Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: Battle Hastings wants to forget: Scots' spoon

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Scotland. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12

France. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .20

THIS was Scotland's first home defeat against France since 1978 and Gavin Hastings asked: 'Who was the captain then? I'll buy him a beer.' Douglas Morgan, sitting next to Hastings, raised his hand. 'Make that two beers,' Hastings said. They could drink it with a wooden spoon.

This was no way to celebrate your 50th cap. In the Five Nations' Championship, Hastings had only ever lost to England at Murrayfield but, following the hammering by New Zealand, this was Scotland's third successive defeat in Edinburgh. 'I'm not proud of the way the season's gone,' Hastings said. 'It's not through lack of effort. I hope to be back next year. Whether as captain . . . '

The game ended, almost symbolically, with Hastings tackled in possession. He will miss the tour to Argentina in May and June but intends to return afresh for World Cup year. After giving outstanding service since 1986 it may be that Scotland find him irreplaceable but, at the age of 32, there are increasing signs that he is not the force he was.

The most obvious is that he has lost pace, so much so that his actions are predictable. His first inclination is to kick and the opposition are aware of that. Douglas Wyllie is another slow-coach and whenever Scotland attempted a sophisticated attack, they simply did not have the speed required at this level to break down a defence.

Morgan, the coach, said that Scotland 'never got out of first gear'. That may be because there are no other gears. Seeking compensation, he praised the performances of Walton, Sharp and Reed. Those three all play for English clubs.

France have no shortage of talented players, but the problem for Pierre Berbizier is in finding the right blend. In spite of this victory he has not got it right yet, although he thinks he has earned a stay of execution. The coach spent an illuminating Saturday morning reading the newspapers. 'I was a little afraid when I read about the guillotine,' he said. 'Maybe they've got one ready in France. The problem is not with the coach. The problem's on the field. France are capable of doing their best and their worst.'

In an untidy, uninspired match, there was one flash of French flair when Yanne Delaigue broke in the centre, kicked ahead and Jean-Luc Sadourny, with the pace of a modern full-back, won the race for the touchdown. That put France 10-0 ahead and Scotland, principally through the driving of their most effective unit, the back row, came back to within a point, Hastings kicking three penalties. At that stage, memories were invoked of Hastings's debut here against the French eight years ago when he kicked six penalties.

Such a fanciful notion was rudely intercepted when Scotland - they have scored only one try in the championship - launched a promising attack in the 54th minute. Gregor Townsend looped around Scott Hastings but his pass to Gavin was taken by the French captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, who ran in unopposed.

Scotland had a three-to-one overlap. 'I anticipated what would happen,' Saint-Andre said. 'Scotland were obliged to take risks. I wanted to prove I was not a rotary hoe.' Pardon? Apparently this was in response to a comment from the deposed captain, Olivier Roumat, who remarked France had a wing who ran like an agricultural implement.

Saint-Andre ran like The Fellow and for the Princess Royal, Scotland's patron, the week had gone from Gold Cup to wooden spoon. Before the kick-off an announcement was made, solely in French, that it was forbidden to bring fireworks or 'birds like the cockerel' into the stadium. A cockerel duly appeared on the pitch, providing competition for The Famous Grouse, one of Scotland's sponsors.

It was not the only grouse. As Scotland manfully tried to break the French resistance, Gavin Hastings was booed when he elected to kick for goal. It was the saddest commentary on one of the greatest careers in rugby union.

Scotland: Penalties G Hastings 4. France: Tries Sadourny, Saint-Andre; Conversions Lacroix, Montlaur; Penalties Lacroix 2.

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), D Wyllie (Stewart's/Melville FP), K Logan (Stirling County); G Townsend (Gala), B Redpath (Melrose); A Sharp (Bristol), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), S Munro (Glasgow High / Kelvinside), A Reed (Bath), P Walton (Northampton), G Weir (Melrose), I Smith (Gloucester).

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt), P Sella (Agen), Y Delaigue (Toulon), W Techoueyres (Bordeaux University); T Lacroix (Dax), A Macabiau (Perpignan); L Benezech (Racing Club), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), L Seigne (Merignac), O Brouzet (Grenoble), O Merle (Grenoble), P Benetton (Agen), A Benazzi (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacement: P Montlaur (Agen) for Lacroix, 53.

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).

(Statistics omitted)