Sunday 21 January 2018

French send out message of intent with return to form

FRANCE 34 SCOTLAND 21

Michael Aylwin

Wide open they say this Six Nations is, and they are right. But France have put down the heftiest ante. They went away from us for a while there, what with the traumas of their summer and autumn, but this was a return to the form that won them the Grand Slam last year, only with improvements.



Because Scotland were no one's idea of mugs. Many were the plaudits coming their way in the build-up, and they repaid them with a performance of verve and persistence that would have done for a few other teams in this championship. Indeed, it would have done for France on a different day.

Three tries in Paris -- it is not often Scotland manage that anywhere. Unfortunately, though, France scored four -- and they were worth at least that many.

Which France were going to turn up? It is such a well-worn question, but one that makes the French such a delicious prospect. And the answer? Well, it was not the France that went down by 43 points here in November. No, they had their first try after only two minutes, and it was scored in a flash.

It had been a long two minutes to introduce us to proceedings. We savoured the way Scotland swung the ball hither and thither with confidence, and even with a little punch every now and then. Yes, we settled down in those two lazy minutes, relishing the contest to come.

Might it even be Scotland's night?

Then, bang, bang -- ouch. Nick De Luca, one of a few Scots short of a bit of rugby lately, was stripped of the ball, as he became the latest to probe the French defence. Thierry Dusautoir whipped it away to Aurelien Rougerie, he galloped clear, put in a perfect chip, and Maxime Medard streaked clear, hair flapping like only a Frenchman's can, and dotted down for the first try. Scottish confidence, clearly, was not going to be enough.

From France's next attack, Francois Trinh-Duc sent over a perfectly hit drop goal for a 10-0 lead.

But Scotland stuck to their game plan, and soon were off-loading and driving themselves, the difference being that it was with purpose and into holes. Rory Lawson took it close to the French line, and Alastair Kellock drove under William Servat for a timely try.

What had been of concern for the Scots, though, was the annihilation the French scrum wrought at a Scottish put-in deep in French territory. This concern became critical, early in the second quarter, when another brilliant combination down the French right ended in a knock-on - Scottish scrum on their five-metre line. Inevitably, they were penalised at the first attempt, the first penalty of the match. They scrummed again, this time with France in possession, and two penalties and a reset later, France had their penalty try. Inevitable.

Thomas Domingo is two stone lighter than Euan Murray, but he is also three inches shorter and packs quite a punch. But let's not pick on him -- they were all a bit of a handful. Scotland were moving the ball nicely, it is true, but it was more in the hope of something opening up for them; France had a devastating focus to their bouts of running and handling -- they looked, they saw, then they went. And that applied to people such as Domingo and his mate in the front row William Servat almost as much as did to Trinh-Duc and Medard.

French precision continued to carve inroads into the Scottish defence. Lack of precision in the handling department (sometimes the hands are not as fast as the eyes) let them down, until Trinh-Duc's outrageous flip between his legs set Imanol Harinordoquy away. He dummied outside him and the big No 8 galloped to the posts to open things out at 24-7.

A reminder of it came on the hour. Scotland, now playing in a supporting role but doing it with feeling, were awarded a penalty seven metres out.

Mike Blair tapped it with the French defence apparently lined up and ready, passed it in a straightforward fashion to Kelly Brown, who then just ran over the line for Scotland's second try. Ridiculous.

But next came more of the sublime, the best try of the lot. Medard found his way clear down the left, then Dimitri Yachvili and Clement Poitrenaud combined to put Damien Traille over for France's fourth.

Scotland were not done, even at 31-14, and Sean Lamont picked a fine line off the excellent Joe Ansbro and slalomed his way to Scotland's third. Perhaps the ultimate compliment was the way it inclined France to kick for goal when awarded a penalty deep in the Scottish 22 with two minutes to go.

And so the game that had everything now had a full house of scores. It was fitting that a prosaic penalty should be the last score for these two vibrant teams to think of adding.

Scorers -- France: Medard, pen try, Harinordoquy, Traille tries; Parra 2 cons, Yachvili 2 cons, pen; Trinh-Duc d-g. Scotland: Kellock, Brown, Lamont tries; Parks 2 cons; Jackson con

France: Traille, Huget, Rougerie, Mermoz (Poitrenaud 44), Medard (Clerc 73), Trinh-Duc, Parra (Yachvili 52) , Domingo, Servat (Guirado 57), Mas (Ducalcon 52), Pierre, Nallet (Thion 62), Dusautoir, Bonnaire, Harinordoquy (Chabal 55)

Scotland: Southwell, Walker, Ansbro, De Luca (S Lamont 55) , Evans, Parks (Jackson 69), R. Lawson (Blair 40), Jacobsen, Ford (Hall 73), Murray (Low 70), Gray, Kellock, Hines (Vernon 56), Barclay (Rennie 61), Brown.

Referee: W Barnes (RFU)

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