Dave DENTON issued a “stick with us” message to fans after Scotland once again came up short in the RBS Six Nations Championship with a 23-17 Murrayfield defeat by France.
Those heady days when Scotland won seven-in-a-row against Les Bleus from 1978-94 seem an eternity ago and the longer yesterday’s sell-out encounter panned out, the less likely it seemed they would prevail after rocketing into an early 10-0 advantage.
But, according to No.8 Denton, better times are “around the corner”.
The Edinburgh star said: “That was the best we have played so far in terms of our attack. It’s disappointing to come out without a win but we feel it is just around the corner and we just need to keep playing and we will get the rewards.
“We were playing some really good rugby against a class French team. There are a few things we can work on in defence but our attack was looking good; we were really dangerous on the ball and we must make sure we keep that going.”
Scotland scored a try in each half from outside backs Stuart Hogg and Lee Jones, but they were answered by French duo Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard.
Denton said: “It was tough for us. We knew we were playing really well and were quite evenly matched. It could have gone either way so it was disappointing to come out on the losing side.
“The breakdown was a bit of a problem. Not in terms of our execution, but they tended to get their feet in there quite well.
“That was disappointing because it stopped out momentum. It was noticeable that when we didn’t have quick ball they were pushing up really quickly on the outside making it tough for us.
“We were playing great rugby, though, and the fact we are scoring tries shows that. The strong start reassured us and I was delighted for Lee Jones.
“He is a great player and he deserves to be on the scoreboard. His try will be the first of many I am sure.”
Another Edinburgh colleague of Denton’s to earn widespread praise was Nick De Luca, a 30th-minute replacement for leg break victim Rory Lamont.
The subject of some vitriolic online abuse after defeat in Wales, it appeared De Luca had the bit between his teeth from the moment he appeared.
Denton said: “It is disappointing that Nick had to prove a point. He is an outstanding player and he showed that. He is unbelievably dangerous with the ball in hand and a great asset to our team. Nick comes into every game with the same attitude. You don’t notice anything different. He is an outstanding player. That showed with the pace he put on the ball, his footwork and his power. That’s what makes great players.”
To the consternation of many followers, Denton found himself replaced in the 53rd minute by Richie Vernon.
He said: “I was very disappointed to come off but we have to do what is best for the team and they (the coaches) might have thought bringing Richie on would add a bit of pace, just a bit of a change in the back row.
“If that had paid off and we had won I’d have been more than happy with that.
“I’m happy about how I’ve come into the team and hope to keep it up through the rest of the Six Nations, then with Edinburgh through the rest of the year.
“It was great to play alongside Ross Rennie and John Barclay at the same time. They are two 7s (open side flankers) but two guys who can carry ball very well too.
“That was shown by the way ‘Barcs’ got the turnover that got us the try by Lee Jones.”
Scotland equalled their highest try tally in the Murrayfield leg of this fixture since scoring three times in 1980 against the French.
French coach Philippe St Andre paid generous tribute afterwards, saying: “If they keep playing like that Scotland will beat any team in the world.”
There was no doubting St Andre’s sincerity but this was a France side who, as well as reaching a World Cup final, had, in the past year, lost to Tonga and also their previous two away games in the Six Nations.
He rightly pointed out that France have a real edge to their scrummaging just now. But to what extent was that a Scottish frailty?
And was it exacerbated by the fact Scotland fielded a back row built mainly for speed and without a physical heavyweight at blindside?
On more than one occasion the absence of an enforcer was noticeable at breakdowns where the French readily gained the upper hand and, with Scotland making 212 passes to France’s 137, there was a period when the hosts played through multiple phases yet had gained no worthwhile ground.
Such a scenario has not been uncommon in this championship and, between now and the visit to Ireland in a fortnight, much emphasis must be placed on clearing out at rucks to achieve the continuity needed to pierce defences who find re-grouping all too straightforward at times. All told, there were just six scrums throughout and that ought to have contributed to Scotland’s high-tempo approach, but when Mike Blair limped off in 30 minutes with a thigh injury, much of their ability to play on the hoof went with him while at other times France were able to slow the pace by shuffling along to line-outs where the absence of quick home throw-ins was apparent.
Yesterday’s setback made it five straight defeats for Scotland, a run stemming from the World Cup, while they now only have one victory from their last two Six Nations campaigns.
Having completed their Murrayfield schedule for this season, the smart money says they will do well to get a win this time round, but it didn’t seem that way when Scotland pinned France in their own half for much of the opening quarter.
Hogg’s try, which followed linkage from Jones and Greig Laidlaw, who converted from the touchline, was soon followed by a penalty.
But gradually France forced their way back, with Francois Trinh-Duc running through Laidlaw – again the absence of a heavyweight ‘minder’ back up to the bantamweight stand-off was striking – to send over Fofana and, with Parra adding a conversion and penalty, the teams turned around level.
A Parra penalty put France ahead for the first time and the Scots response was special as De Luca, Vernon and Barclay combined for Jones to sprint up the touchline and behind the posts.
Alas, a 17-13 lead was short-lived with Vincent Clerc shrugging aside Jones and turning a pass inside for Medard to go over, Parra converting before handing over kicking duties to sub Lionel Beauxis, who duly dropped a goal.
At least it is no longer the case thanks to Hogg and Jones that the aforementioned Clerc has scored more Test tries than those aggregated by the current Scotland, but that must be small comfort today as defeat follows defeat and potential continues to go unfulfilled.