converted by substitute back Mae Levy. That brought up the 40 points with half an hour still to play, and the game was thenceforth one of damage limitation and little more for Scotland.

When tighthead replacement Eilidh Fleming was forced off by injury, there was no-one else with experience in the position able to replace her, so the scrums became uncontested and Scotland had to soldier on with 14 players.

Eneka Labeyrie touched down for an unconverted score just before the hour mark after Scotland had run out of defenders, then in a punishing final quarter Zoe Jean, Levy, Arbey and finally Alice Grandhomme all added tries. Levy, named player of the match, converted a couple of them.

Scotland’s defiance in the face of that late onslaught, epitomised by a try-saving tackle by Lucia Scott, was a credit to them. But it was a strength-sapping 80 minutes, and they now have little time in which to recuperate before they face Ireland in the final round of games on Sunday morning.

In today’s earlier match, the Irish lost 24-17 to Italy, who beat Scotland 17-13 last week. England defeated Wales 55-24 in the late game.

Teams –

Scotland Under-20s: I McGuire-Evans; S Phimister, L Scott, L MacRae, H Walker (co-captain); H Ramsay, R Clarke; C Brown, K Craig, M Poolman, E Williamson, N Logan, G Bell, S Taganekurukuru, M Hyland. Replacements: A Ronald, P Fletcher (co-captain), E Fleming, H Bogan, L Walter, R Douglas, C Ainsworth,  A Conchie.

France Under-20s: K Arbey; A Grandhomme, H Tounkara, S Sivi, L Trollier; E Neri, A de Almeida; S Mpari, A Fournie, A Bazola, L Roaboam, A Niakate, P Libali, T Maka, Z Jean (captain). Replacements: M Zdzioblo, M Borak, I Acolatse, K Zago, M Morland, E Labeyrie, M Levy, C Hagel.

Referee: Amber Stamp-Dunstan (Wales).

Scorers –

Scotland Under-20s: Try: Bell. Con: MacRae. Pen: MacRae.

France Under-20s: Tries: Sivi, Tounkara, Trollier, Bazola, De Almeida, Libali, Labeyrie, Jean, Levy, Arbey, Grandhomme. Cons: Tounkara 4, Levy 3.

Scoring sequence (Scotland Under-20s first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-10; 7-12; 7-17; 7-19; 7-24; 7-26 ht; 10-26; 10-31; 10-33; 10-38; 10-40; 10-45; 10-50; 10-52; 10-57; 10-62; 10-64; 10-69.


About Stuart Bathgate 1438 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.


  1. Tough result but the Celtic Challenge has only been going for a year. France and England are light years ahead in developing young players. Got to start somewhere though, and the performance/ result is no worse than the men who have had decades to put systems into place.

  2. Some good rugby in first 20 minutes, but three early injuries certainly put pressure on them in what was always going to be a challenging encounter.

    It will be interesting to know the number and intensity of games both sets of players have played over the last few years.

    Whilst we moved the ball well, the French looked far more aggressive in the contact area.

  3. As soon as I read ‘Spirited Scotland…’ I knew it would be bad news, but I wasn’t expecting such a thumping. Tough on morale but they will get better, as our young men are presently showing.

  4. Ouch! keep the heads up girls – learn , regroup and go again. Not the first or the last to be well beaten by a good team.

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