by Rhona Sweeting at Scotstoun
Hot on the heels of a courageous performance against a wily Welsh side, Shade Munro’s squad was clearly determined to put on a show on a dreich Saturday night at Scotstoun.
A few personnel changes saw the highly experienced Sarah Law starting at scrum half, and the unshakeable Lana Skeldon slotting in at hooker. A last-minute injury in the warm-up meant Jade Konkel moved from the front row to replace Sarah Bonar at Number 8, with Siobhan McMillan, coming off the bench for her first Scotland start, at loosehead.
Walking out to a record-breaking crowd of almost 3,000, it was evident that the home side had learned a lesson from last week’s uncharacteristically nervous start, which provided Wales with far too many opportunities to cross the whitewash. France launched a blistering attack with the opening kick, but Scotland were ready for the expected charge and retaliated with a confident defence.
Speed was key in forcing mistakes from the visitors to win an early penalty. Lisa Thomson found her mark to make the corner, although an unfortunate interception from the impressive French lock Safi N’Diaye allowed the first of the evening’s dozen scrums.
Given the conditions, it was a no-brainer that this would be a scrummaging game, with seven racked up in the first half alone. The formidable French pack proved dangerously effective, and a penalty to France at 18 minutes saw the first opportunity to put points on the board. However, fullback Jessy Tremouliere bounced it off the sticks to keep the scoreline at 0-0.
Following a word to the captains about repeated French failure to release, referee Graham Cooper awarded Scotland another penalty in front of the posts, stroked through by Law and putting Scotland ahead by three points. After a weather-affected sloppy restart, Skeldon then delivered another accurate throw-in at the lineout, leading to a powerful maul from Scotland, until it was pulled down by the French counter-attack and tighthead Patricia Carricaburu made her way to the sin bin.
A spirited attempt to galvanise saw speedy fullback Chloe Rollie – scorer of two of Scotland’s three tries against Wales – make a courageous break, but a big hit from N’Diaye spilled the ball loose, with France taking the resultant penalty lineout in Scotland’s 22. Hooker Agathe Sochat cleverly controlled the resulting maul, then touched down to deliver the first try of the evening, although Tremouliere failed to make the conversion.
Scotland’s initial success in employing a hard, narrow defensive press to unsettle their Gallic rivals was also to prove their undoing when, barely three minutes later, Cyrielle Banet took advantage of a glaring gap on the openside. A superb chip and chase allowed her to take the ball sweetly over the line between the posts, and Tremouliere converted with ease, leaving the scoreboard leaning comfortably in the opposition’s favour at HT.
Half-time: Scotland Women 3-12 France Women
The second half saw a distinct change in tactics, as captain Lisa Martin marshalled the back line to deepen the defence. As conditions grew worse, Scotland demonstrated their nerve by opening up play with some superb wide passes – a risky move with a wet ball, but fast hands and good handling, coupled with strong support, kept hopes high.
A couple of early penalties allowed the visitors to make some dangerous attacks in Scotland’s 22, but despite Rollie’s quick thinking and accurate tackling to secure the line, a powerful drive from the French scrum at 50 minutes put them within squeaking distance of a third try.
An intelligent long kick from Martin pushed the ball back into the opposition’s territory and forced the chase. Quality direction from Law stopped France’s repeated efforts to disrupt the breakdown, allowing the powerful Konkel to win a superb turnover, before bursting through a solid French defence to make a superb 20 metre carry, shut down at the last minute by a French turnover.
Going into the last quarter, Scotland looked to the bench for the first time, with Louise McMillan, Jodie Rettie and Lauren Harris coming on. Munro must have hoped that fresh legs would help to up the tempo in an intensely physical game, but even some brilliant attempts at pick and drive and a daring grubber from Thomson couldn’t make the French concede.
With ten minutes to go, France delivered another impressive shove from an untidy lineout maul, and a cleverly-run line from winger Caroline Boujard took the ball across Scotland’s line for the third time, once again converted by Tremouliere.
A long-distance kick from Rollie with four minutes left on the clock raised Scottish hopes, but it was a touch too far, and a rapid chase saw the French once again push up to the Scottish line.
A valiant effort by Konkel to prevent outside centre Jade Le Pesq from pushing through to the base of the posts had the crowd holding their collective breath: but even recourse to the TMO couldn’t arrêtez les bleus by then, and France took their fourth try and bonus point.
A final conversion from Tremouliere as the final whistle blew pushed the scoreboard to 3-26, giving the visitors a convincing win – albeit arguably one that didn’t reflect the balance of play – against a gutsy and committed Scottish team.
FT: SCO 3, FRA 26
Referee: Graham Cooper (AUS)
SRBlog Player of the Match: Jade Konkel was the undisputed star of the evening for her tireless efforts both in the scrum and in the loose – and that superb carry – but special mention also goes to Lana Skeldon, whose pin-point accuracy at the throw-in gave the Scots a huge advantage at the lineout.