Michalak masterminds the deflowering of Scotland

France 51 Scotland 9
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The Independent Online

The compelling evidence here is that France have found a stand-off to rival Jonny Wilkinson and Carlos Spencer. Frédéric Michalak, 21 last week, scored 28 points as the French inflicted a record defeat on a mundane Scotland.

France, who are scheduled to met England in the semi-finals, took some time to get going, but once Michalak and his magnificent back row of Olivier Magne, Imanol Harinordoquy and Serge Betsen began to dictate play, the Scots were made to look sterile.

Scotland's first defeat in Pool B means that they have to beat Fiji in Aussie Stadium in Sydney next Saturday to qualify for the quarter-finals, where they would meet Australia. Reminding spectators - the crowd here was 78,974 - of the date with Fiji, the stadium announcer thought Scotland were "very vulnerable''.

This was not what the players wanted to hear as they trooped disconsolately from the stadium, clobbered by four goals, a try, four penalties and two drop goals to three penalties. "It was very disappointing,'' Ian McGeechan, the Scotland coach, admitted afterwards. "We were on the world stage and we wanted to give a very good account of ourselves, but we were up against a fine French team. Our players worked very very hard, and the score did not reflect that effort.

"We needed to score quickly after half- time but we never got control of the ball. France played with a high tempo and scored some good tries. For long spells we kept them in their own half and I could see the frustration coming through, but the fact is, top sides don't play much rugby in their own half. I'm sure we can regroup for the match against Fiji. Our attitude has been superb.''

Michalak, who had been the tournament's leading scorer with 50 points before yesterday's game kicked off, added a try, four conversions, four penalties and one of the drop goals for a full house. He and his captain, the scrum-half Fabien Galthié, are a formidable pairing, one of the best in the business.

Michalak's try in the 57th minute was a little gem as he took a pass from Galthié and accelerated through a gap, beating three defenders in a 30-yard run to the posts, where Andy Craig's tackle was too little, too late.

In the last minute the full-back Nicolas Brusque produced a spectacular score that rivalled Michalak's for try of the match. Fielding yet another aimless Scotland kick inside his own half, Brusque chipped ahead, athletically regathered possession with one hand and set off as briskly as you like down the left-hand touchline, where Chris Paterson failed to cut him off.

Pretty much Michalak's only blemish was bad penalty miss in the second minute, but after he and Paterson exchanged penalties, France began to draw clear. There was an awful lot of kicking out of hand, most of it by Scotland, and when Michalak made a break Harinordoquy dropped a scoring pass.

Scotland were hanging on when they conceded 10 points in two minutes, and that was the beginning of the end. After Raphael Ibañez had made an initial surge, Glenn Metcalfe not only tackled Galthié high but hit him with his left arm. The Scotland full-back was lucky not to get a yellow card, but Michalak kicked the goal.

For all their effort Scotland, who were beaten 38-3 by France in Paris last February, a then record defeat in the Six Nations' Championship, went in at half-time 19-6 down - and it got a lot worse in the second half.

Brusque's drop goal three minutes after the restart was followed by a pushover try, at the bottom of which was Harinordoquy.

All Scotland had to offer was a Paterson penalty before the little Toulouse stand-off Michalak performed his solo act and then his partner picked up the mood. Harinordoquy picked up from a scrum, fed Galthié on the short side and the scrum-half, playing in his fourth World Cup, had the pace to elude Bryan Redpath and Gregor Townsend. That try earned a bonus point for the French.

The first half was a sombre affair, enlightened only by Betsen's try and some heavy-duty tackling by the Scots. However, they paid the penalty for fielding a makeshift back-row against one of the best units in the world.

From a scrum, Harinordoquy picked up and sent Magne on a run through the heart of the defence, handing off Redpath in the process. On the flanker's shoulder was his soulmate Betsen, who was unstoppable as he crashed over at the posts.

Scotland's back-row problems began when Andrew Mower was forced to withdraw from the tournament through injury, and it seemed to have a domino effect. Martin Leslie received a 12-week ban last week for kneeing Jason Keyter in the head in the match against the United States. Scotland are appealing against the sentence (they were pretty unappealing yesterday), and the next to go down was the No 8 Ross Beattie, who withdrew from the replacements' bench.

Cameron Mather, who took Mower's place in the squad, normally plays at No 6, but yesterday he filled in at openside and performed creditably. Nevertheless it is a thankless task against a man of Magne's stature. To make matters worse, Mather suffered a cut to his head in the move that lead to Betsen's try, although he came back on after repairs. He had very little choice.

France 51
Tries: Betsen, Harinordoquy, Michalak, Galthié, Brusque
Cons: Michalak 3, Merceron
Pens: Michalak 4
Drops: Michalak, Brusque

Scotland 9
Pens: Paterson 3

Half-time: 16-6 Attendance: 78,974

France: N Brusque; A Rougerie, T Marsh (D Traille, 72), Y Jauzion, C Dominici; F Michalak, F Galthie (capt; G Merceron, 76); J-J Crenca, R Ibañez (Y Bru, 65), S Marconnet (P Tabacco, 66), F Pelous, J Thion, S Betsen, I Harinordoquy (O Brouzet, 80), O Magne (O Milloud, 65).

Scotland: G Metcalfe; C Paterson, A Craig, A Henderson (J McLaren, 66), K Logan; G Townsend, B Redpath (capt); T Smith, G Bulloch (R Russell, 72), G Kerr (B Douglas, 40), S Murray (N Hines, 61), S Grimes, J White, S Taylor (J Petrie 67), C Mather.

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).