Rugby Union / Five Nations' Championship: France preserve self-esteem: Scotland pay for passing problems with wooden spoon despite Hastings' late rally

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Scotland. . . .12

France. . . . .20

SCOTLAND put so much effort into trying to toss France the wooden spoon that it might have been a caber. But although their hearts and lungs were in it, the skill to put together a coherent passing movement was missing. In the end their scores came, as so often, from the boot of Gavin Hastings, who landed four penalties with all his old calm.

Meanwhile, the French, though by no means a side of magical entertainment, sprung two surprises with their backs that brought the only tries, backing this up with two conversions and two penalties. So the 1993 champions, victors over South Africa last summer and Australia in the autumn, though without a win at Murrayfield since 1978, ended an uncertain season with two wins and two defeats. It saved their self-esteem for the moment, but they will not be at all happy with the haphazard manner in which they arrived at their result.

Scotland have only the one point from their draw with Ireland to show for a series in which they had done their best to rebuild their side under the pressure of injuries. This was particularly disappointing since the match marked the 50th caps for the Hastings brothers, and Gavin, the captain and three years the senior, had conceded to Scott the honour of leading out the side.

The sun shone brilliantly (not hinting at the short shower to come), the touchline flags barely stirred, and 'The Flower of Scotland' was given its full emotional due, even if a short pianissimo version of 'God Save The Queen' seemed to stick in the bagpipers' craw. All the same the early play failed to match its build-up. A flurry of high kicks led to a scrum in the fourth minute which the Scottish front row were penalised for collapsing. They did not even have the excuse of defending their line, for Thierry Lacroix had to kick his goal from some 40 metres.

It was not until after 20 minutes of dishevelled rugby that the French produced one of those clean, lucid movements that nowadays only occasionally light up their play. The 21-year-old Yanne Delaigue, who had been brought in to rejuvenate a midfield partnership with the veteran Philippe Sella (this was his 98th cap), cut through the Scottish threequarter line and into the clear. There was only Gavin Hastings in his way, and Delaigue kicked ahead to set up a four-man chase across the line won by the lively French full-back, Jean-Luc Sadourny. Lacroix converted the try from close to the touchline, and France were 10 points up.

Hastings the elder, who had missed an early chance of levelling the scores, now came within an ace of doing so with a series of three penalty goals, the best of them kicked from 50 yards and to the left. And although Lacroix replied with one for the French, the Scots were still in with a shout at 9-13 when they changed ends.

Their handling and and positional play, though, were never equal to the challenge of a running game, and 15 minutes into the second half they paid a heavy price for exceeding their talents. Gregor Townsend looped around Scott Hastings and received the ball again, a move which had probably been perfected in practice. But his second pass to the right hung in the air just long enough for the French right-wing and captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, to leap up for an interception. And since Gavin Hastings had come into the threequarter line, there was nobody to stop him scoring beneath the posts. This left Pierre Montlaur, who had replaced the injured Lacroix two minutes earlier, with the simplest of conversions.

Hastings went on to add a fourth penalty, and in the last 10 minutes the Scots did what they do best, battering away with their forwards close to the French line and launching short passing movements on the blind side. From one of these Hastings was pulled up only a yard short. The French hung on grimly - the tackling on both sides had been excellent throughout - but although this late rally cheered up the crowd, Scotland needed two scores to reverse the verdict, and that was beyond their means.

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).