|Six Nations Championship|
|France (10) 25|
|Tries: Ntamack, Huget, Alldritt 2 Cons: Ramos, Belleau Pen: Ramos|
|Scotland (3) 10|
|Try: Price Con: Hastings Pen: Laidlaw|
Scotland’s 20-year wait for a victory in Paris goes on after France showed glimpses of their old flair to record a first win of this year’s Six Nations.
Damian Penaud and Gael Fickou had first-half tries ruled out but Romain Ntamack finished a stunning counter-attack to put the hosts ahead.
Greig Laidlaw’s penalty was the Scots’ only response and Yoann Huget crossed barely a minute into the second half.
Gregory Alldritt plunged over twice late on either side of Ali Price’s try.
But the replacement scrum-half’s score was the smallest of consolations for Gregor Townsend’s team, who were overpowered at times and hampered by poor decision-making at critical moments.
Now out of title contention, the Scots will lick their wounds before hosting Wales at Murrayfield in a fortnight, while France head to Dublin to face Ireland on 10 March.
Error-strewn Scots fortunate to stay in it
This was a meeting of the haunted French, a team with a miserable three wins from their last 19 Tests coming into this, and a depleted Scotland, shorn of so many game-breakers and without a win in Paris in 20 years.
That run stretches on – and it was pretty obvious from the early minutes that there was going to be no rare away win here for the Scots and no further misery for Jacques Brunel’s team.
France had Scotland under the cosh from the opening minutes. It took them a while to put them away, but put them away they did. France are alive again, just.
For Scotland there was a repeat of the error-strewn second half against Ireland; the botched line-outs, the spillages, the chances passed up. They were fortunate to stay in it for as long as they did.
France had two tries ruled out in the opening half, the first after Thomas Ramos exploded out of defence and Huget’s chip ahead was coughed up by Blair Kinghorn. Penaud went over but it was called back for a knock-on.
A breakthrough came France’s way soon after. Pete Horne banged a kick downfield but the chasing Scottish army never got out of the blocks. Ramos, at times an exhilarating presence at 15, ran it back, stepped and then linked with Penaud who found Antoine Dupont.
Dupont was hauled down in the Scotland 22 by Nick Grigg, but the respite was brief. A quick recycle and Ntamack was over. Ramos converted and the Stade had the nerve-settling start they were dreaming about.
Scotland were pinned back constantly and fell 10-0 behind when Ramos rifled over a penalty that was the product of more harassment of the Scots. When they eventually lifted the siege, Laidlaw missed a sitter of a kick, then made amends to take it to 10-3.
The scoreboard was a nonsense. It bore no resemblance to the balance of play, but it offered Scotland encouragement. And there was more of it when Huget was sin-binned midway through the half. One penalty too many for the French – but it was a window of opportunity the visitors couldn’t break through. They smashed away at the French line for an age but it was all too slow and all too ponderous and the moment passed.
They had to survive another disallowed try – Ntamack chipping sumptuously for Fickou only for an earlier knock-on to rule it out – but came again while Huget was still in the bin. They had a line-out in the French 22, a glorious platform, but had it stolen. Huget trotted back on, his 10 minutes costing his team precisely zero points.
Thrilling French turn it on again
For all that they were outplayed, and all their errors, a seven-point deficit at the break would have cheered Scotland. France have been desperately poor in the second half of Test matches, so hope remained. Scotland needed a blistering start to the new half, but instead it was the French who turned it on again.
Barely a minute in and the home side made it 15-3 with a gorgeous score that was by turns thrilling from a French perspective and nightmarish for Scotland. Penaud went roaring up the right and when it came back inside the mighty Mathieu Bastareaud chipped over the top and then ran on to gather.
Scotland were spread-eagled. Louis Picamoles carried France ever further and Fickou put Huget over in the corner for France’s second try. Ramos missed his conversion.
The visitors had ball after that. Plenty of it. They had possession and territory. What they didn’t have was composure or accuracy to take advantage of their line breaks and their overlaps. It was maddening – and familiar.
A third score arrived from France when their forward pack muscled Scotland over the line from a scrum. Replacement Alldritt was on the end of it. Another kick was missed – just as well France were not relying on the boot – but Scotland finally found their range when Price darted over for a try that was converted by Adam Hastings.
The target now for Scotland, with the clock in the red, was a losing bonus point. That was beyond them, too – undone by their own mistakes again. France drove on for a four-try bonus point. In the eighth minute of added time they had a five-metre scrum and Alldritt horsed his way over again.
For France, this was a sign of pride and a competitive pulse at last. For Scotland, another loss on the road for a team sadly missing a battalion of men who might have made a difference.
France: 15-Ramos, 14-Penaud, 13-Bastareaud, 12-Fickou, 11-Huget, 10-Ntamack, 9-Dupont; 1-Poirot, 2-Guirado (captain), 3-Bamba, 4-Vahaamahina, 5-Lambey, 6-Lauret, 7-Iturria, 8-Picamoles.
Replacements: 16-Chat (for Guirado, 70), 17-Falgoux (for Poirot, 70), 18-Aldegheri (for Bamba, 69), 19-Willemse (for Lambey, 65), 20-Alldritt (for Picamoles, 69), 21-Serin (for Dupont, 69), 22-Belleau (for Ntamack, 76), 23-Medard (for Ramos, 69)
Yellow card: Huget (27-37)
Scotland: 15-Kinghorn, 14-Seymour, 13-Grigg, 12-Johnson, 11-Maitland, 10-Horne, 9-Laidlaw (captain); 1-Dell, 2-McInally, 3-Berghan, 4-Gilchrist, 5-Gray, 6-Bradbury, 7-Ritchie 8-Strauss.
Replacements: 16-Brown (for McInally, 64), 17-Allan (for Dell, 64), 18-Fagerson (for Berghan, 64, 19-Toolis (for Gray, 55), 20-Graham (for Strauss, 64), 21-Price (for Laidlaw, 64), 22-Hastings (for Horne, 44, for Johnson 53), 23-Graham (for Maitland, 64).