Scotland 16 France 51
FOR the Scots, Les Miserables is Saturday's matinee production in Edinburgh's east end, the Five Nations season is far from over. As Gary Armstrong, in the lead role as captain, was keen if rather optimistic to point out: "We can still win the Triple Crown."
For the French, after their record-breaking tour de force, the stage is altogether more grand. Only the Irish in Paris and the Welsh at Wembley stand between Les Tricolores and a momentous second successive Grand Chelem.
Back-to-back Grand Slams have been achieved just four times in the Five Nations' Championship: by Wales in 1908-09 and by England in 1913-14, 1923-24 and 1991-92. Even the wondrous Welsh wizards of the 1970s never managed the feat.
It would take rugby union's equivalent of a Devon Loch for France to fail now. There was, however, no counting of pre-hatched cockerels after the counting of a record French points tally against Scotland was finished in the Murrayfield gloaming on Saturday.
Indeed, the tally of French fumbles appeared of equal concern to the victorious visitors as the 51 points and seven tries they amassed. "We have many work to do," Thomas Castaignede said, as precise linguistically as he had been with the attempted fly-hack from which Tony Stanger's consolation try resulted.
"Today we missed some tackles and some passes," the bottle-blond outside- half added. "We will make some conclusion after Ireland and Wales."
Jean-Claude Skrela was equally reserved with his judgement. "We have only won two games," France's head coach said. That Skrela proceeded to debate the shortcomings of Olivier Magne spoke volumes for the ambition of the Gallic guru and his team.
Magne was quite magnifique, not just a threequarter in flanker's clothing but a devastatingly dynamic one, too. There was the left-handed spin pass that fed the sublime third French try to Philippe Bernat-Salles, the lightning break and slide-ruled grubber kick that gifted the Pau Rocket his second score, and the inside take and surging run through the Scottish defence that served up the final try for Castaignede.
It was dazzling stuff by the former Dax man, brilliance rivalled only by the bright-spark scrum-half play of Philippe Carbonneau. Skrela, however, was not entirely fulsome in his praise of Magne, the man of the match. "Olivier has his weaknesses as well as his strengths," he said. "There are still times when he should be a lot more concentrated on the game."
Magne did stray fractionally offside to concede an early penalty, and was yellow-carded for extending a less-than-welcoming elbow to Derrick Lee as the Scottish full-back chased a garryowen. They were minor blemishes, though it is clear from whence Skrela is coming with such a scrupulously critical eye. He is not looking back to the lofty back-row standards set in the 1970s by himself and the two French JPs, the Jean-Pierres Bastiat and Rives. He is looking beyond the parochial Five Nations' perspective to the global challenge looming.
After the 52-10 bashing inflicted on his team by the rampant Springboks in November, Skrela knows the margin for error will be small when the World Cup expands northern hemisphere horizons next year.
As Magne himself said: "We took that defeat badly. We don't want anything like that to happen again." And the Brive openside was not even in the French team that day.
Skrela and his assistant, Pierre Villepreux, have not simply put it down as a bad day at the office, even though leaving dos are traditionally lax occasions. The hangover from the pooped Parc des Princes farewell party has yet to clear. It will take more than another Gallic Grand Slam - a southern hemisphere scalp, no less - to clear it.
Such a state of affairs is but the stuff of Scottish pipe dreams. In the three internationals played at Murrayfield this season, Scotland have suffered a full monty of record defeats. The shortcomings exposed have been positively indecent. Between them, Australia, South Africa and France have put 156 points on the overtaxed Murrayfield scoreboard. The home try-line has been breached a staggering 22 times.
On Saturday the Band of the 51st Highland Brigade chose to play "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" before the mis-match kicked off. Not that there was much brightness on the Caledonian horizon when the darkness descended on Murrayfield.
As Jim Telfer, Scotland's chief coach, lamented: "No doubt there will be criticism and calls for other players to come in but we don't have a magic wand. All our best players were out there today."
It was an honest appraisal. The flower of Scotland is simply a second- class bloom these days.
Scotland: Try Stanger; Penalties Chalmers 3; Conversion Chalmers. France: Tries M Lievremont 2, Bernat-Salles 2, Califano, Carbonneau, Castaignede; Penalties Lamaison, Castaignede; Conversions Lamaison 2, Castaignede 3.
Scotland: D Lee (London Scottish); A Stanger (Hawick), A Tait (Newcastle), G Townsend (Northampton), K Logan (Wasps); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Newcastle, capt); D Hilton (Bath), G Bulloch (West of Scotland), M Stewart (Northampton), D Cronin (Wasps), G Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Dundee HSFP), S Holmes (London Scottish), P Walton (Newcastle). Replacements: S Grimes (Watsonians) for Cronin, 20; A Roxburgh (Kelso) for Walton, 64; G Graham (Newcastle) for Hilton, 66; S Longstaff (Dundee HSFP) for Chalmers, 78.
France: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); P Bernat-Salles (Pau), C Lamaison (Brive), S Glas (Bourgoin), C Dominici (Stade Francais); T Castaignede (Castres), P Carbonneau (Brive); C Califano (Toulouse), R Ibanez (Dax, capt), F Tournaire (Toulouse), O Brouzet (Begles-Bordeaux), F Pelous (Toulouse), M Lievremont (Stade Francais), O Magne (Brive), T Lievremont (Perpignan). Replacements: D Aucagne (Pau) for Lamaison, 40; P Benetton (Agen) for T Lievremont, 77; C Soulette (Beziers) for Tournaire, 77; T Cleda (Pau) for Pelous, 80.
Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).