“After four games we have won three and lost one,” Philippe Saint-André said to every possible interviewer after the 19-17 victory in Scotland, almost as if France’s head coach could not believe the statistic himself, such was the disruption of his team through injury and suspension, and a generally depressing run of results. It says more about the format of the Six Nations than any French form line that they remain in with a shout of the title. Next, in the third of Saturday’s final-round matches, they face Ireland in Paris, with a certain green-jerseyed centre the story on the lips of all.
“Oh I’ve enjoyed his career,” Saint-André said of Brian O’Driscoll, who will be bidding to mark his farewell Test appearance by winning a second Championship in his long career with Ireland. “He’s a great player, a fantastic ambassador for rugby. So much skill, so much flair. I just hope the party will not be too nice for him this week. It can be like a final but we know we need to perform much better.”
As for the Edinburgh experience, France won with a late penalty by Jean-Marc Doussain, despite their line-out collapsing under the attack of Jim Hamilton and Richie Gray, and the jitters of third-choice hooker Brice Mach on his first Test start. It was “not good for my heart,” Saint-André admitted. “For the World Cup next year we will have two and a half months’ clear preparation. In this Six Nations, in a squad of 30 we have had nine injuries and a red card. So we have changed our philosophy. We just do what we can with the players available.”
The Scots could hardly take in how they failed to record a second win in 16 meetings with France since 2000. Their ifs, buts and maybes as they fell agonisingly short included two long-range penalty misses by Greig Laidlaw and Duncan Weir and a succession of penalties awarded against them by the New Zealander referee, Chris Pollock.
Given his chance again, Tim Swinson might make a more obvious effort to show he had given France the chance to free the ball at the last, crucial tackle, but on another day, with another official, the Scotland replacement lock might have been fine.
“We’ve got to focus on the good things,” said Swinson. “We can really see an improvement from before the win in Italy through this match with France.”
Having hit on what appeared to be their best pack combination, Scotland will need to make at least two changes for the match in Wales on Saturday, having lost Johnnie Beattie and Sean Lamont, and with Ryan Grant facing a scan today on a hip problem.