Scotland fluffed their opening lineout of their opening game of this Rugby World Cup season and all but gifted France and winger Alivereti Raka a simple try under the posts for his debut; not an auspicious start in the first two minutes for the visitors.
It was a hot and sweaty affair at the Alliance Riviera in Nice and for the watching fans at least it was light on set-piece or endless kicking ping-pong. The Scots in any case were well-advised to to steer clear of the scrum, as the second of those saw a penalty kicked by Camille Lopez to make it 10-0 after the first quarter of an hour.
Maxime Medard then took France’s second try, executing a four on two overlap to slip past Stuart Hogg in the corner. It was pretty simple stuff from France while Gregor Townsend’s men looked like they were still on holiday.
The first points for Scotland came on 25 minutes with an Adam Hastings penalty (there was a lot of “offside” called by Nigel Owens against both sides). To that point Hastings had been decent for the men in sky blue (and tartan) but he undid that by getting a yellow card for a deliberate knock on (whilst offside, naturally).
French Number 8 Greg Alldritt (father from Scotland) scored an easy try from the ensuing lineout on the half hour mark, then promptly went off for a Head Injury Assessment.
His replacement? Louis Picamoles. Gulp.
The half ended with a series of scrums on the Scottish line after a frustrated Stuart Hogg had saved another near score by Les Bleues (there were a few, contrasted to a complete lack of try-scoring opportunities for Scotland).
Somehow, the Edinburgh-centric pack salvaged things to get out of jail without further scoring against them.
Half-time: France 20-3 Scotland
The second half was played at a slower pace but that didn’t seem to help Scotland any.
It was notable for the appearance of Zander Fagerson which meant that there were two tightheads on the pitch. Simon Berghan moving to the loosehead side during the next scrum perhaps gave an insight into Townsend’s thinking regarding the number of props he might take to Japan. Scotland conceded a penalty at that scrum – whether that clarified his thinking any is anyone’s guess.
Rory Hutchinson came on for his first cap, and though he spent much of it defending he was one of the brighter attacking sparks for Scotland. He came on for Duncan Taylor, who had made some excellent covering tackles but had few chances with the ball. Still, he seemed to get through it intact.
With half an hour to play both sides were visibly wilting and it wasn’t clear if either side had the energy to change the scoreboard in any particular direction.
Maxime Medard had other ideas, taking a slightly “flat” pass in a nice move set up by good hands from the French half backs Dupont and Lopez before diving over in the corner. Like Dupont’s own further try minutes later it was hard to argue the French didn’t deserve it.
Scotland got near the French line with the game all but up, but Byron McGuigan couldn’t get a pass away to the spritely Darcy Graham. Thereafter the visitors spent a good spell helping the French practice their goal-line defence without ever really threatening to score.
The Scots thrive on fast-paced, chaotic rugby but this was a reminder that France are traditionally the premier exponents of that sort of thing in the Northern Hemisphere and they counter attacked with fluid ease when Scotland couldn’t or wouldn’t keep possession.
For Scotland, more grunt is needed in the pack if any sort of back line – and this wasn’t the front line group for sure – is to be unleashed in what should be a changed side next week in the reverse fixture.
Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Not a game for highlights really this one. Duncan Taylor was the pick of the first half but probably would rather not have been making all those scrambling tackles. In the second half, Matt Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie brought some impetus to the forwards in the second but by then it was all but up. SuperDunc for surviving in one piece.