Monday 19 February 2018

France end drought but still get wooden spoon

Andy Newport

France finally collected their first win of the Six Nations campaign – but still finished bottom of the table, behind Ireland on points difference – as two quickfire tries proved decisive in Paris.

Scotland 16

France finally collected their first win of the Six Nations campaign – but still finished bottom of the table, behind Ireland on points difference – as two quickfire tries proved decisive in Paris.

The visitors had shown guts and determination to hold off continued French assaults in the opening 40 minutes but the pressure finally took its toll as Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard crossed for converted scores.

Scotland had led early from the boot of Greig Laidlaw and were tied at 9-9 as the Edinburgh scrum-half and French playmaker Frederic Michalak exchanged penalties before the home tries arrived.

A late Tim Visser touchdown gave the scoreline a more respectable look than was perhaps deserved but last year's Wooden Spoon winners can at least console themselves with a third-place finish – their best since 2006.

Scotland began brightly, with Laidlaw slotting two penalties.

France, though, pushed themselves to within inches of the tryline after 23 minutes, only for Jim Hamilton's last-ditch heroics to halt a powerful heave. Winger Vincent Clerc was then brought down as he looked poised to cross, and yet more scrambling was required from the away side to stop Mathieu Bastareaud battering in for the try.

It was exhausting stuff for Scotland, and Freddie Michalak kicked the home side's first points from a penalty following a scrum.

Michalak's guile at fly-half was becoming ever more apparent as he teased the visitors one way and the other.

Again the Scots were forced into desperate defence and stepped over the line at the breakdown, handing the French out-half the chance to slot a second kick over the posts to tie the scores. The pressure was beginning to build on the Scots and a third penalty was despatched by the Toulon playmaker to put the French ahead.

Laidlaw, though, soon levelled the scores with his third penalty.

And yet French hunger for the opening try was not diminished. After Clerc was denied by Hogg, Fofana broke through before brushing off Stuart Hogg's despairing lunge before running in to score under the posts with 14 minutes left. Michalak added the extras.

Having defended for their lives for most of the match, the tank was now empty and France added a second touchdown with 10 minutes remaining. Quick ball had been a rarity for them for most of the game thanks to the sheer awkwardness of the visitors but there was little resistance as Medard collected from a ruck and skipped in between the sticks.

With Michalak dislocating his shoulder, substitute Maxime Machenaud took over kicking responsibilities and his conversion extended the gap to 14 points.

That lead was trimmed back to seven, however, as Hogg darted forward before playing in Visser for an easy try, with substitute Ruaridh Jackson converting.

There was little to worry about for France, though, and they counted down the five minutes that remained with little difficulty to finally collect a long-awaited Six Nations win in the final match of the tournament.

Scorers – France: Fofana try, Medard try, Michakak 3 pens, con, Machenaud con; Scotland: Visser try, Jackson con, Laidlaw 3 pens.

France: Y Huget, B Clerc, M Bastareaud (G Fickou 74), W Fofana, M Medard, F Michalak, M Parra (M Machenaud 40), T Domingo, B Kayser (G Guirado 54), N Mas, S Vahaamahina, J Maestri, A Claassen (Y Nyanga 67), T Dusautoir, L Picamoles.

Scotland: S Hogg, S Maitland (M Evans 30), S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser, D Weir (R Jackson 67), G Laidlaw (H Pyrgos 74), R Grant, R Ford, E Murray, G Gilchrist, J Hamilton, A Strokosch, K Brown, J Beattie.

Referee: N Owens (Wales).

Irish Independent

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