Scotland welcomed France to a sunny BT Murrayfield. The fifteenth sell out match at the stadium in a row, so we are told, although there were a few empty seats dotted around the stadium with fans perhaps preferring a day enjoying the sunshine elsewhere after Scotland’s performance the previous weekend in Nice.
Despite Finn Russell returning it was Stuart Hogg who kicked off, the French struggling to collect the ball and eventually kicking it into touch. From the resulting line out Scotland’s maul struggled to get going. Scotland went through some phases between half way and the French ten metre line without making much headway before Damien Penaud was able to pounce on an errant pass from Pete Horne, gratefully running under the posts for France’s first try of the match after a minute and a half.
In truth there was not much Horne could do, having been caught by a hard tackle mid pass and Scotland were soon able to make amends turning France over in the ruck from the restart. Scotland eventually won a kickable penalty in front of the posts. Laidlaw duly put Scotland’s first points on the board.
Peter Horne was able to right his earlier wrong putting in a huge hit which then saw Scotland win turnover ball and pour into France’s 22 through Russell and Watson. However Scotland were caught holding on and with Blue jerseys protesting a French knock on Wayne Barnes duly marched them back 10 metres.
Despite France kicking for territory Scotland were able to repel a number of French forrays into their 22. Hamish Watson was a constant nuisance in the ruck and Chris Harris, Scott Cummings and Blade Thomson put in some big hits.
Tommy Seymour was an early casulty of the first half going off after a head knock to be replaced permanently by Blair Kinghorn after failing his HIA. Townsend confirmed later that Seymour was unlikely to make the game in Tiblisi with the flight on Wednesday coming too early for him to pass his return to play protocols.
A big tackle from Blade Thomson on half way saw Scotland reclaim the ball with Sean Maitland charging down the wing before Ryan Wilson was penalised for going off his feet at the ruck. Wayne Barnes had some sympathy with Wilson’s claims of innocence but applied the letter of the law having deemed Wilson to have tackled his man.
Kinghorn was then caught taking his opposite number around the collar and France kicked to the corner. A good maul defence from Scotland and some big hits again from Cummings and Thomson forced France to kick to the wing with the ball sailing into touch.
Despite France claiming the line out Hogg was eventually able to clear the ball upfield and some big hits from Harris and Skinner seemed to have pinned the France in their own half. However Gael Fickou had other ideas and sailed through a gap in the Scottish defence before sending Damien Penaud over for his second try.
Gordy Reid caught Wayne Barnes at the next scrum on half way complaining of French shenanigans in the front row. But Barnes was keen to take a look at the other side of the scrum and after wheeling the scrum and a slipped French foot the Scottish pack took a third scrum driving the French pack backwards and winning the penalty.
Neither team were able to get a grip on the game with possession passing back and forth before Blair Kinghorn took a high ball under pressure and Finn Russell did what Finn Russell does putting in a superb cross field kick to Maitland who was unable to collect but able to keep it in touch by knocking it backwards. Scotland were unable to collect the ball, eventually knocking it on in the resulting melee.
Scotland then put the French scrum under real pressure and although France were able to get the ball away it was soon dropped with a grateful Kinghorn scooping it up and racing for the line. He passed to Harris who was brought down with the try line begging. After a few pick and goes the ball made its way to Russell who spun it wide to Maitland sending him over in the corner for the try. Laidlaw added the extras.
Half-time: Scotland 10 – 14 France
Scotland had a mixed start to the second half, claiming the restart before losing the ball through some lose passing from Willem Nel. However Scotland were able to put France under pressure at the breakdown again winning a penalty and clearing to the half way line.
Thomson was brought off early in the second half with a head knock. He was cheered from the pitch by the BT Murrayfield crowd having put in a good shift in defence and perhaps one foot on the plane. He was replaced by Barclay who was met with an even bigger cheer. Barclay went to 6 with Wilson moving to 8.
Russell and Horne were putting the French defence under pressure and passes that weren’t sticking in the first half were finally finding their intended hands. A momentary lapse in concentration from Russell almost saw Scotland lose the ball before the entire pack shouting “Finn” seemed to bring him back down to earth.
Gordy Reid left the field to be replaced by Dell, Reid earning a handshake and thank you from Wayne Barnes for some “excellent scrums”. Something for Townsend to ponder with Barnes taking charge of Scotland’s opening game in the World Cup against Ireland.
Despite some strong pressure from France in their 22 Scotland were able to turn over ball again at the ruck, Russell clearing down field and a huge hit from Pete Horne forcing a knock on just inside the Scottish half.
Scotland cleared the ball from the scrum under French pressure and Russell kicked cross field to Kinghorn who gathered and raced for the line with Hogg and Horne in support. However, Horne failed to gather the pass, knocking the ball forward, and despite France claiming the ball they soon knocked on too and Barnes called play back for a French scrum.
Scotland won a free kick at the resulting scrum and decided to have another crack at the French pack which had been under pressure from Scotland all afternoon. However the French had other ideas, the pack suddenly coming to life and winning a penalty and kicking to touch on Scotland’s 22.
Scotland’s maul defence had been strong all game and the French were unable to make any headway from the line out, Scotland winning the ball back after a French knock on. Kinghorn chased Russell’s downfield kick like a man possessed putting French players under huge pressure and buying time for the Scottish defence to catch up and win a penalty at the ruck with France caught holding on.
Russell kicked to touch but the Scottish line out didn’t go to plan. However, the ball was knocked on by a French hand giving Scotland a scrum five out from the French line. Scotland took the ball cleanly from the scrum with Watson, Turner and Horne making big carries before Laidlaw found Harris running from deep to cross under the posts with minimum of French resistance. Laidlaw kicked the convention. Scotland 17 France 14.
Scotland were then able to sustain heavy pressure from the French attack, Turner and Barclay and Watson making a nuisance of themselves, however there was concern with Sam Skinner leaving the field supported by a medic and Gordy Reid. Skinner had been strong in defence and contributed well to the scrum. Early indications are a leg injury but further news is to come of long term prognosis.
A high tackle from Wilson just outside the Scotland 10 metres line saw France kick ahead capitalising on advantage. However with Russell gathering the ball, Barnes decided that advantage was over and Scotland were able to clear to touch to just outside the 22.
Scotland won the resulting line out through Wilson, and Russell cleared down field. Following some kick tennis and strong scramble defence from Scotland, France soon knocked on with Scotland winning the resultant scrum.
The crowd were then soon on their feet when Hogg kicked ahead and gathering his own ball had the line in sight before being brought down. He was able to offload to Berghan but some lose passing and a touch of white line fever saw France win a penalty and clear to half way.
Scotland continued to play a fast game, picking up the tempo in the final quarter making their superior fitness show. But sometimes the fastest brand of rugby can be too fast with Hutchinson catching a ball to the face after a series of offloads from the Scottish backs.
With Horne Jnr. on field the game was played an unusually breakneck speed for the latter part of a game with Scotland putting France under huge pressure in their 22. However France were able too clear but were caught stopping a quick throw and Scotland were awarded the penalty.
With four minutes left on the clock Scotland decided to take it through the pack inside French half with a number of pick and gos before Russell kicked, only finding French hands. Hogg regathered the clearance and Scotland pinned France back in their own 22.
Wilson gave away a penalty with two minutes to go inside the French half and there was the sinking feeling that Scotland might have yet again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. However some strong defence saw Scotland force a knock on and despite pressure from the French pack Scotland were able to kick to touch to end the game.
Despite some unforced errors, every player put down a marker for a place in the final 31 man World Cup squad and some of those involved in last weeks game will no doubt know their chance has been and gone. However, this was a win in dry conditions at Murrayfield. We know Scotland can win in these conditions. There are still questions about their fragility away from home. It was an unseasonal 23 degrees at BT Murrayfield but we still don’t know if Scotland can handle the real heat.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Hamish Watson won the official Man of the Match award and it’s hard to question that decision. He was a constant nuisance at the breakdown and carried with his usual verve and je ne sais quoi. At one point he went on the charge with a French player hanging onto his shirt tails. At another point he emerged from a pile of bodies with the ball despite having seemingly been tackled. Mentions also to Pete Horne and Chris Harris who looked strong in defence and combined well and Blair Kinghorn who grabbed an unexpected chance with both hands.