On a windy but dry afternoon at Murrayfield, Scotland welcomed a stuttering French side to the muddy patch we call home for the penultimate round of the 2014 Six Nations.
And we could only just call it a home game, with thousands upon thousands of French supported dressed as Napoleon, Braveheart, Chickens, Vikings or some mish-mash of all four bringing colour and noise to a grey old Edinburgh day.
At the first scrum the pitch crumbled and so did the Scots front row, giving stand-in kicker Maxime Machenaud an early chance to settle his nerves and start the scoreboard moving in France’s direction.
Scotland came back with some strong ball carries from Johnnie Beattie and Matt Scott and an intent to play at pace, but France were happy with that style too and a long range break by the untried but talented back-line saw the pro-French roars continue; only last ditch tackles by Weir and Denton saved the try, but Machenaud kicked another penalty.
Minutes later Hogg gave the home fans something to cheer with a speculative chip kick into Murrayfields mammoth dead ball area. Good chasing from Lamont forced a French fumble and Hogg was there for the easiest of dots down.
France came straight back and won another penalty but more worrying was the sight of Johnnie Beattie going off with an ankle injury after a strong early showing.
Scotland did not play as if they were concerned, with a series of strong drives from the pack feeding out to Weir and then Scott who popped the ball up into a hole inviting Tommy Seymour to take a nice angled line and his pace meant he was only ever going over for the try – possibly helped by Scott remaining in the way of Plisson.
France were threatening from deep whenever they had time or an unexpected turnover but the last gasp tackling from Scotland was up to it. Machenaud missed a late penalty as Scotland continued to infringe, and with Lamont going off for Evans also in the first half though, you worried if the pace might tell late on as France’s bench remained untroubled.
HT: Scotland 14-9 France
Scotland came out with intent in the second half but it was one of those floaty Weir passes that undid all the good work as Yoann Huget stole it almost from defending his own line and ran the length of the pitch to score a breakaway try, his third of the tournament.
Scotland were full of enterprise with Max Evans finding space on more than one occasion and they were also solid at scrum – wining a couple of free kicks – and lineout even once Ross Ford came on, but again penalties at the breakdown were their undoing as the gap stayed at just 2 points.
Laidlaw swung at a long distance penalty despite Hogg offering his (more powerful boot) and predictably it came up short. Minutes later they had another from closer and Weir stepped up to have a shot. His one crept over the bar and Scotland crept back into the lead, but by just a point.
As the bench emptying began in the last half hour Scotland were able to keep their intensity up against a French side to continued to make errors. Both sides had plenty of ball and it would come down to territory in the last ten minutes. And you hoped, not another nervy wait for a drop goal.
The decisions did seem to be going Scotland’s way in the scrum certainly and with the game being played between the 22s and refreshingly full voice from the crowd right up until the end, there was always a chance even as Weir just missed a penalty wide and short.
Unfortunately when France had their chance to camp out in the Scottish half the inevitable penalty came their way too, and with the three points secure France were happy to see out the clock as Scotland battered frustratingly at the blue wall without the ball.
France were poor and definitely beatable but in the end they got out of jail – or perhaps Scotland put themselves in jail right when they really wanted to run free.
Ref: Chris Pollock (NZ)
SRBlog Man of the Match: David Denton got the official nod and it was hard to disagree that the candidates should all come from Scotland. Richie Gray gets our nod for a big lineout performance, some good carries and several bone-crunching tackles.