Sacre bleu! Could Andy Robinson’s men pull of a miracle at Murrayfield by felling the World Cup finalists?
Scotland: Hogg, R. Lamont, S. Lamont, Morrison, Jones, Laidlaw, Blair; Jacobsen, Ford (c), Cross, Gray, Hamilton, Barclay, Rennie, Denton.
France: Médard, Clerc, Rougerie, Fofana, Malzieu, Trinh-Duc, Parra; Poux, Szarzewski, Mas, Pape, Maestri, Dusatoir (c), Harinordoquy, Picamoles
Laidlaw takes the kick-off… it’s gathered by the French pack, clearing the way for Parra to clear a box-kick downfield.
The postponement of their encounter with Ireland has allowed France to sneak into Murrayfield a little under the radar. Today’s selection, particularly with the pairing of Parra and Trinh-Duc at half-back looks dynamite.
Scotland are awarded a penalty just inside the French half. Laidlaw doesn’t hesitate before electing for a shot on goal, but his effort drops all of ten metres short
Rougerie has time clear, but slices a desperate effort into the crowd.
Scotland roll the ball through a handful of phases. The crowd cheer, the pack sways and strains, but all the movement is lateral.
According to George Hamilton, the Murrayfield crowd “isn’t used to tries”. That would explain its hysterical reaction to every successful ball-carry, then.
TRY FOR SCOTLAND!
Scotland’s first try against France since 2006 goes to Stuart Hogg!
After working another ponderous move across the face of the French defence, the ball suddenly finds itself in the arms of Hogg on the right touchline. The fullback dips his head, lengthens his stride and dives across in the right corner.
Laidlaw’s conversion has the crowd in raptures.
Scotland 7-0 France
FACTOID: Hogg’s try stands as Scotland’s first against non-Italian Six Nations opposition in three years.
Appropriate, then, that it should have gone to the standard bearer of the nation’s renaissance.
A nervous hush has fallen over Murrayfield…
BUT: Sensing complacency in the French ranks, Mike Blair launches a twisting, turning break deep into the opposition half. He slings a long, arcing pass into the arms of Hogg, who’s making ground on the right, but he’s soon brought to ground and dispossessed by Dusatoir.
The scrum-half’s parting of the Blue Sea has convinced a few doubters: that anxious murmur has become a roar. This crowd is beginning to believe.
France are shell-shocked.
France are beginning to find their rhythm, relying on the safe hands of its big ball carriers to gain ground in midflield.
We’ve reached a bit of a Newtonian stalemate: every French move is meeting an equal and opposite Scottish reaction.
Some immense work from Barclay, Rennie and Denton sees Scotland advance to within metres of a second try. An untimely knock-on cedes possession, though, and Médard streaks from defence. He makes it to the border of the Scottish 22 before offloading to Clerc on his outside. Seeing his path blocked, the wing skims a grubber goalward; Médard gives chase, but to no avail.
Another penalty for Scotland. This one accrued to the home side on the back of some more enterprising work from the pack – sterling carrying from Ford, Denton, et al.
Laidlaw makes no mistake.
Scotland 10-0 France
Try for France!
Anxious to assert themselves, France punt a penalty into the right corner. The pack gather’s the resulting lineout with ease and begins to roll possession left-to-right across the pitch. Building on the momentum afforded by some quick ball, Parra shoots the first in a quick-fire series of passes; sleight of hand from Rougerie and Clerc puts Fofana within a sidestep of Les Bleus’ opening try.
Parra strokes the conversion over.
Scotland 10-7 France
A nasty injury to Rory Lamont brings the game to an instant halt.
In the midst of a crowd of fluorescent-clad emergency staff, the winger’s clutching an oxygen facemask. He’s soon loaded onto a cart and removed from the field of play. Brother Sean looks on.
Shades of Thom and Max Evans about this.
[caption id="attachment_366674" align="alignnone" width="630" caption="Ouch: Rory Lamont's ankle bears the weight of Vincent Clerc."][/caption]
Stuart Hogg dances around Rougerie on the right wing and streams towards the corner. A high hand from Médard drags the youngster into touch, but he’s soon skipping back into position, giddy smile playing about his lips.
He’s clearly having too much fun.
Did Allan Jacobsen just win a lineout?
What. The. Hell.
Penalty to France. Living under the cloud of a scrum reset, the Scottish pack misengages for a second time.
Wee Morgan Parra draws his effort back inside the right post.
Scotland 10-10 France
Mike Blair – who has rarely looked as sharp as during the opening period of this contest – was also withdrawn during the lengthy Lamont-related stoppage. Rumours of serious hyperextension.
Cusiter and De Luca are the replacements.
Actually, scratch that: dead leg.
Allan Jacobsen is penalised for a high tackle on Picamoles – it was less a high tackle than a slap about the face – and, just like that, Parra has an opportunity to put France ahead.
Oh, la la!
It floats wide of left post.
Half-time: Scotland 10-10 France
Scotland dominated the early exchanges, but the loss of Mike Blair – at the creative centre of their early play – allowed an occasionally complacent and uncoordinated France side to threaten with greater frequency towards the close of the half.
We’re back underway.
Stuart Hogg materialises on the left wing – he gets around, this guy – to take the ball around Clerc. The referees has spotted a phantom knock-on, though; France are awarded a scrum.
Malzieu makes his first contribution to the game, venturing infield to take the ball into contact.
Just though I’d mention that, in case he disappears for the remaining 40 minutes.
France have emerged an altogether more determined outfit. After patiently moving through the phases in midfield, Les Bleus earn penalty advantage. Trinh-Duc pops a cross field kick into the corner, but it rolls beyond the reach of Clerc and out of play.
Play is called back for the initial infringement and a focused-looking Parra nudges France in front.
Scotland 10-13 France
Greg Laidlaw, looking a little the worse for wear, is replaced by Duncan Weir.
France’s accession to the lead may have something of the inevitable about it, but Scotland are proving stubborn opposition.
Poux and Szarzewski are replaced by Debaty and Servat, respectively.
David Denton, whose floppy hair and dynamism have made him a Murrayfield, is withdrawn to make way for Richie Vernon.
Play has devolved into a slightly directionless exchange of possession in midfield…
… a pattern only broken when Trinh-Duc fires a weighted kick deep into Scottish territory.
TRY FOR SCOTLAND!
Some pacy French forays into contact yield a Scottish turnover. Caught off-guard, the Frech defensive line parts in front of De Luca. Blazing towards the line, the winger makes sure to draw two defends wide and offloads to Vernon. Sputtering to a halt centimetres from the line, he tosses a pass outside to Lee Jones.
Weir secures his first points.
Scotland 17-13 France
Voila! France are in again!
In receipt of quick ball, Parra whip the ball wide towards the left wing. It settles in the arms of Malzieu who manages to shrug a tackle and gain ten metres before slinging a pass to Médard, breaking from fullback.
Stetched wafer thin, the Scottish defence has no hope of giving chase.
Parra’s conversion is a formality.
Scotland 17-20 France
Médard is withdrawn injured. He’s replaced by Beauxis, allowing Trinh-Duc to move to fullback.
Scotland and invention have proven uneasy bedfellows in the past, but they’ve been impressive today.
Inspired by the ebullience of Hogg and the ceaseless dynamism of its pack – Denton, Barclay and Ford – they’ve threatened all over the park today.
Strong running from Servat and Dusatoir send the French pack hurtling forwards.
Having interposed a wall of blue jerseys between the ball and Scotland’s defensive perimeter, General Parra whips a pass to Beauxis. The replacement fly-half has oodles of time in which to compose himself and stretch France’s advantage to six points.
Scotland 17-23 France
Julien Dupuy – you remember him: the guy who gouged Stephen Ferris – will replace Parra in but a jiffy.
Andy Robinson, slumped in an office chair and absentmindedly flicking at his lips, is the embodiment of resignation.
“I fear there’s another box-kick coming, George…”
Tony Ward is right. The French manoeuvre Beauxis into the pocket for a second time, but the Scottish line charges forward the moment Dupuy releases the pass. Forced to reach, the fly-half is backed into adopting Plan B. He charges forward, only to be smothered by white shirts.
After living dangerously at a number of reset scrums, the Scottish pack is demolished in the middle of the park, driven back all of ten metres before conceding a penalty.
Beauxis knows the game is at stake and sends an effort spinning wide of the left post.
The home side keeps its hopes of an upset alive by gathering the kick-off, but a blue wall has descended across the field.
Dupuy brings proceedings to a close by sending a (practically vertical) kick into the upper stand.
Full-time: Scotland 17-23 France
Honourable defeat may be something of a Scottish pastime, but this was a performance suggestive of a genuinely exciting future. In possession of both a vibrant three-quarters (esp. Hogg) and a frightening array of back row talent, the Scots are only a half-back pairing away from a balanced team.
Blair, should he return from injury with the same vigour he displayed in the opening half-hour, and young Duncan Weir could hold the key to something special.
France, on the other hand… well, they were an incoherent mass of colliding opposites: at once ruthless and profligate, incisive and blunt, focused and indisciplined.
Quite what’s in store for Ireland next week is anyone’s guess.