Hogg does Scotland proud but the heartbreak goes on
Scotland 17 France 23
For Andy Robinson, stuck behind the glass of the coaches' box at the back of the west stand here at the home of Scottish rugby, it was yet another day in the Bill Murray role. There were not so many slams of the fists against the glass window and the wooden bench as his charges rose to the occasion of a 67,144 sell-out crowd, asking some serious questions of the losing World Cup finalists with a performance brimming with attacking vim and vigour and featuring two tries, one of them making Stuart Hogg the youngest scorer for Scotland since 1933. Ultimately, however, it was the Groundhog Day of one more frustrating defeat for Scotland and their head coach.
That made it three losses out of three in the 2012 Six Nations for Robinson, and five in a row in all competitions – the longest losing streak by a Scotland head coach since the Australian Matt Williams was in charge in 2004. Still, there was much to admire in this latest reverse – not least the sparkling attacking play of the 19-year-old and yellow-booted Hogg, the driving of the captain-cum-hooker Ross Ford in the loose and the pilfering of the outstanding Ross Rennie, an Artful Dodger of an openside flanker.
There was also a try for the left-wing Lee Jones, another of the young guns invigorating the Caledonian XV, but when it came to the crunch Scotland were unable to pinch the victory against a French team who matched them try for try and finished a penalty and a drop goal clear.
"I'm absolutely delighted with the intensity and endeavour we showed," Robinson said. "I can't ask any more of the players. I thought they were inspirational."
When the reality of the losing streak was put to him, the former England flanker replied: "I can't hide away from that. The stats are there. We are here to win rugby matches but my belief in this squad of players has been strengthened by what we have seen today. We took on a team who got to the World Cup final and I think we outplayed them."
Philippe Saint-André did not beg to differ. "I thought Scotland were outstanding today," France's head coach said. "If they carry on playing like this they can beat any team in the world."
Robinson's men set out their stall from the off, with the centre Graeme Morrison getting over the gain line in the opening minute and Ford and the No 8 Dave Denton maintaining the driving momentum. The fly-half Greig Laidlaw was short of the mark with a penalty but Scotland got their reward in the eighth minute.
Jones popped into the attacking line on the right and shipped the ball out for Hogg to gather and dive over in the corner. It was a moment to treasure for the 19-year-old full-back, who discovered last week that he happened to be a distant relative of George Best. It made him the youngest try scorer for Scotland since before the Second World War and emulated the last teenager to start for the Scots – Hogg's mentor and fellow Hawick native Jim Renwick, who touched down in a 20-9 win against the French here in 1972.
Laidlaw added the extras and landed a 25th minute penalty to stretch the lead to 10-0. Four minutes after that, however, France struck back, the Clermont-Auvergne centre Wesley Fofana breaking through a Hogg tackle and brushing aside the attentions of Rory Lamont and Mike Blair to score his second try in two internationals. Morgan Parra converted and followed up with a 38th-minute penalty to leave the contest all square at 10-10 at the interval.
By then, the Scots had been forced to make two changes, Blair and Rory Lamont having departed injured – the latter on a medical cart after a mid-air collision that left him with a suspected broken leg – and Chris Cusiter and Nick de Luca released from bench duty. But the home side were on the back foot from the start of the second half, and a ruck infringement gave Parra the opportunity to put the visitors ahead for the first time, 13-10, with a 47th minute penalty.
There was also further collateral damage to the Scots, Laidlaw limping out of the fray and the 21-year-old Glasgow fly-half Duncan Weir coming on for his debut. Still, Scotland were back in front in the 57th minute.
Not content with halting Julien Malzieu in his tracks, John Barclay – back in the starting XV but on the blindside flank – stole possession and got up and set De Luca on his way. The replacement centre fed on to Richie Vernon, and Denton's No 8 substitute shipped the ball on to Jones, who sped over on the left.
Weir's conversion made it 17-13 to the Scots but the joy and the lead proved shortlived. Two minutes later Parra broke from deep, passing the ball out via Malzieu to Maxime Médard, who cut in from the left touchline on a 60-metre run to the line.
Parra added the conversion and a Lionel Beauxis drop goal stretched the French lead to 23-17. The visitors were content to run down the clock thereafter, leaving a frustrated Robinson to once again reflect on what might have been.
"I thought the turning point came at 17-13," he said. "There were two offences at the ruck before France broke away and scored their second try – right in front of the referee. It was a key point."
Scotland: Tries Hogg, Jones; Conversions Laidlaw, Weir; Penalty Laidlaw. France: Tries Fofana, Médard; Conversions Parra 2; Penalties: Parra 2; Drop goal: Beauxis.
Scotland: S Hogg; R Lamont (both Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets), G Morrison (Glasgow), L Jones; G Laidlaw, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford, G Cross (all Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow), J Hamilton (Gloucester), J Barclay (Glasgow), R Rennie, D Denton (both Edinburgh).
Replacements: C Cusiter (Glasgow) for Blair, 30; N De Luca (Edinburgh) for R Lamont, 30; D Weir (Glasgow) for Laidlaw, 49; R Vernon (Sale) for Denton, 53; E Kalman (Glasgow) for Cross, 62; S Lawson (Gloucester) for Ford, 69; A Kellock (Glasgow) for Hamilton, 69.
France: M Médard; V Clerc (both Toulouse), A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu (all Clermont Auvergne); F Trin-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont Auvergne); J-B Poux (Toulouse), D Szarzewski (Stade Français), N Mas (Perpignan), P Pape (Stade Français), Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (capt, both Toulouse), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz), L Picamoles (Toulouse). Replacements: V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne) for Poux, 51; W Servat (Toulouse) for Szarzewski, 51; L Beauxis(Toulouse) for Médard, 62; L Nallet (Racing Métro) for Maestri, 66); J Dupuy (Stade Français) for Parra, 75;
Referee: W Barnes (England).
SCOTLAND Points FRANCE
2 Tries 2
2/2 Conversions 2/2
1/2 Penalties 2/4
0 Drop goals 1/1
Phases of play
1/0 Scrums won/lost 5/0
10/0 Line-outs won/lost 9/2
10 Pens conceded 5
4 Mauls won 5
20 Ruck and drive 29
84 Ruck and pass 43
212 Passes completed 137
6 Line breaks 3
12 Possession kicked 16
2 Kicks to touch 4
99/15 Tackles made/missed 142/14
14 Offloads in tackle 4
12 Total errors made 11
108 In open play 77
37 In opponent's 22 14
16 At set pieces 24
6 Turnovers won 6
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