Six Nations: Scotland given a French lesson at Murrayfield
Scotland’s Six Nations hopes ended at a blustery BT Murrayfield as France underlined their Grand Slam credentials with a dazzling 36-17 victory.
Scotland have thwarted French title hopes in each of the last two seasons but they were distinctly second best this time as Les Bleus won at Murrayfield in the Six Nations for the first time since 2014. It was also their biggest win in Edinburgh since 2008.
Scotland scored two good tries – through Rory Darge and Duhan van der Merwe – but were left to rue the five minutes before half-time during which they squandered two golden chances and then allowed France in for their third try.
The impressive visitors, chasing their first title in 12 years, scored six tries in a display full of elan to make it three wins from three in this season’s championship.
Romain Ntamack was outstanding and France’s finishing was top-drawer as they strengthened their position at the top of the table.
La Marseillaise rang out loudly from the stands at full-time as the large visiting support sensed their team were on the brink of something very special.If the Scots had been more accurate they could have gone into the interval in the lead. Instead, it was the visitors who came out in the second half with their tails up and Scotland never really recovered.
The hosts went into the game without five front-line forwards and it looked a tall order for Gregor Townsend’s side, who were looking to bounce back from their defeat by Wales.
The old adage about France not travelling well was quickly quashed by two superb tries in the opening 13 minutes.
The first was a showcase for Antoine Dupont. The scrum-half gathered Russell’s kick down the middle and embarked on a mazy run from his own 22 deep into the Scotland half. Fine support play by Cyril Baillie and Julien Marchand maintained the momentum and it was the hooker who played in Paul Willemse for the game’s opening try.
Jaminet, who had earlier missed a simple penalty, converted.
Scotland attempted to hit back immediately and were offered a swift way back into the game when France were penalised for offside and Russell kicked the points.
Unfortunately for the hosts, it only seemed to spur France on to new heights and their second try was even better than the first. Brilliant handling from the visitors saw the ball shipped from left to right but as Damian Penaud headed for the corner he looked to be running out of grass. The winger managed to keep the ball alive, despite Darcy Graham’s covering tackle, passing it back inside to Baille whose offload allowed Yoram Moefana to plunge over.
Jaminet missed the kick but Scotland found themselves 12-3 down and looked a little dazed.
Finn Russell and Dupont then proved they were fallible after all as both fumbled simple passes.
Scotland were looking for a foothold and a promising position was thwarted in reckless fashion when Jaminet went in high on Sam Skinner. It took referee Karl Dickson an age to cotton on but he eventually brought play back for the Scotland penalty, although Jaminet was fortunate to escape further punishment.
The incident led directly to the home side’s opening try. The penalty was dispatched to the corner by Russell and from the lineout the Scots turned the screw. Ali Price thought he had gone over but the ball wasn’t properly grounded. Price continued to probe and his pass to Darge allowed the flanker to find the gap for a try on his first Scotland start.
Russell’s conversion brought Scotland to within two points and Townsend’s men now looked to be in the ascendancy. Unfortunately for the hosts, the game then ran away from them in the minutes before and after half-time.
Much of the pain was self-inflicted as the Scots wasted two glorious chances. In the first instance, Duhan van der Merwe had a clear sight of the tryline but Nick Haining’s pass fell just behind the winger.
The second opportunity was even more clearcut. Van der Merwe burst clear from his own half then offloaded to Chris Harris. The centre played a long looping pass to Stuart Hogg but the captain fumbled as a clear run to the line stretched out in front of him.
Scotland were made to pay for their profligacy either side of the interval. Gael Fickou ran through Darge and Haining to score in the corner and Jaminet’s conversion made it 19-10 at half-time.
The visitors’ fourth try came a minute into the second half. Price was stripped of possession and the bounce on Penaud’s kick fooled van der Merwe but not Jonathan Danty who ran in for the score.
Scotland were flagging. Harris went off at half-time due to a head knock and Haining followed shortly after with a shoulder injury, opening the door for Andy Christie to make his Scotland debut.
The home side were trying to find a way back but they were guilty of forcing it and Darge was outmuscled as Fickou won the maul turnover. France had numbers on the right wing and Penaud had the simple job of scoring their fifth try of the match.
Scotland rolled the dice and Blair Kinghorn came on for Russell but France were running away with it.
Penaud, sporting a yellow gumshield, was grinning again as he bagged his second try and France’s sixth. Ntamack was the architect, floating a perfect cross-kick into the arms of the winger who finished the job.
Scotland had the final say, with Van der Merwe scoring his first try of the championship after a blazing run from Kinghorn from his own 22 and a fine one-handed pass. Hogg converted, but there was no way back for Scotland.