FRANCE'S unbeaten record against Scotland at the modern Parc des Princes remains intact, but it took a solid second-half performance from their pack to repel a spirited Scots challenge.
Led by Jean-Francois Tordo, and with Abdel Benazzi and the back row of Marc Cecillon, Philippe Benetton and Laurent Cabannes particularly prominent, the French pack entirely dominated the last quarter, forcing the only try for Thierry Lacroix.
The Tricolores went all out for spectacle in the first half, but gained only one penalty and they then turned to a more realisitic game. But although they went close on several occasions in the dying minutes, solid Scottish defence kept the score down.
Both teams started playing fast and loose. After only five minutes the French won a ruck right in front of their posts. Despite seeing no obvious advantage, they immediately attacked on the left through Philippe Saint-Andre and Aubin Hueber and took the movement right up to the Scottish 22.
Scotland, however, were also keen to spin the ball and Gary Armstrong, who had a superb game at scrum-half, made several strong breaks, the first of which almost led to a try after only eight minutes.
They also produced one of the sweetest moments of the first half, set up by the hooker Kenny Milne. Storming away with the ball after a Scottish drop-out at the 22, Milne fed Chalmers, who gave an instantaneous pass, and with Graham Shiel and Scott Hastings in support the Scottish backs took the play right back to the French 22.
The downside of this running game was a lot of disorganised play. And the only reward from a massive expenditure of energy in the first half was two penalties - one to Didier Camberabero and the other to Gavin Hastings just before half-time.
Shortly after the break Scotland launched a major attack on the French line, with Derek Stark being held up just short. But it was to be virtually the last time they put the French under pressure. And while the French pack started to turn the screws, it was a flash of the old French flair, inspired, predictably enough, by the irrepressible Jean-Baptiste Lafond five minutes into the second half, which was the turning point.
Awarded a mark just inside his 22, the French full-back casually tapped to himself, and seeing he had a 5-3 advantage on the right, passed to Cabannes. The flanker cut inside one defender, and broke upfield before passing to Hueber. Lacroix and Saint-Andre also handled, then Cabannes again, until they were held up just metres short of the line. The referee Derek Bevan penalised a Scottish forward in the maul, and Camberabero kicked the penalty.
It was not until the third quarter that the French pack started to take the upper hand and began to make good use of the driving maul, with Hueber and Saint-Andre frequently creating danger on the blind side.
They were rewarded with Lacroix's try in the 64th minute, a superb team effort. Cecillon and Benazzi led a monstrous charge, and when Hueber got the rucked ball, the backs had a 5-3 overlap on the right. Camberabero deftly flicked the pass to Lacroix, who dived over in the corner.
From then on, it was all France, and Hontas went perilously close to scoring in the corner after a series of rucks. Hueber had one of his more accomplished games, varying the play admirably, and Camberabero silenced his critics with a sharp and incisive display.
Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, was both pleased with his team, and generous in his praise of the Scottish contribution to the match. 'I am particularly satisfied,' he said. 'We responded to the challenge of the Scots, who played rugby of movement. They were faithful to their character and to their game. I saw a great match of rugby. Everything is not yet perfect for us but I do not have a magic wand to change everything.'
He particularly singled out Scotland's line-out, where Damien Cronin, Andy Reid and Doddie Weir were outstanding. 'They have three jumpers of a very high level. Sometimes there is no dishonour in being beaten in a section of the game by players of this quality,' he said.
Hastings considered that Scotland had only themselves to blame. 'It was a good positive performance and we could easily have been leading by six or nine points at half-time,' he said. 'But we have been in that position before in Paris and the first half does not win the game. We failed to take our scoring opportunities.'
FRANCE: J-B Lafond (Begles); P Saint-Andre (Montferrand), T Lacroix (Dax), P Sella (Agen), P Hontas (Biarritz); D Camberabero (Beziers), A Hueber (Toulon); L Seigne (Merignac), J-F Tordo (Nice, capt), L Armary (Lourdes), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), P Benetton (Agen), M Cecillon (Bourgoin), L Cabannes (Racing). Replacements: S Ougier (Toulouse), F Mesnel (Racing), J Cazalbou (Toulouse), E Melville (Toulon), S Graou (Auch), F Landreau (Grenoble).
SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Shiel (Melrose), D Stark (Boroughmuir); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); P Wright (Boroughmuir), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D Turnbull (Hawick), I Morrison (London Scottish), G Weir (Melrose). Replacements: K Logan (Stirling County), G Townsend (Gala), A Nicol (Dundee HSFP), C Hogg (Melrose), G Isaac (Gala), I Corcoran (Gala).
Referee: D Bevan (Wales).
Scorers: Camberabero (pen, 12 min, 3-0); G Hastings (pen, 38 min, 3-3); Camberabero (pen, 47 min, 6-3); Lacroix (try, 64 min, 11-3).Reuse content