Late drama as France hang on to edge Scotland
SIX NATIONS REPORT: France held off Scotland for a scrappy 20-16 win at Murrayfield after a lengthy TMO call not to award the home side a try with the last action of the game on Saturday.
Scotland thought they had snatched victory at the death but the video referee could not find conclusive proof to overturn referee Nic Berry’s on-field call of no try after adjudging the ball not to have been grounded over the line.
Les Bleus were far from their brilliant best but did enough to ease the pressure on coach Fabien Galthie after a 17-38 thrashing to Ireland on the opening weekend of the championship.
Scotland were left to reflect on letting another opportunity slip by as, on top of the late drama, they also failed to score a point when France were down to 14 men either side of half-time as Uini Atonio was sent to the sin bin.
France captain Gregory Alldritt said his side would be fuelled by the “car crash” of their display against Ireland, but this was another error-strewn display by the side ranked fourth in the world.
Gregor Townsend was forced into a late change before kick-off as Kyle Steyn dropped out to attend the birth of his child, handing Harry Paterson his debut at fullback.
The Edinburgh man had a big part to play in the first try of the game as his pass inside was collected by Huw Jones, who popped it off to Ben White, who had just enough momentum to carry two French tacklers over the line.
Thomas Ramos slotted over a penalty in response.
The visitors were then furious as Gael Fickou scythed through the heart of the Scottish defence only to be brought down by what could have been deemed a high tackle by Duhan van der Merwe, who then stole possession on the Scottish line to rub salt into French wounds.
Scotland’s ill-discipline was a major factor in a near collapse in Cardiff last weekend from a 27-0 lead to cling on 27-26 against Wales.
However, it was Townsend’s team who were winning the penalty count as Finn Russell kicked two penalties from in front of the posts to extend the home side’s advantage to 13-3.
France, though, finally showed why they had only lost to Ireland in their previous 11 Six Nations matches as, after some slick hands by the forwards near the Scottish line, Cyril Baille’s precise pass picked out Fikou to charge over in the corner.
Ramos added the extras from out on the touchline to reduce Scotland’s lead to three.
It stayed that way at half-time after Scotland were left to rue not adding to their advantage despite incessant pressure on the French line before the break.
Atonio was sent to the sinbin for a no-arms tackle, but even without his hulking 145 kilograms, the French scrum won a crucial penalty under their own posts in the last action of the first half.
Scotland still had seven minutes with the extra man at the start of the second period but again failed to make it count.
Russell slotted over the first points of the second half just short of the hour mark with a penalty to extend the Scotland advantage to 16-10, but a scrappy kicking contest from both sides drew boos from the 67,000 Murrayfield crowd.
And it was the one true moment of quality that won the game from France 10 minutes from time.
Louis Bielle-Biarrey showed his searing pace to collect his own kick and score France’s second try.
Ramos added the conversion to put France in the lead for the first time in the game and he kicked a penalty to extend the advantage to four.
Scotland should still have snatched victory and many inside Murrayfield believed they had as numerous replays of the final act were shown on the big screen.
But the referee’s final decision was met with fury as France clung on.
Man of the match: Scotland captain Finn Russell had some nice touches on attack, while Rory Darge made his presence felt at the breakdowns. For France, Louis Bielle-Biarrey was a livewire with ball in hand and he scored a great try late in the second half. However, the award goes to France centre Gael Fickou, who carried the ball powerfully in the midfield and was solid in defence. He also scored his team’s first try of the match.
Pens: Russell 3
Try: Fickou, Bielle-Biarrey
Cons: Ramos 2
Pens: Ramos 2
Yellow card: Uini Atonio (France, 38′ – foul play, shoulder charge)
Scotland: 15 Harry Paterson, 14 Kyle Rowe, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (co-captain), 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge (co-captain), 6 Matt Fagerson, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Andy Christie, 21 George Horne, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath.
France: 15 Thomas Ramos, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Maxime Lucu, 8 Gregory Alldritt (captain), 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Francois Cros, 5 Paul Gabrillagues, 4 Cameron Woki, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Julien Marchand, 17 Sebastien Taofifenua, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Posolo Tuilagi, 20 Alexandre Roumat, 21 Paul Boudehent, 22 Nolann Le Garrec, 23 Yoram Moefana.
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia), Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland)