Six Nations: France 22-16 Scotland
What warmed the cockles and what made us squirm at the Stade de France
Scotland’s 18-year wait for victory in Paris continues but they took huge credit from this gripping Six Nations encounter.
Locked at 16-16 for most of the second half, it took two late Camille Lopez penalties to see les Bleus home in a match that, at times, was played at a breathless pace.
Once again in this Six Nations that keeps giving, there were skills and thrills, controversy and comical moments. Here’s our verdict on the match…
Entertainment – The attacking intent from both teams was clear from the start. What a delight to see players ready to throw the ball around without fear.
Is this because of the new bonus-point system? That may be playing a part, but more significant surely is the example set by New Zealand’s back-to-back world champions. The old safety-first approach just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Alex Dunbar – Injuries have restricted the Scotland centre to 21 caps but he’s back at full throttle and must be in the frame for Lions selection.
His defensive work is exceptional, Will Greenwood tweeting “He would tackle an elephant who caught you trying to steal his breakfast!”
Furthermore, having given us a cheeky lineout try last week, this time he had the nous to chuck away a Frenchman’s boot after it came off in the early moments!
Fraser Brown was another immense performer, his turnover after Louis Picamoles’s early line break setting the tone for a heroic defensive effort by the visitors.
Lucky bounces – One day after a wicked bounce from CJ Stander’s kick in Rome set up a try for Craig Gilroy came another delicious moment.
At least for Tim Swinson, the man to profit after Tommy Seymour’s kick left Scott Spedding stranded. Seymour regathered and found Swinson – who had only just appeared as a replacement – haring up in support.
It was the Glasgow lock’s first Test try and put Scotland in front three minutes into the second half. Unfortunately for Vern Cotter’s men, it started to unravel from that very moment on…
The missed conversion – It will never be as famous as Don Fox’s Wembley miss for Wakefield in the 1968 Challenge Cup final, but Finn Russell’s failed conversion has been all over social media.
Players have 90 seconds to take a conversion and Russell, clearly rushing, struck the toppling ball after 45 seconds. So if Jaco Peyper was telling him to hurry up he was wrong to do so.
The miss, in front of the posts, didn’t cost Scotland a losing point but it occurred with the game very much in the balance. Such incidents can alter the momentum.
Head knocks – Has one team ever been so unfortunate with knocks to the head? Scotland lost John Barclay before the break after he failed an HIA, then his replacement, John Hardie, quickly followed suit after colliding with Loann Goujon.
Alex Dunbar then had to go off for an HIA that he passed, before Fraser Brown became a fourth ‘victim’.
It wasn’t just that Scotland lost players – and remember, too, that Greig Laidlaw’s ankle injury deprived Scotland of their captain and goalkicker – it was the disruption.
Scotland wanted to impose a high tempo to test the running fitness of the big French forwards, but the game’s stop-start nature in the third quarter mitigated against that.
Rejecting the points – Poor decision-making is proving contagious. Wales, with the unerring Leigh Halfpenny in their ranks, spurned kicks at goal against England and at Stade de France it was France who repeatedly declined a three-point gift with the score at 16-16.
“Why wouldn’t you take the easy three points, France?” tweeted Andy Goode, reflecting the views of all.
In the end, Scotland’s tiring scrum – what a loss WP Nel has been to them this year – meant France earned further chances, which Lopez (six kicks from seven) took.
A rush of blood – You need a very good reason to justify doing something that leads to a penalty reversal. Ali Price doesn’t have it.
Scotland’s reserve scrum-half objected to Camille Lopez hanging onto the ball after France had been penalised in Scottish territory for crossing, and duly shoved him.
A crazy moment. Penalty to France and a chance for Lopez to extend the lead to 9-5, although in the event it struck the post.
This was only Price’s second Test, after a replacement role against Georgia in the autumn, and he will learn quickly that you don’t give away soft penalties. Especially at places like the Stade de France.
15 – Number of tackles made by Fraser Brown, the joint highest in the match with France’s Sebastien Vahaamahina
5 – Stuart Hogg became the fifth Scotsman to score a try in four successive Six Nations matches, joining the likes of Eric Liddell and Gregor Townsend in that achievement
2 – Number of Scotland wins against France this century – out of 20 attempts
13 – Number of line breaks in the match
28 – Number of offloads made, with France making 18 of them
9 – Number of Test points Finn Russell had kicked prior to taking over the tee after Greig Laidlaw’s injury. He added two penalties
24 years 233 days – Stuart Hogg’s age on the day he became the youngest of the 40 Scots to reach 50 Test caps
France: S Spedding; N Nakaitaci, R Lamerat, G Fickou, V Vakatawa (Y Huget 52); C Lopez, B Serin (M Machenaud 55); C Baille (X Chiocci 58), G Guirado (capt, C Tolofua 71), U Atonio (R Slimani 44), S Vahaamahina, Y Maestri (J Le Devedec 58), L Goujon (D Chouly 44-47, 59), Gourdon, L Picamoles.
Try: Fickou. Con: Lopez. Pens: Lopez 5.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones, A Dunbar (M Bennett 56-61), T Seymour; F Russell (D Weir 74), G Laidlaw (capt, A Price 24)); A Dell (G Reid 44), F Brown (R Ford 66), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 58), R Gray, J Gray, J Barclay (J Hardie 35, T Swinson 41), H Watson, J Strauss.
Tries: Hogg, Swinson. Pens: Russell 2.