Hamish Watson: I thought France were there for the taking

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 12:  Stuart Hogg (L) of Scotland is congratulated by teammate Hamish Watson (R) after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Scotland at Stade de France on February 12, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 12: Stuart Hogg (L) of Scotland is congratulated by teammate Hamish Watson (R) after scoring the opening try during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Scotland at Stade de France on February 12, 2017 in Paris, France. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

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Vern Cotter expressed frustration last night as Scotland failed to end their 18-year wait for a win in Paris and had to settle for a losing bonus point.

France pulled away in the last ten minutes to win 22-16 in an intensely physical match which left the Scots assessing a series of injuries. Skipper Greig Laidlaw was forced off after 25 minutes with an ankle problem and there were match-ending head knocks for flankers John Barclay and John Hardie and hooker Fraser Brown.

In the post-match conference Cotter sought to play down the bizarre incident which saw Finn Russell rush an early second-half conversion, just after the Scots had gone ahead 16-13, and miss it from bang in front of the posts as the ball toppled off the kicking tee.

There were suggestions he was told to hurry the attempt to scupper any possibility of the Tim Swinson try going to a video review.

The Scotland coach said he was yet to speak to Russell about what happened and added: “If there were only two points in the game I might be more interested in what went wrong with Finn’s conversion but there wasn’t so it’s not a priority.”

A rueful Hamish Watson gave France credit for maintaining their ferocious push for victory yesterday just at the moment the Scots were hoping they would run out of steam.

The Edinburgh flanker is becoming accustomed to Test match rugby – yesterday was his seventh cap and fifth on the bounce – but after the game it was clear he had found this one a particularly hard day at the office.

“That was very tough,” he grimaced. “Obviously they’ve got big players, a big pack, so it was pretty bruising. I think, when we got the ball and held on to it, we all made yards. At times, though, we would just give the ball away a bit stupidly.

“There were a lot of turnovers in the game. We didn’t look after it as well as we wanted. So, when we didn’t stick to our game plan, it didn’t go our way.”

Watson said he felt Swinson’s try could have provided a platform for victory.

“Yes, the game was there to be won. Definitely,” said the 25-year-old. “When Tim scored that try, I think you saw that France were there for the taking. Then, from the kick-off, we gave away the ball straight away – and they scored a penalty two minutes later. They managed to draw it level pretty quickly.

“If we had kept that lead and just exited properly, maybe got another penalty, their tails would have gone down. We could definitely have gone on and won the game.”

As the clock ticked past 70 minutes, with the scores tied 16-16, Watson sensed that France’s immense physical effort might take its toll but, rather than drop off, they actually strengthened their grip on the game and two late Camille Lopez penalties took the game away.

“They looked like they were tiring at times. But when they get the ball, that’s when they’re dangerous – all the big forwards love that sort of stuff,” added Watson.

“If we could have kept the ball longer, they would have tired. But, in that second half, we didn’t keep the ball as we would have liked.

“Another score for us after that [Swinson] try, their heads would have dropped and that would have made them feel tired.

“The problem was, when they drew it level straight away and then went into the lead, we were trying to chase the game.

“That’s a problem. If you’re chasing the game, boys are going to try little off-loads that they didn’t need to try. We needed to realise it was still just a three-point game at that stage. When it got to six points, it was always going to be tough. We weren’t looking after it.”

Watson lamented the fact that Scotland couldn’t replicate the kind of composed play which led to their first try, which was finished off by Stuart Hogg, who extended his Scottish Six Nations try record to ten.

“If you look at the first try, we didn’t panic, we went through the phases, didn’t try any stupid off-loads – and then scored in the corner,” said Watson.

“In the second half, I don’t know what the exact figures are, but there were a few stupid off-loads, a few penalties over ball because we didn’t get support over the ball quick enough. We didn’t do enough to tire them out and use our backs wide.

“But we’re still in the Championship, definitely. We’ve got Wales at home, which is a huge game for us. We won our first game at home – so there’s no reason why we can’t beat Wales.”

Cotter added: “The game was a bit of a stop-start affair. We just couldn’t get rhythm into our attack and when we scored for the first try it was well-constructed but at times we seemed to lose shape. Credit to the French, they came at us, applied pressure and were very physical. The breakdown was a tough affair, so I suppose to come away with one point is better than no points and we move on now to the next game.

“But we’re not going to be satisfied with a loss when we were so close and probably could have won. Our objective is winning games but we’ll analyse it before the next game in two weeks’ time. I’m sure the players will be looking forward to getting out on the pitch at BT Murrayfield.”

Scotland won the try count 2-1 with Stuart Hogg and Tim Swinson scoring in either half but France took the four points thanks to a Gael Fickou score and 17 points from the boot of stand-off Lopez.

After going in just 13-11 down at the break, the Scots forged ahead when sub Swinson surged over under the posts but then came that horrible conversion moment as Russell screwed the ball beneath the bar.

France levelled almost immediately through the boot of Lopez and then pulled away in the last ten minutes with another couple of penalties as the Scots succumbed to the home side’s power and set-piece strength.

Scotland are due to release a medical bulletin today and Cotter added: “Greig’s hurt his ankle so we’ll have to wait and see how bad it is. The other players who came off with head injuries will obviously go through the protocols and we’ll find out about everyone who got banged up today.