The opening ten minutes of this encounter at the Stade de France were a new statement of intent from the troubled hosts. Led by their excellent young half backs, Ntmack and Dupont, France had come to play, and looked to run at any opportunity.
That, at least, was nice. But for a Scotland fan little of what followed would be pleasant.
Both sides were playing fast and loose and going wide quickly. France had the better of it, with several would-be tries denied by the TMO throughout the game.
The Scottish defence looked physical and up for it in the opening stages but France were varying the point of attack so quickly. Yes, offloading rugby requires precision but it is so hard to defend when done instinctively.
Sloppy kicking gave French fullback Ramos a chance to counter in space and he skipped around Sean Maitland before launching the sort of try scoring movement that everyone wants to see from France. A great covering tackle from Nick Grigg almost snuffed it out, but the ball was recycled quickly left and the numbers were too great, Ntmack diving over.
Tails up, the French pounced on every small error with rapid counter attacks and heavy pressure when Scotland failed to exit their own 22. That earned them a penalty under the posts for a ten point lead.
Scotland did put some nice phases together, Horne and McInally combining for a half break but even that was halted as play drifted close to an injured player receiving treatment. From the restart, Scotland at least took a Laidlaw penalty to get on the board.
Huget paid the price for continued French indiscipline at the breakdown following a lovely high take by Jamie Ritchie (one of the few during the game) and another half-break from Kinghorn.
During the ten minutes when Huget was off – France were also minus their captain to an HIA – Scotland scored no points and France scored a try, although it was again denied by the TMO. The TMO could only save them so long.
Rather than going in quickly for the half time break to regather, Scotland tried to keep on playing. Luckily, I suppose, Greig Laidlaw threw the ball straight into touch between 3 or 4 players.
Half-time: France 10-3 Scotland
Still in the game, it was the worst possible start for Scotland as Dupont led his side down field with a sniping run. You know it’s not your day when even Mathieu Bastareaud is pulling off a chip and chase. Horne was sent for an HIA which brought on Adam Hastings. There may have been an intake of breath, given his form of late, but he was probably the best player in a Scotland shirt even over just 35 minutes and certainly the most threatening.
Kinghorn saved a try running it out from his own line, Hastings picked off a couple of loose passes – France were offloading everything which would have been entertaining for the neutral – but the hosts were dictating where the game was being played and Scotland couldn’t get out of their half.
Sean Maitland had a clear scoring break but didn’t pass to Seymour outside him. Kinghorn would be guilty on a very similar break later on. As was the story against Ireland, errors killed any momentum as the game slipped on.
With 15 minutes to play Scotland emptied the entire bench and it did bring a boost in impetus, particularly from Ali Price and Gary Graham. France were expected to tire, but kept their bench until they really needed it.
It was symptomatic of this poor Scotland performance that they almost conceded a try trying to place a ball back from a hurried ruck on their own line. Again the TMO saved them, but the French pack smelled blood and shunted them over their own line till they splintered and Gregory Alldritt bounced over.
Price grabbed a late consolation try off a nice line by Pete Horne now at inside centre, but the sudden urgency after that to try and earn a losing bonus was completely misplaced. France were happy to soak it up with five minutes to play knowing Scotland couldn’t score twice.
The hosts rubbed noses in the dirt with a penalty on 83 minutes gone that got them close enough for a lineout. There was a double movement off the drive but Scotland were offside and France took a scrum. It was a mess but they did enough to convince Berry that they had scored and got what they wanted as the Scots could only look on in despair.
Counter attacking France were far from great but at least played some lovely stuff; Scotland were devoid of ideas until Hastings came on, and overall were dire.