RUGBY UNION: White a beacon for the beaten

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The Independent Online
A French selection who had appeared more like a box of chocolates than a rugby team, and who displayed the softest of centres, escaped here. The French were so abject they should have been punished by defeat, but all the Scots' bravery was undone by two crass defensive mistakes by Simon Danielli and Hugo Southwell in the last few minutes.

Scotland are a strictly limited side, and adopted a low risk, safety first game plan. Yet it was very nearly enough to succeed because France were so poor on a grey, cold afternoon. All that wondrous French attacking flair, running and passing was absent on a day which left those who loved the verve and ambition of true French rugby close to despair.

But you can only beat what is in front of you, and Scotland should have beaten this wretched lot. Men like Jason White, who turned in an immense, courageous performance, deserved rather better than a bitter, cruel late twist.

Perhaps the turning point was the yellow card given to White's fellow flanker Jon Petrie. That condemned Scotland to playing the final 10 minutes a man short and they could not survive.

White, more than anyone, must have been a shattered man last night. All his fiery commitment in the tackle, his relentless covering and his brave, strong ball-carrying, which were such a feature of the first hour, went to waste.

The Sale back-row man needed only 17 minutes to make his mark, twice being involved as the Scottish forwards drove the ball into the French 22. His support play was consistently excellent, his work on and off the ball tireless.

But the tackle he made on France's big, heavy centre Brian Liebenberg on the half-hour mark was incredible. Liebenberg is a big, heavy mass of humanity going forward but he was hammered by White and suddenly found himself heading in the opposite direction. The ball rocketed out of his grasp and Scotland surged on to it.

White then held the physically strong French prop Sylvain Marconnet in a crucial tackle that tied up man and ball. Had Marconnet unloaded, France were handily placed to exploit space wide out.

France were able to establish little forward momentum around the fringes and White's defensive work was a major reason for that. His fellow back- row men Petrie and Allister Hogg also did stirring work in that department.

But the truth hurts, and the fact is Scotland were just not quite good enough to seize a golden opportunity. They had only themselves to blame for the poverty of their approach. They came only to defend, snaffle ball and kick it away for position. There was no attempt to be creative behind the scrum.

But if the Scots have little to celebrate, then the French have even less. France do not choose farmers any more, but if they did, the men of the soil would have recognised the aroma from this game. It was of the farmyard.