This was a game where a good outcome probably looked like ‘a solid performance with no injuries’. In that respect, it looks like we may have succeeded, although we await news on Alasdair Dickinson’s knock.
There was heavy rain before kick off in Paris tonight, and the conditions made it difficult for expansive rugby to be played, however what we did see was an atritional game with aggressive defence from both teams.
France started the brighter with Nakaittaci stretching the Scotland defence as early as the 1st minute although Tommy Seymour was up to the challenge defensively.
After only 6 minutes Dickinson was bumped off a tackle by the giant Louis Picamoles. He was replaced by Gordon Reid.
Scotland’s early lineout out was finding itself under huge pressure with the first 2 being lost, and it was from a lineout that Ritchie Gray conceded a penalty for having hands on Pascal Pape. Fortunately for Scotland Michalak’s penalty drifted wide.
After 13 minutes the Scots are awarded a penalty form the scrum by referee Wayne Barnes, and Grey Laidlaw converted to give Scotland a 3-0 lead.
The errors were coming thick and fast, as contact ball was spilled by both teams. However on 19 minutes the heavyweight centre Mathieu Bastereaud stormed through a Ryan Wilson tackle and a penalty was awarded to France for not rolling away. Michalak made no mistake this time (France 3-3 Scotland). However minutes later Scotland were back ahead again following a further Laidlaw penalty from straight in front of the posts (France 3-6 Scotland).
The favour was returned once more by Michalak who was successful from the mark following another Ritchie Gray infringement at the lineout (France 6-6 Scotland).
At this stage of proceedings Scotland were having to dig deep with some ferocious tackling from the whole team, although every time you looked up Jonny Gray and John Hardie seemed to be making hits. Discipline was slipping though and the continued defensive effort was leading to a high penalty count.
On 34 minutes a Scott Spedding run opened up the Scotland defence and from a resulting maul, Wesley Fofana appeared to have got the better of Seymour and scored in the left hand corner. Much to the relief of the Scotland winger there had been a forward pass from Bastereaud and the try ruled out.
Scotland had to defend some strong ball carrying from the French as the first half drew to a close. They did this well, and got their reward when a penalty on the half way line was kicked to the corner by Finn Russell. From the resulting line out the French strayed offside and Laidlaw gratefully kicked the penalty goal to send Scotland in at half time in the lead (France 6-9 Scotland).
The penalty count continued to mount up for Scotland early in the second half with Gordon Reid penalised for holding the attacker on the floor, although it looked like he was being held in himself. Either way, it was the easiest of 3 points for Michalak who appeared to have recovered from his early kicking blip (France 9-9 Scotland).
On 48 minutes a scything run from Yoann Huget from a Matt Scott spill saw the French winger round Ryan Wilson and step inside Tim Visser. A certain French score was stopped by a great cover tackle from Sean Maitland.
Scotland enjoyed a good 5 minute spell of possession in the French half following a great touch find from Russell, however once again they were finding it difficult to find a way to unlock the French defence. It has been blitzing effectively all day and giving the Scots midfield little room to operate. Eventually a Finn Russell chip over the oncoming defence found space behind, he collected and passed to Mark Bennet to start to really threaten for the first time, but the support didn’t arrive on time and the ball was turned over.
Just before the hour mark, Jonny Gray was unfortunate to be penalised as he appeared to be over the ball legally, but referee Barnes did not agree. From long range Scott Spedding found his target to put France back in front (France 12-9 Scotland).
Just as France were starting to cut loose, and we were worried the scoreboard might be troubled again, Laidlaw looked up to see a huge space in the French 22. Scott Spedding was woefully out of position, and Tommy Seymour showed dazzling pace to get there marginally ahead of him, poking the ball through with his foot he found himself only needing to pick up and run round underneath the posts for the first try of the match. A great return to the international frame for the Glasgow winger. Laidlaw converted easily (France 12-16 Scotland).
As we entered the last 10 minutes, Welsh, Lamont, Swinson and Brown had all joined the defensive effort to keep the French out. A series of scrums 5 metres out really tested what is probably regarded as the second string Scottish front row, but they held firm. More penalties were conceded, and eventually the referee lost his patience and yellow carded Dave Denton. Matt Scott had to pack down on the flank at the next two scrums, and remarkably they continued to deny the strength of the French pack from the set piece and from their heavy ball carrying. There was some wonderful covering tackling from John Hardie who showed fantastic speed to the tackle are all night. Eventually the pressure told though, and on 73 minutes Nakaitaci ran a great line for a Parra and Spedding move off the base, and dived over the line to put France back in front once more. Parra converted (France 19-16 Scotland).
The 14 men threw everything at France in the last 5 minutes. A further moment of brilliance from Russell who found a beautiful inside run from Bennett nearly saw the centre make it all the way to the try line, but the cover tackle was made just in time. From the ruck, Matt Scott spurned a golden opportunity to send Tim Visser in when a 3 on 2 overlap presented itself, choosing instead to float a long pass out to Hardie near the touchline. Visser did not look best pleased.
Inside injury time, Scotland were awarded a penalty, which was certainly kickable and would have delivered a draw, but captain Laidlaw turned down the kick and tapped instead. Despite their best efforts, the French defence held out (Final Score: France 19-16 Scotland).
There can be much encouragement taken from this performance. Aggressive defence with John Hardie and Jonny Gray showing up particularly well , some bright attacking sparked by Russell and Bennett especially in the second half, and a welcome return to international rugby for Seymour and Maitland who both contributed well. Things to work on? Well, the lineout struggled at times this evening and once again the penalty count was too high. On the basis of this final dress rehearsal though, Scotland are looking in pretty good shape.
Pen: Michalak (3) Spedding
Pens: Laidlaw (3)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
SR Man of the Match: Mark Bennett