Robinson demands ruthless edge from Scots ahead of Wales clash
Close, but no cigar. Not yet anyway. Andy Robinson's Scotland produced an excellent performance in defeat against an inspired French team who filled their supporters with pride and hope but also generated a deal of frustration in the dressing-room afterwards. Not a bad combination if you think about it.
This was a Scottish display that will give jittery Wales plenty to fret about for this weekend's clash at Murrayfield. At times in Paris, Scotland produced comfortably the best rugby of the Robinson regime, an expansive all-court game that had previously seemed beyond this group's capabilities. It certainly surprised the French, who had been preparing for an arm wrestle.
Robinson, ultra-competitive animal that he is, was disappointed afterwards, arguing that three of France's four scorching tries came from Scotland turnovers. Technically he is correct, Scotland did turn ball over, but frankly France's tries were always going to come from somewhere. It was a matter of when and where, not if.
From the start Scotland decided to meet fire with fire, an approach which can sometimes leave you getting burned. Scotland fans can live with that because the net result was a glimpse at the true talent and potential of their side activated in extremis.
Robinson can think that, but not say it. He is therefore determined that Scotland do not become 'good losers' and show a more "ruthless" approach, starting straight away on Saturday with the Welsh, the game which will shape both teams' Six Nations.
Captain Alastair Kellock backed up the Robinson message. "The effort was absolutely outstanding but unfortunately you don't get any points for effort," said the second-row bluntly. "You can't give the ball away like that, especially against the French."
But enough of the earnest analysis. What Scotland supporters want is to celebrate the spirit their side showed for the full 80, the extraordinary emerging talent of young lock Richie Gray and the unexpected excellence of Joe Ansbro as a darting, offloading centre who could finally be the man to get their backline moving.
As for the French, this was the kind of performance which makes nervous Kiwis sleep badly at night. The All Blacks may be the World Cup winners-elect in many eyes but a recurring nightmare haunts them, namely encountering France in this mood in the final. In fact the fates have been particularly capricious because they are drawn in the same pool as well.
The All Blacks can rationalise and make detailed plans to beat every other nation but the magic and mood swings France often produce is beyond their ken and is why New Zealand appear more vulnerable against them.
On Saturday we saw France in the raw for 60 minutes, after which they emptied the bench and lost momentum against a diehard Scotland side that refused to succumb. Against most teams France would comfortably have topped the half century.
France with the brakes off remain a rare and wonderful sight. Not once did it happen when they won the Grand Slam last year. Indeed the only comparable recent example was in November 2009 when they pummelled world champions South Africa into submission in Toulouse.
Les Bleus are sporting supernovas. When they suddenly explode, France light up the rugby universe and those with any soul step back in admiration.
Waiting and watching for that next explosion is what makes them so endlessly fascinating.
Meanwhile, veteran centre Yannick Jauzion has been called up to replace the injured Maxime Mermoz in the squad for Sunday's trip to Dublin. Jauzion (32) has 20 tries in 70 caps for France and was considered a mainstay until Marc Lievremont surprisingly dropped him for the Scotland game. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
France -- D Traille, Y Huget, A Rougerie, M Mermoz (C Poitrenaud 44), M Medard (V Clerc 73), F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (D Yachvili 52) , T Domingo, W Servat (G Guirado 57), N Mas (L Ducalcon 52), J Pierre, L Nallet (J Thion 62), T Dusautoir, J Bonnaire, I Harinordoquy (S Chabal 55)
Scotland -- H Southwell, N Walker, J Ansbro, N De Luca (S Lamont 55) , M Evans, D Parks (R Jackson 69), R. Lawson (M Blair 40), A Jacobsen, R Ford (D Hall 73), E Murray (M Low 70), R Gray, A Kellock, N Hines (R Vernon 56), J Barclay (R Rennie 61), K Brown.
Ref -- W Barnes (England).