DAVID BARNES @ Broadwood Stadium
THIS was Scotland’s heaviest ever defeat against France at this age-grade, and in a rugby context there is not much positivity we can draw from the experience – but the players do deserve credit for the battling spirit they showed during the second half to avert the threat of complete annihilation.
The difference between the two sides in terms of pace, power and experience meant that this was a battle the Scots never really had a chance of winning. However, head coach Stevie Scott reckoned afterwards that his team could have made life easier for themselves during an ineffectual opening 40.
“We were really disappointed with that first half when defensively we looked really frail. Every time they got the ball we looked under pressure,” he explained. “When you are handing the ball over 20 times in the game you are going to be defending for long periods, and that’s what happened there tonight – we coughed up the ball too much.”
“We didn’t have any possession in the first 30 minutes – we were defending and defending – and that takes its toll on you.”
“They’re all pro players and some of our guys are not even playing first team rugby so it is difficult, but I am more disappointed with our team than worried about the opposition. We need to cut our error-count down and we need to tighten our defence up – those are the two areas that let us down tonight.”
“Some of the stuff was positive, we had a good line-out maul and our exits were good – but other parts of the game are killing us. We had a good training week but we just started so poorly.”
Scotland were 34-0 down by half-time having conceded four tries to number eight Maxence Lemardelet, winger Pierre Boudenhent, hooker Maxime Lamothe and blindside flanker Sacha Zegueur. The shining highlight of that scrappy and bad-tempered period was an exquisite dummy and sidestep from Romain Ntamack – son of former France winger Emile – which opened up the park and led directly to Boudenhent’s score.
Meanwhile, the last of those first half scores really set alarm bells ringing because the home team’s defence on the edge of a ruck in front of their own posts seemed to disappear into a puff of smoke, leaving Zegueur with the easiest of strolls to the line.
The second half couldn’t have got off to a worse start for Scotland, with Lucas Tauzin racing onto the French restart and barely breaking stride as he gathered the ball on his way to the scoring zone.
Ntamack then released Tauzin with a brilliantly weighted cross-field kick, and after some slick inter-passing it was inside centre Adrian Seguret who got the score; and the same player touched down again almost straight from the restart after a powerful break up the middle of the park from Lemardelet.
It looked like the wheels were about to really come off, but the Scots dug deep and responded with two scores through Guy Graham – the first was on the peel from a well-taken line-out, and the second demonstrated plenty of core strength to shrug off two tackles on his way to the line.
France struck again when Louis Carbonel burst onto the ball and darted home from 30 yards to take France past the 60-point mark with just over 60 minutes played. Then a Scotland’s scrum disintegrated and the visitors took full advantage with a sweeping attack from their own 22, which was eventually finished off by Seguret.
The Scots got the last points of the game through a penalty try awarded after France had collapsed a maul as it edged towards their own line, and the hosts kept battling through the final five minutes to finish the game on the offensive, although it should be said that France had long since taken their foot off the gas.
Scotland: P Dewhirst; L Trotter (R McMichael 55), S McDowall, C McLelland, K Rowe (S Yawayawa 68); R Thompson, C Chapman (K Barreto 71); S Gunn (N McBeth 54), R Smith (B Clements 71), F Richardson (M Walker 73), E Johnson, J Hodgson, A Erskine (H Butler 42), G Graham (R Darge 24-26), D Onojaife (R Darge 40).
France: M Lebel; L Tauzin, P-L Barassi, A Seguret, P Boudehent; R Ntamack (L Carbonel 51), A Coville (J Gimbert 51, A Vincent 64); H Kolingar (U Boniface 62), M Lamothe (L Peyresblanques 40), D Bamba (U Boniface 56), T Lavault, K Geraci (P Azagoh Kouido 51), S Zegueur, B Heguy, M Lemardelet (G Beria49).
Scotland: Try: Graham 2, Penalty Try; Con: Thomson.
France: Tries: Lumardelet, Boudehent, Lamothe, Zegueur, Tauzin, Seguret 3, Carbonel; Con: Ntamack 7, Carbonel 2; Pen: Ntamack 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-10; 0-13; 0-18; 0-20; 0-25; 0-27; 0-32; 0-34 (h-t) 0-39; 0-41; 0-46; 0-48; 0-53; 0-55; 5-55; 7-55; 12-55; 12-60; 12-62; 12-67; 12-69; 19-69
Yellow cards –
France: Azagoh Kouido
Referee: K Dickson
Man-of-the-Match: Guy Graham grabbed two tries as the leader of the Scottish resistance, but it is impossible to look past the class Romain Ntamack, who had several breathtaking moments with the ball in hand, and also registered a perfect kicking record of nine from nine (including a couple from out on the touchline).
Talking point: The Six Nations is an unforgiving schedule, and after two heavy defeats the Scots are staring down the barrel. The challenge for Stevie Scott and his coaching team is not necessarily to mastermind a winning game-plan, but to instil enough belief in this inexperienced squad to allow them to be competitive in their three remaining matches.