A COURAGEOUS performance by Scotland’s youngsters in the south of France earned a first bonus point of this Six Nations campaign and should provide the team with an awful lot of belief to take into their final two matches against Wales at Myreside in a fortnight’s time and England away a week after that. Carl Hogg’s team looked dead and buried with less than half an hour gone, when they trailed by 21 unanswered points, but summoned showed phenomenal spirit to battle back into the match against a powerful home outfit, and they even led briefly during the second half – before running out of steam towards the end.
The final try-count was six-five in the home team’s favour, with the 15-point gap between the teams at the final a result of the unwavering accuracy of home stand-off Mathieu Smaili from the kicking tee. He slotted six from six, while Scotland’s Ross Thompson could only manage a 20 per cent success-rate, although the Glasgow Hakws playmaker did make a significant contribution around the park and particularly with a fine individual score which really hauled his team back into it late in the first half.
“It was certainly a step-up from the first two games in terms of the quality of the opposition – the pace and the physicality – which France brought,” said head coach Hogg afterwards. “I thought they were a very good side with some dangerous backs and physical ball-carriers up front. Ironically, we talked about getting off to a fast start to quieten the crowd, and I have to give the players credit for fighting back from 21-0 down to get themselves in front. We put in a huge shift to arrest that momentum and push it back in our favour, but, ultimately, we made too many errors throughout the game, whether that is getting bumped in tackles or our set-piece not being able to maintain any pressure on the opposition.
“Some of the French lads will be playing Top 14 rugby fairly regularly, and we were in front of a partisan 16,000-capacity stadium tonight, so it is all new for us,” he added. “But we know we are on a steep, steep learning curve and we’ve got to learn quick. Ironically, I think it is the basic things that we aren’t managing to do consistently under the pressure of Test match pace.
“When we have the ball, we look a threat, especially on the outside – but we’ve got to make sure we win the ball consistently, and we execute the basic things consistently under pressure throughout the 80-minutes.”
It got off to an inauspicious start for Scotland when inside-centre Grant Hughes picked up a lower leg injury going for the kick-off and battled on for two minutes before having to be replaced by Robbie McCallum, and as the visitors tried to catch their breath and adjust to that early loss, the home team took full advantage, with Simon Desaubies, McCallum’s opposite number, hitting a punishing angle off first phase ball to breach the blue line before sending Vincent Pinto over for the opening score.
France kept the pressure on and were held up over the line from a driven line-out, before a punishing scrum created the platform for loose-head Eli Eglaine to rumble over from close range after powerful No 8 Jordan Joseph had been halted just short.
And it looked like they had piled even more misery on the Scots straight from the restart when Les Bleus streaking right back up field for Erwan Dridi to cross the line, but the breakaway try was called back for a forward pass right at the very beginning.
Spurred on by that let-off, Scotland had a sustained period of possession although they didn’t manage to really put the hosts under pressure, before another sweeping attack featuring Joseph, Pinto, Paul Boudehent and lively scrum-half Baptiste Germain ended with Jules Favre – who had been on the park only a few minutes after replacing the head injured Desaubies – went under the posts. Stand-off Mathieu Smaili added the extras for the third time to make it 21-0 to the home team with 28 minutes played.
The comeback kids
Scotland struck back on the half hour mark when winger Jack Blain hacked ahead skipper Connor Boyle’s dainty dink behind and then raced onto the ball himself score. Thompson couldn’t manage the tricky conversion, but the stand-off more than made up for those missed points just two minutes later, when he collected the ball on halfway and sniffed a mismatch, handing-off second-row Thomas Lavault then evading cover tackles from Joseph and full-back Alexandre de Nardi for a fine individual score.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, Scotland struck again, with Thomson once again sparking the attack from deep, with Rory McMichael, Matt Davidson and Ollie Smith all adding real pace, before McCallum scored under the shadow of the posts. This time, Thompson nailed the extra points, to make it a four-point game at the turnaround.
And it got even better for Scotland after eight minutes of the second-half, when Boyle ripped the ball in contact to earn a turnover well inside his own half, and Blain skipped inside two tacklers before chasing down his own perfectly judged chip ahead for a fine try which handed Scotland an astonishing lead.
France were in trouble, but they didn’t panic. They reverted instead to their major strength, with pack power rumbling it over from close range to restore home advantage through Joseph.
Close but no cigar
Now it was Scotland’s turn to bounce-back, and they didn’t duck the challenge, even after a powerful passage of French play ended with outside-centre Yoram Moefana going over in the 62nd minute to extend the home team’s lead to 13 points, and they eventually got their reward when replacement hooker Angus Fraser announced his arrival on the park for the away team’s fifth try off the good work of a driven line-out.
France dominated the final ten minutes, and scored the sixth try through Joseph, which put the gloss on the win for Les Bleus but hardly reflected the contribution made to this absorbing contest by Scotland.
France: A de Nardi; Y Pinto, V Moefana, S Desaubies (J Favre 23), E Dridi (C Tiberghein 55); M Smaili, B Germain (Q Delord 66); E Eglaine (S Zouhair 549), P Jutge (R Barka 40), G Beria, T Levault, G Maravat, T Hanonou, P Boudehent, J Joseph.
Scotland: M Davidson; R McMichael, O Smith (N Chamberlain 76), G Hughes (R McCallum 2), J Blain; R Thompson, R Frostwick (M Scott 63); M Walker (A Nimmo 71), E Ashman (A Fraser 63), E McLaren (W Hurd 71), E Johnson (T Leatherbarrow 76), C Henderson, C Jupp, C Boyle; R Bundy (J Mann 59).
France: Tries: Pinto, Eglaine, Favre, Moefana, Joseph 2; Cons: Smaili 6.
Scotland: Try: Blain 2, Thomson, McCallum Fraser; Con: Thompson.
Scoring sequence (France first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 21-0; 21-5; 21-10; 21-15; 21-17 (h-t) 21-22; 26-22; 28-22; 33-22; 35-22; 35-27; 40-27; 42-27.