Rugby Union: Williams' tirade fails to hide dearth of Scottish ambition

France 16 Try: Traille Con: Michalak Pens: Delaigue 2 DG: Delaigue Half-time: 0-6 Scotland 9 Pens: Paterson 3 Att: 78,750
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The Independent Online
FRANCE ADMITTED to perpetrating a "hold-up" and Scotland raged against being "robbed blind", but few appeared to spare a thought for the criminal damage done to the reputation of the Championship. The neutral observer's charge sheet would include an inept French approach to tactics and selection, a terribly limited Scottish game plan and the spiteful recriminations of the Scots' coach, Matt Williams, aimed at the match officials. In many respects, there is a lot of ground to make up this weekend.

France will undoubtedly bring a changed team to Twickenham on Sunday. They have injuries to their tight-head prop, Pieter de Villiers, wing Aurelien Rougerie and the reserve centre Ludovic Valbon. On the plus side, the top-quality flanker, Serge Betsen, made a successful comeback from a quad muscle strain for Biarritz at Grenoble on Saturday evening. Betsen will go straight into the starting XV against England, assuming he avoids suspension at a European Rugby Cup disciplinary hearing in Glasgow on Wednesday.

Then there are the obvious claims of Frederic Michalak and Dimitri Yachvili to be reinstated at half-back ahead of Yann Delaigue and Pierre Mignoni. In fact, there is not room to list all the question marks over the French side: they were that poor.

France's coach, Bernard Laporte, admits to having one eye on the 2007 World Cup, which his country will host. "The nine and 10 probably had too much pressure brought on them by the press," said Christophe Dominici, who hardly had a runall afternoon. "The problem was that the pack didn't go forward enough. It is difficult to make a team of experienced players and young players without too much practice together."

Of course, Scotland were pleased to have run such hotly-favoured opponents so close. And one could sympathise with Williams that, with a lead of 6-0 at half-time and 9-6 after 70 minutes, his side fell to an equalising dropped goal by Delaigue and a charge-down try by Damien Traille, both while they were down to 14 men.

But the coach's complaints at the referee, Nigel Williams, and his junior touch judge, Simon McDowell, were not the black and white the Australian would have us believe. Jon Petrie appeared to be a victim of mistaken identity when he was shown a yellow card, but the referee was probably correct that someone had to go.

Neither was the other major bone of contention - that Ally Hogg was wrongly called in touch on the way to a disallowed try - absolutely conclusive, even on television replays. McDowell, very close by, said the No 8's boot touched the line. Williams, the coach, cited McDowell as party to two previous bad decisions against Scotland in 12 months, but added he had no idea McDowell had been appointed to this match. Which was odd, considering an updated IRB appointments list was in circulation among the Unions at least as early as last Tuesday.

Scotland's fly-half, Dan Parks, kicked superbly for position, and Scott Murray's line-out work marked the lock as a Lions contender, along with Jason White at blind-side. But there was no attacking spark.

Gordon Bulloch, Scotland's captain, said: "If we play in our systems and don't give away ball as we did against South Africa [in the 45-10 defeat last November], we can compete." Add in the circumstantial evidence of Wales v England, and the neutral may care to file a suit against the systems.

FRANCE: P Elhorga (Agen); A Rougerie (Clermont), B Liebenberg (Stade Francais), D Traille (Biarritz), C Dominici (Stade Francais); Y Delaigue (Castres), P Mignoni (Clermont Auvergne); S Marconnet (Stade Francais) W Servat (Toulouse), 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).

Man of the match Jason White. A teeth-rattling tackle count from the mighty Sale flanker reached double figures.

Moment of the match Pelous's butterfingers. When Fabien Pelous fumbled an easy catch in the second half, the captain's befuddled look said it all about France.