We were blessed with the sight of a packed Sunday Murrayfield.
The atmosphere had a Gallic tinge to it as an enthusiastic French crowd flew over looking to claim another victory on the way to a suspected Championship win. Their nation expected, whilst the Scottish folk were harbouring defiant optimism. There was not so much expectation as an assurance of improvement, in some guise.
There was also, it must be said, a hope that the sometimes Schizophrenic French would abandon their new pragmatic approach in favour of a more unpredictable, immeasurable endeavour. What they got was a rampant Scotland throwing everything they had at them from the off, only to tire later as France crawled to victory.
Two minutes in and Scotland had a penalty attempt for Laidlaw that fell short and was hideously hoisted into touch by Rougerie. France repelled Scottish raids, but there were so many runs and so many hefty collisions that it looked liked Scotland would either obliterate their own bodies or make the decisive break.
On the 9th minute, after such a series of attacks, Scotland coughed up a scrum. The French marched the Scots back but Fofana ran too hard a line and bundled the ball forward. From the turnover several passes were made to hard runners. Laidlaw picked up a backwards ball, looked around, changed direction and passed right. The ball ended up in the exciting Stuart Hogg’s hands and he raced in at the corner untouched. Laidlaw converted.
Suddenly every time Hogg took the ball the crowd took to their feet. Everyone else was wanting to make breaks. Blair, Denton, Hamilton and Ford all hinted at darts and Rennie tirelessly tore into contacts. Of course the French are no slouches and Clerc and Medard almost conspired to score from a pitch-length away amongst all the pulsing excitement.
Laidlaw clipped over a penalty on the 26th minute, but the French could not be held at bay for too long. From a lineout in Scotland’s half the ball was hit up with some heavies, Trinh-Duc almost slipped through and then a hard pass was fired at Wesley Fofana, who was absolutely flying, and he barrelled over. Parra converted and suddenly it was 10-7.
This new French side don’t panic and with Scotland working to a frenzied pace the opposition stuck to what they knew. Parra dispatched another penalty kick and missed one, but looked like they were still comfortable going into the second half.
After the break France approached play like they had in the first half. They were patient. Sensible, even. Phases were strung together and Parra accepted a penalty award, kicking it to take the game to 10-13.
France were happy to pick their moments after this. There were a lot of knock-ons, but their scrum could get the shoulder and the edge they wanted without totally annihilating the Scots. They kicked when they had to. In short: they did nothing exciting. The New France.
Duncan Weir came on and Scotland sat a bit deeper with their passing. It seemed to work as Hogg and Sean Lamont was fed on the run.
There was a turnover in the 56th minute from Barclay, De Luca made a dart and Vernon, on for Denton, raced through, held his pass and then hit Lee Jones for his first score. Weir easily converted.
Again France replied, though. They do not panic. The ball was spun to Malzieu who picked out Jones and bumped him over. He drew Hogg just as Medard raced into his line of vision. The full-back went under the posts and Parra converted, making it 17-20.
Now the French scrum was really turning the screw and were claiming penalties from the scrummage. There were some more collisions in the middle of the park, but the impacts were taking their toll. By the time Beauxis dropped a goal to make it 17-23 France had brought on their players like Servat, Nallet and Beauxis himself. They had no problem in slow playing this one and the industrious home side had to keep working at feverish pace to create anything.
A streaker briefly intervened but this only broke up the tedious plod towards the end of the match set up by Saint-Andre’s pragmatic side. Hogg almost made another break but he was caught by the cover and France ground this out for the win.
Scotland will be happy with their energetic display and Hogg and Rennie played brilliantly, but their scrum was made to give up numerous penalties and France pulled out scores if and when they needed them. Scotland will now have a week off before taking on an Ireland side made to regroup in a short space of time.
That one could be tight, judging by this display.
Scotland: Hogg; R. Lamont, S. Lamont, Morrison, Jones; Laidlaw, Blair; Jacobsen, Ford, Cross, Gray, Hamilton, Barclay, Rennie, Denton.
Subs: S. Lawson, Kalman, Kellock, Vernon, Cusiter, Weir, De Luca.
France: Medard; Clerc, Rougerie, Fofana, Malzieu; Trinh-Duc, Parra; Poux, Szarzewski, Mas, Pape, Maestri, Dusautoir, Harinordoquy, Picamoles.
Subs: Servat, Debaty, Nallet, Bonnaire, Dupuy, Beauxis, Mermoz.