The Scotland U20s put up a brave fight against an increasingly confident French age-grade side in slippery conditions at Broadwood, now the home of one of Scotland’s rugby academies.
The French scored an early penalty try that won’t have pleased coach John Dalziell especially when he was able to call upon Zander Ferguson in the front row, now a full cap international. However fly-half Adam Hastings clawed back a penalty soon after and for large chunks of the first half captain Scott Cummings and the Scottish pack were in control when they kept the ball and went through the phases.
There were a lot of turnovers though, and on the other side the young French team were looking to break whenever possible – exactly what you want to see from a France team – led by their scrum half Dupont. Scotland were trying things themselves but that old nemesis the knock on stopped them from putting too much together behind the pack.
They had a better second period in the half with another penalty from Hastings before sustained forward pressure on the French line saw Ben Robbins burst over, cutting a nice line from scrum half Hugh Fraser’s move away from the ruck that drew the French defence. Tim Visser would have been proud.
French fly-half Anthony Belleau brought the gap back to a single point and that spurred the French on for further counter attacks. Only a superb covering tackle from Ruairidh Howarth hauled his man down inches short of the line, but with the French chase up quickly, Dupont put an ugly sideways punt into the corner where winder Martin Laveau had enough space to mishandle it backwards before diving on it for the score.
Hastings slammed a long range penalty over from half way bang on half time to bring the difference back to 3 points; Scotland were far from out of it.
Half-time: Scotland 14-17 France
The second half resumed with more of the same: a ding-dong battle up front, with plenty of counter-attacking – and knock ons – behind the scrum.
Fagerson was making solid ground in the loose but having less fun in the scrum and soon enough he was whistled up at the scrum to give Belleau a long range penalty of his own, which he missed.
The Scots then had a huge chance with quick ball and the forwards setting up field position but Hastings opted for a cross-field kick and despite an awkward bounce Dupont sparked a superb 80 metre move from inside his own 22 that was finished for the try by Damien Penaud.
France marched straight back up the pitch with a couple of penalties and a noticeable increase in intensity and speed of thought that the Scots found hard to deal with, forcing them into playing too much rugby inside their own half.
They did battle back strongly, earning a penalty on 57 minutes which they put into the corner but agonisingly knocked on chasing a rare lineout mishap.
French lock Mathieu Tanguy was sin-binned for a trip on Hugh Fraser which gave Scotland another chance to repeat the tactic immediately. The imperious Scott Cummings took the lineout before the maul spidered ever closer to the French line. Matt Scott dropped over at the back for a well deserved try, the pick of the Scottish back row up against a very impressive French unit.
Hastings converted and it was 21-24, back to 3 points with 62 minutes played.
France missed another long range penalty then the Scots broke out through nice work from inside centre Tom Galbraith then Hastings – whose kicking had been inventive but very mixed all night put in a great dink into the corner that caused France all sorts of trouble and gave Scotland another chance at a lineout.
Unfortunately when the drive faltered and the ball hit the deck, Scotland were pinged for going off their feet in an effort to protect the ball that the French 6 and 7 were making increasing efforts to control.
Fresh on the pitch, Ruaridh Dawson had a first U20 cap to forget as his box kick was charged down before Judicael Cancoriet scored the try that finally killed off any realistic Scottish challenge.
There was a spirited response from Robbie Nairn with a scything attack from deep that cut through the heart of the French team and so nearly bore fruit but that man Dupont put in a tackle on Hastings just as he was lining up a potentially try-creating pass outside.
There was a frantic 10 minutes of attacking rugby from both sides, finishing a match played with excellent intent but ultimately the French were just better at it. A late try for Belleau put a gloss on the score.
Considering Scotland have never beaten France at this level, France were the better team – but not by that much.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Adam Hastings was frustratingly mercurial, while Tom Galbraith offered a more reliable presence in the backs and Hugh Fraser had a good eye for attacking opportunity. But up front lay the heart of the Scottish challenge, with Jake Kerr throwing his lineout darts well and Matt Smith giving a John Hardie-like performance in defence and at the breakdown. Top marks, though, go to captain Scott Cummings for a leader’s performance in attack and defence, and a near perfect display at the lineout on a slippery night.