STUART BATHGATE @Scotstoun
SCOTLAND may not have come close to beating France last night, but they nonetheless emerged from the game with considerable credit. You never want to be too enthusiastic about a defeat, but in context this one represented a significant step forward for Shade Munro’s squad.
Actually, make that two steps forward. First of all, it represented a major advance on the last time they played the French, in last year’s Six Nations Championship when they went down 55-0 in La Rochelle. Secondly, it was also a significant improvement on their first match in this year’s tournament, the 18-17 loss in Wales eight days earlier.
Don’t be fooled by that narrow margin: Scotland should have won that game in Colwyn Bay, and were deeply frustrated by their own failings which prevented them from doing so – above all, a misfiring lineout and an underpowered scrum. Last night, by contrast, up against a French side who are far more formidable than the Welsh, they fronted up in every department. The set piece was more solid; the defence kept its shape.
France were deserved winners, taking an unshakable hold on the game with two quick tries just before half-time when they had a player in the sinbin, and adding two more after the break. But they never threatened to run riot the way they had a year earlier.
“I’m really proud of them,” Munro said after the match. “France are a very physical team, huge ability, No 3 in the world. We didn’t front up in the first half last week: we certainly did here.
“There are options that we should have taken but didn’t, but they put everything into the physicality side of the game. I was pleased with the performance.”
Scotland were forced into a late change when No 8 Sarah Bonar failed a late fitness test. Munro has been using Jade Konkel in the front row instead of her usual position in the back row in a bid to get all his best players on the pitch at the same time, but the loss of Bonar led him to move the Lille professional to No 8.
Siobhan McMillan, who made her Test debut off the bench eight days previously against Wales, took Konkel’s place at loosehead, and Nicola Howat came on to the bench. The reshuffle suggested a more conservative game plan, and sure enough there were a lot of early pick-and-go plays from the home team as they strove to make inroads against a powerful defence.
It was a solid start from Munro’s team, with both the scrum and lineout functioning more smoothly than in the 18-17 defeat by the Welsh in Colwyn Bay. They came close to going behind midway through the first half after conceding a penalty on the edge of the 22 after a powerful push by the French scrum, but full-back Jessy Tremouliere’s kick came crashing back off the upright and was safely touched down.
That award was just one sign that France were beginning to get the upper hand in the scrum, but they undid their good work there with some slack handling in the loose, albeit in conditions made tricky by the rain.
Notwithstanding that disadvantage, Scotland attacked with increasing confidence in the last quarter of an hour before half-time, and Sarah Law kicked them into a 33rd-minute lead after repeated offending saw the French defence penalised several times. Worse followed for France shortly thereafter when referee Graham Cooper decided he had had enough of the illegality and showed tighthead prop Patricia Carricaburu a yellow card.
Despite that numerical disadvantage, however, they finished the half strongly, scoring two late tries to take command of the game. Hooker Agathe Sochat was first to score, touching down in the left corner after a well-co-ordinated driving maul. Then barely a minute later on the other wing, Cyrielle Banet chipped ahead then profited from a fortunate bounce to outstrip the defence and run round to touch down under the posts. Tremouliere, whose first conversion attempt had fallen short, made no mistake at the second time of asking, adding the two points to give her team a 12-3 half-time lead.
Restored to full strength, France tried to press home their superiority in the early stages of the second half only to be kept out by by a well-drilled home defence. They appeared to have scored from a pushover after 55 minutes but the effort was chalked off for the use of hands in the scrum.
As the rain grew heavier, play became bogged down in midfield, hampering Scotland’s hopes of a comeback. They fought relentlessly in search of a breakthrough, but their best chance of a try was brought back for a forward pass.
Minutes later, winger Caroline Boujard came into the line and broke through a tiring defence to claim her team’s third try. Tremouliere added the two points, then increased her tally by another couple with the final kick of the game after Jade Le Pesq secured the bonus point with a quarterback sneak of a try from the base of a ruck.
Next up for Munro’s team on Friday week are England, who beat Wales 52-0 yesterday. Another massive effort will be required, but after this performance, Scotland can be confident they have what it takes to remain competitive against the best teams in the world.
They can also be just as confident of growing public support. At a little under 3,000, the attendance for this first Six Nations game at Scotstoun was the biggest home crowd for a Scotland women’s international since Scottish Rugby began keeping records.
Scotland: C Rollie; E Musgrove, L Thomson, H Nelson, R Lloyd; L Martin, S Law; S McMillan, L Skeldon, M Kennedy, E Wassell, D McCormack, R Malcolm, H Smith, J Konkel. Substitutes: J Rettie, N Howat, L Smith, M Lowish, L McMillan, S Cattigan, J Maxwell, L Harris.
France: J Tremouliere; C Boujard, J Le Pesq, C Boudaud, C Banet; P Bourdon, Y Rivoalen; L Arricastre, A Sochat, P Carricaburu, S N’Diaye, A Forlani, M Mayans, G Hermet, R Menager. Substitutes: M Soloch, M Traore, J Duval, C Ferer, F Lecat, E Coudert, G Vernier, M Menager.
Scorers: Scotland: Pen: Law.
France: Tries: Sochat, Banet, Boujard, Le Pesq. Cons: Tremouliere 3.
Scoring sequence: 3-0, 3-5, 3-10, 3-12 half-time, 3-17, 3-19, 3-24, 3-26.
Yellow card: France: Carricaburu 36.
Referee: G Cooper (Australia).