Rugby union: Traille's hammer blow to Scotland

France 16 Scotland 9 Try: Traille Pens: Paterson 3 Con: Michalak Pens: Delaigue 2 Drop: Delaigue Half-time: 0-6 Attendance: 78,750; Last-gasp charge-down breaks the brave resistance as France stumble to unconvincing victory
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Undone by a madcap last five minutes, and a hugely questionable disallowed try, Scotland fulfilled the predictions of their coach, Matt Williams, that this match would be closer than many had predicted. The intense rage of Williams's reaction to the result was directed at an Irish touch judge, but had its source in the Australian's pent-up emotions of a difficult year in the job to date.

"I want to point out the tremendous effort of the Scottish team," said Williams, who for 75 minutes at least was on the verge of only his third win in 13 Tests in charge. "It was a performance that deserved a victory, and indeed it was a victory, but one that will never show on the record books. There were three outrageous decisions given against us, that cost us a win."

In a tirade that may have disciplinary ramifications when the Six Nations committee hear of it, Williams blasted the touch judge, Simon McDowell, who decided that the gutsy Scotland No 8, Allister Hogg, had put a foot in touch before going over the goal-line near the right-hand corner.

At the time, France trailed 9-6 after about an hour of some of the most turgid stuff imaginable from the reigning Six Nations champions. "I've seen enough replays already to remember it when I'm 85," said Williams. "We've been robbed blind. I'm amazed how he [McDowell] can keep getting appointments. He was the referee in Italy last year who should have gone to the video official over an Italian try but didn't. And he missed a clear knock-on that led to a try against us when we played Australia in November."

Replays suggested Hogg may have clipped the touchline with a heel; Scotland, massive 11-1 outsiders at the outset, might have been catapulted into an eight-point lead.

Instead, France were further boosted by the sending of Jon Petrie to the sin-bin - a Scot stepped out of the defensive line offside but Williams was adamant the flanker was not the culprit - and almost immediately levelled the score with a 72nd-minute dropped goal from their 31-year-old fly-half Yann Delaigue. The Scots' other major grievance was a penalty given against their front row - "when our scrum-half was already running away with the ball," said Williams.

At 9-9, a depleted Scotland needed only to keep their nerve to close out a remarkable draw, an immediate improvement on last year's Six Nations whitewash. But they lost it. Simon Danielli ought to have hoofed a ball that rolled into his 22. Instead the big wing, in a rare example of a Scot taking a wrong option, dithered and got tied into a ruck. Hugo Southwell had three Frenchmen bearing down on him as the pass came back, replacement lock Gregory Lamboley charged him down and Damien Traille followed up for the try.

The desperate attempts by Southwell and Chris Paterson to hold the French centre up prompted the referee, Nigel Williams, to call on the video official, Nigel Whitehouse, but it was a fair score. Coach Williams said Whitehouse's pre-match switch of roles with McDowell was a mystery to him. The conversion by Frederic Michalak, controversially or at least confusingly omitted from the starting XV, saw the French home.

The Stade de France crowd emitted a sigh of relief, while Williams's few remaining dark hairs merged with the rest of the grey. His much-talked- about "systems" of play yielded an afternoon of high- quality line-out work, defensive stability and an almost superhuman tackle count, led by the superb Jason White.

At fly-half, Dan Parks kicked his lines like a dream, almost wiping out the easel of the pitchside artist - only in France? - with one touch-finder. The fellow with the brushes probably felt like chucking a can of whitewash over the canvas by the end.

The French painted by numbers, and neither their 97-times capped captain, Fabien Pelous, nor the recalled Delaigue suggested they had any idea of a big picture.

It was predictable, then, that when Delaigue pulled a wobbly penalty kick wide of the posts after six minutes, and missed again from the 10- metre line in the 28th minute, he was booed as if Seb Coe had turned up to give a presentation on London's Olympic bid. With its lightshows and bunting, Paris is colourfully confident of winning the 2012 Games, but this match was another matter.

To finish the first half, enough Frenchmen remembered what they were put on this earth for - to run straight and into gaps through umpteen phases - but it came to nothing. Penalties by Paterson after two and 34 minutes made it 6-0 to Scotland at the break.

Pelous and his men were sent out early for the second half, with no doubt a few fleas in their ears from Bernard Laporte, but the coach's selection of Delaigue and Pierre Mignoni spectacularly misfired. The occasional rampage from Sale's Sebastien Chabal apart, it was no sort of response to the crushing defeat by New Zealand here in the autumn.

Scotland drove a line-out to within sniffing distance of the home 22, France pulled the maul down, and Paterson made it 9-0.

Even the solid French scrum went awry when Sylvain Marconnet was penalised in the 46th minute. Without Serge Betsen - the injured flanker was due to make a comeback for his club, Biarritz, at Grenoble yesterday evening - the link between forwards and backs was very flimsy.

Delaigue put over penalties in the 50th and 54th minutes to register some French points at last. A delayed Scotland line-out at the death was the last straw: utter bemusement and frustration on all sides.

France: P Elhorga (Agen); A Rougerie (Clermont), B Liebenberg (Stade Francais), D Traille (Biarritz), C Dominici (Stade Francais); Y Delaigue (Castres), P Mignoni (Clermont); S Marconnet (Stade Francais) W Servat (Tou-louse), P de Villiers (Stade Francais), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), J Bonnaire (Bourgoin), P Tabacco (Pau), S Chabal (Sale). Replacements: L Valbon (Brive) for Rougerie, 17; O Milloud (Bourgoin) for De Villiers, 51; Y Nyanga (Beziers) for Tabacco, 64; G Lamboley (Toulouse) for Thion, 68; F Michalak (Toulouse) for Delaigue, 73; S Bruno (Sale) for Servat, 76; D Yachvili (Biarritz) for Valbon, 76.

Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); S Danielli (Borders), A Craig (Glasgow), H Southwell (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Glasgow); D Parks (Glasgow), C Cusiter (Borders); T Smith (Northampton), G Bulloch (Glasgow, capt), G Kerr (Leeds), S Grimes (Newcastle), S Murray (Edinburgh), J White (Sale), A Hogg (Edinburgh), J Petrie (Glasgow). Replacements: B Douglas (Borders) for Kerr, 54; Kerr for Smith, 73; N Hines (Edinburgh) for Murray, 65; J Dunbar (Leeds) for Grimes, 79.

Referee: N Williams (Wales).