Scotland 29 - 18 France: Spirited Scots flatten French

Duncan Taylor of Scotland dives over to score his team's second try. Picture: Getty
Duncan Taylor of Scotland dives over to score his team's second try. Picture: Getty
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THE smile returned to BT Murrayfield as Scotland roared to a magnificent victory over France, ending a seven-game wait for a home Six Nations win.

Tries by man of the match Stuart Hogg, the equally heroic Duncan Taylor and wing Tim Visser, plus contributions from record-equalling skipper Greig Laidlaw on his 50th cap, blew away the French and handed the title to England.

Following the win in Rome two weeks ago, it was the first back-to-back wins registered in the championship since 2013 and Scotland were well worth it.

While not exactly a case of sun on their backs, it was, all things considered, an almost balmy March Sunday in Edinburgh, and the French had begun in ominously menacing fashion. After Hogg had pinned them back in their own corner with an intelligent kick early on, it was all France for the first ten minutes.

Stand-off Finn Russell took a heavy blow as the men in blue pressed forward and was visibly jelly-legged. The substitution of Peter Horne, who went on to prove a more-than-able replacement at stand-off with a quite splendid display, couldn’t be made until the French had opened the scoring as their attack continued.

The two wings – Virimi Vakatawa and Wesley Fofana – combined to allow hooker and skipper Guilhem Guirado to break some stretched and despairing Scotland defence and rumble over.

Francois Trinh-Duc was astray with the conversion attempt and missed another scoring chance minutes later when Horne strayed offside.

Scotland got on the board after quarter of an hour when Alexandre Flanquart’s arm was spotted reaching over at a ruck and Laidlaw made no mistake from bang in front of the posts.

The first scrum came in the 20th minute and the French were immediately under pressure, adjudged by Kiwi referee Glen Jackson to have pulled down and it was another straightforward attempt for Laidlaw to boot the Scots in front.

The French continued to look threatening but the Scottish scrum was carried on its impressive form and provided a platform for the home side to keep a foothold in the game.

Then came the three-minute spell which electrified the stadium as Scotland surged into an 18-5 lead. First, dashing bursts by Taylor, Horne and Richie Gray created the space on the left for Hogg to wriggle over. Laidlaw was uncharacteristically wayward with a conversion he would usually expect to land but the crowd were on their feet moments later with one of the best individual Scottish tries seen at Murrayfield for a few years.

After a quick tap and go, 
Taylor was off down the right and the Saracens man showed the blistering pace that often sees him utilised as a winger. Support was there but he needed none as he blasted over in the right corner.

After Jackson briefly went to the TMO to have a look at a couple of potential obstructions, the try was duly awarded and Laidlaw slotted from out wide to open up a 13-point advantage. The Scots could have done with holding that to the break but the French were able to make a timely riposte in first-half injury time.

John Barclay gave away a penalty to allow the French to build possession and once the big break was made, only a few phases of pressure were enough to break the Scottish defence and centre Gael Fickou
exploited the space on the left to crash over. Machenaud took over the kicking duties and made it a six-point game at the turn.

Scotland got off to the best possible start after the break when they won a scrum penalty just inside their own half. On such a still day, Hogg’s eyes lit up and from the moment the mighty 52-metre effort left his boot it never looked in doubt.

It was cancelled out a few minutes later when, following indiscipline at the ruck,

Maxime Machenaud took over the kicking duties and nibble back three points.

The Scots had a lucky escape when their maul defence, which was noticeably improved, held out on the line. The French won a penalty but opted for the corner. When a John Hardie tackle dislodged the ball and Alex Dunbar scooped up for Laidlaw to clear it was greeted almost like a Scotland try by the home crowd.

However, the French continued to boss this mini period and, when another penalty came their way, Machenaud went for the posts and made it.

France had produced nothing particularly dazzling up to this point but it was clear the wind was in their sails and it was imperative for Scotland to try to wrest back the 
momentum. They did when a penalty allowed Hogg to punt deep into the French 22 and the visitors couldn’t deal with a Scottish onslaught that included charges by Richie Gray and the titanic WP Nel before Laidlaw went left, Hogg flicked on over his head and Visser did what he does best from a few yards out, sparking bedlam in the stands.

Laidlaw was just wide with the conversion but the buoyant Scots pressed the opposition back and, after yet another French handling error, a scrum penalty was milked once more and Laidlaw was able to provide the coup de grace to a magical, and long-awaited, home triumph.

The French had a late try chalked off for a forward pass and the celebrations could begin.

Scorers: Scotland: Tries: Hogg, Taylor, Visser. Con: Laidlaw. Pens: Laidlaw 3, Hogg.

France: Tries: Guirado, Fickou; Con: Trinh-Duc. Pens: Machenaud 2.

Scorers:

Scotland: Tries: Hogg, Taylor, Visser. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pens: Laidlaw 3

France: Tries: Guirado, Fickou; Con: Trinh-Duc. Pens: Machenaud 2.

Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell, G Laidlaw; A Dickinson, R Ford, WP Nel, R Gray, J Gray, J Barclay, J Hardie, J Strauss. Subs: S McInally, R Sutherland, M Low, T Swinson, R Wilson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, P Horne, S Lamont,

France: S Spedding; W Fofana, G Fickou, M Mermoz, V Vakatawa; F Trinh-Duc, M Machenaud, J Poirot, G Guirado, R Slimani, A Flanquart, Y Maestri, W Lauret, Y Camara, D Chouly. Subs: C Chat, U Antonio, V Pelo, S Vahaamahina, L Goujon, S Bezy, J Plisson, M Medard.

Referee: G Jackson (Nzl)

Att: 67,500