Scotland’s winning run is over after a crunching encounter at BT Murrayfield was sealed by Virimi Vakatawa’s early second-half try, although Scotland may have had the chance to steal a draw at the last were it not for Stuart Hogg’s horrendous kick with time in the red.
France opened the scoring through the boot of full-back Thomas Ramos, and increased their lead from the same source, although it could have been worse for Scotland with Vakatawa just short of touching down Gael Fickou’s grubber.
Ali Price’s kicking looked sharp early on, and his excellent clearance from inside his own 22 was chased down by Watson and Weir to force the penalty just inside the French half.
Although seeming within Hogg’s range, the captain went to touch and Scotland forced another penalty from much closer range.
Duncan Weir slotted it over to score first in the side-story of the Two Reserve Fly-Halves, although Mattieu Jalibert had kicked well from hand after one early high-ball spill.
Weir then levelled the scores with a longer-range effort, but Jalibert then stroked a penalty to the edge of Scotland’s 22.
Although they made a mess of the set-piece – Dupont’s pass flying over his fellow half-backs head – Ramos ran from deep to make the yards back, leading to the young Bordeaux-Begles’ stand-off slotted over a drop-goal to reinstate France’s lead.
Weir’s boot again drew the scores level after Dylan Cretin’s failure to move out of the tackle area, but straight from the restart Matt Fagerson was snaffled on the floor and Ramos also made it 3 from 3 off the tee.
Hogg’s restarts had been causing France a bit of bother, and Bernard Le Roux’s spill created the first scrum of the match after half an hour. Scotland never made it over the gainline until Weir then got stripped by Dupont, but when the star scrum-half’s kick was returned by Hogg, the awkward bounce went the Exeter man’s way.
Any pressure Scotland were starting to exert then got binned when Blair Kinghorn booted the ball over the dead-ball line, but France’s scrum went a little awry and the loose ball ended back up in Scotland’s hands.
They worked their way upfield and secured another penalty at the breakdown which Weir converted with the clock ticking down, and with only 30secs of the half remaining, referee Wayne Barnes had a big call to make.
Camille Chat’s elbow went close to Jonny Gray’s throat, but it was decided that he was trying to brace the contact rather than lead with the arm, so possession went back to French hands due to Jamie Ritchie’s knock on off the high ball.
The Scottish pack, shorn of Rory Sutherland and Zander Fagerson in the front-row, went backwards. Barnes’ arm went out and France went to the touchlines with time up.
But the seemingly inevitable never happened. Chat peeled off the maul, but Kinghorn and associates managed to hold his charge towards the line.
Scotland stopped the pick and gos – France’s powerhouse hooker wrestled to the floor by Duncan Weir all of people – and although Fickou did manage to get across the line when they put a bit of width on it, somehow Scotland managed to hold him up and prevent France from taking the lead going in to the changing rooms.
Half-time: Scotland 12 – 12 France
The psychological boost from preventing France from scoring didn’t last long.
Although Scotland stopped a scrum from making any ground, Vincent Rattez found a hole between Weir and Price off first-phase ball. Rattez fed Vakatawa who held off the attentions of Kinghorn and Hogg.
Another excellent restart from Hogg saw Scotland win the ball back in the French 22, but this Shaun Edwards-led French defence don’t give tries up easy, although they did concede the penalty from which Weir again scored.
Vakatawa slipped past Duhan van der Merwe out wide and put a grubber in for Teddy Thomas to chase, putting Scottish hearts in mouths but Matt Fagerson dealt with the threat well.
Kinghorn then went on a bit of a gallop through Vakatawa and Jalibert, only for Scott Cummings to spill as he went to take the ball at pace, and a few handling errors started to emerge from the slippery ball.
Regular starter Zander Fagerson had come on after the French try, and he joined a tiring Oli Kebble, while France were able to bring out top-class replacements. Les Bleus won the penalty, their maul also started to show it’s power and they marched into Scotland’s 22, with penalty advantage on their side.
Although Wayne Barnes did call “advantage over”, Jalibert didn’t heed the call and his attempt at a cross-kick was claimed comfortably by van der Merwe.
From the clearing kick, France again mashed the Scotland maul defence to bring a penalty advantage. Hogg prevented Rattez scoring a try in the left-corner, but Ramos extended the French lead to a converted try with another simple kick off the tee.
Ali Price had kicked superbly throughout, and with Sean Maitland now on in place of Blair Kinghorn, the returning, Barbarian in exile, started to force Rattez into mistakes under the high-ball.
One such error gave Scotland the put-in at the scrum on the French 10m line, but the front-row now consisting of Bhatti, Turner and Fagerson were penalised, Bhatti blamed for dropping his bind.
France completed their line-out, but a thumping tackle from Turner on Alldritt disrupted France’s momentum and Dupont’s pass went forward.
After the way the scrums had gone so far this may have you filled you with a bit of fear, but it’s a scrum so Scotland won the penalty this time.
Hogg’s grubber was bundled into touch off Fickou – who may have had a point about van der Merwe pushing him – but Sam Skinner’s failure to take the line-out saw the chance go in the bin.
Ritchie failed to release, then got marched back 10m. He conceded another penalty for not rolling away seconds later, so Ramos looked to finish the game off with only 3mins remaining.
Ramos’ effort dropped short, and he compounded that error by kicking out on the full to give Scotland the line-out in France’s half.
Cretin got up superbly to nick it ahead of Matt Fagerson, and although Haouas spilled the ball forward, Turner ran into Sam Skinner off the back of the scrum to hand the penalty to France with under a minute on the clock.
France couldn’t see the game out as they spilled the line-out with merely seconds remaining, leading to the slimmest of hopes, but Hogg pulled off an absolute shocker to kick the ball into France’s in-goal area and the awaiting arms of Arthur Vincent.
SRBlog Player of the Match: even with a European Champion on the bench, Ali Price played the full 80mins. Dictated proceedings very well, kicked from hand superbly and there was less of the barking at the ref and teammates. Maybe they’ve started listening to him.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)