France edge out Scotland

Date published: March 8 2014

Jean-Marc Doussain kicked a 78th minute penalty to see France claim a 19-17 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Jean-Marc Doussain kicked a 78th minute penalty to see France claim a 19-17 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.

The Scots had led through tries from Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour to three Maxime Machenaud penalties, before Yoann Huget's interception brought France roaring back into the lead.

A long-range Duncan Weir three-pointer renewed the hosts' belief, but it was Doussain's effort inside the 22 that dealt Scott Johnson's men a gut-wrenching finale.

Kiwi referee Chris Pollock is traditionally strict on the defensive team at the breakdown, and the words “no clear release” crackled over his microphone time and again as players piled into rucks. The New Zealander may require a police presence at his city-centre hotel this evening, however, after he penalised Scotland's Tim Swinson – predictably for the same offence – for Doussain's decisive kick.

Scotland's line-out woes are painfully well-documented, but it was the French who lost their way in the aerial duel. Third-choice hooker Brice Mach missed his man on seven from ten occasions before being substituted early in the second half.

Up front, the scrums were a mess. Pollock dished out instructions aplenty, but time-consuming resets were the norm on the scrappy Murrayfield turf. The signs were ominous for the Scots as their first set-piece crashed to ground ninety seconds into the match, allowing Maxime Machenaud the chance to open to the scores with a well-taken penalty.

The hosts were let off the hook minutes later too; a Scott Lawson knock-on sparked a sweeping sixty-metre counter-attack from les Bleus, with Maxime Mermoz scragged metres short of the line. A try eluded the visitors, but the pressure yielded a second penalty for the scrum-half.

Despite the early scoreline, the Scots were enjoying the bulk of possession, building phases well inside the French half. And after Jim Hamilton charged down Machenaud on the visitors' 22, Hogg hoisted a speculative hanging kick deep into the gaping Murrayfield in-goal area. Under pressure from Sean Lamont, the ball was fumbled by Huget, allowing the full-back to pounce and ground somewhat dubiously for one the more bizarre tries the famous old ground has seen in recent years. Greig Laidlaw knocked over the extras, and suddenly the hosts were in the lead.

Straight from the kick-off, however, Dave Denton lost the ball in contact on his own 22; the French gathered and pounded the line. The way the Scots repelled the advances of the visitors was admirable, but Hamilton was eventually penalised in the shadow of his own posts. Machenaud kicked France ahead again, while the stretcher was driven on and carted off again carrying Johnnie Beattie – who had taken a knock during the move – with it. Ryan Wilson replaced the blindside flanker.

That didn't faze Scotland, as they drove their way into the French 22 once more, and produced an uncharacteristically astute piece of backline play to cross the line again. With a flash of zip more associated with their opponents, Matt Scott caught out the drifting blindside defence with a delightful inside ball to the onrushing Seymour. The winger scythed through the gap and dived over in the corner; Laidlaw slotted a fine conversion, and Johnson's charges began to believe.

The visitors continued to look dangerous when presented with turnover ball or loose touchfinders, though; Hogg's attempted drop goal almost leading to a Serge Blanco-esque counter from Brice Dulin under his own posts.

Hamilton was – perhaps harshly – pinged for his over-exuberant infiltration of a collapsed French maul on half-time, but Machenaud was wide with his fourth penalty attempt, leaving the Scots five points to the good at the break.

What they did next was typical of this side's maddening tendency to shoot themselves in the foot. In truth, it was terribly Scottish. The hosts had disrupted a French maul on the five-metre line so effectively as to steal back possession; the ball was swept left, the overlap was there, the supporters were already cheering try number three.

But Duncan Weir, with any number of options outside him, floated his pass to the one place it would not find a white jersey. Huget, gambling to nothing, picked it off and sprinted eighty metres to score untouched. Machenaud knocked over the simple conversion.

The Scots should have been shellshocked; the game should have turned in a flash. But Johnson's men showed a resolve and indeed accuracy they have seldom displayed in this Championship. Play opened up and became more fragmented; a development that should have favoured the French, but appeared to suit the Scots' desire to give the ball some air when they could.

Trailing by two points, Laidlaw's near-fifty-metre penalty attempt fell agonisingly under the crossbar, but when the French infringed again in the same area, it was Weir who had a chance to make amends for his earlier interception. The Glasgow Warriors pivot showed great character to step up and drill his kick over.

As the French error count grew, so did the confidence of the home crowd, the mood in the stands very audibly shifting from disbelief to bullishness as a series of French scrums thirty-five metres out yielded nothing but a Scottish put-in, and Mermoz spurned a fine attacking opportunity on the Scottish 22 by spilling the ball.

Another scrum penalty just shy of halfway offered Weir the chance to take the gap beyond the crucial three point margin with five minutes remaining, but the fly-half could not repeat his goal-kicking heroics, pushing his effort just wide of the uprights.

It would be terribly cruel to lay blame for the loss at the door of the 22-year-old, but his interception pass combined with that difficult miss left the gap at two points as the clocked ticked by. With a minute left, the Scottish dream turned nightmarish as Pollock blew up metres from the home line. Doussain did not wilt under the defeaning racket of 60,000 enraged Scots, and so shattered their team's chances of a first win over France since 2006.

Man of the Match: Plenty of candidates, but Hogg gets the nod for his vision in attack, and booming boot that frequently kept the Scots out of their own half.

Moment of the Match: Huget's try should have been seminal, but it was Doussain's penalty that was the ultimate difference.

Villain of the Match: Nothing sinister to report.

The scorers:

For France:
Try: Huget
Con: Machenaud
Pens: Machenaud 3, Doussain

For Scotland:
Tries: Hogg, Seymour
Cons: Laidlaw 2
Pen: Weir

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Alex Dunbar, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Sean Lamont, 10 Duncan Weir, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Dave Denton, 7 Kelly Brown (c), 6 Johnnie Beattie, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Geoff Cross, 2 Scott Lawson, 1 Ryan Grant.
Replacements: 16 Ross