Scotland prepare for greatest hour

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France 22

Scotland 19

When Scotland pulled off a famous victory against France in Paris in February Thierry Lacroix was successful with one kick out of six. On Saturday at the Loftus Versfeld he kicked six out of six and even managed to upstage Gavin Hastings in a match of astonishing tension and intensity.

Once again it was a close shave - when these countries met in the first World Cup in 1987 the result was 20-20 - but Lacroix's kicking was the decisive factor. In a desperate fight to see who would avoid having to play the All Blacks in the quarter-finals next weekend, Scotland's handsome lead was whittled down by Lacroix and in the fourth minute of injury time France, who had never led, sealed victory with a try from Emile N'Tamack.

"We are feeling what the French felt in Paris," Gavin Hastings said. "I'm very shell-shocked. I still can't believe we lost that game." It was Hastings, of course, who scored the last-minute try and conversion that gave Scotland a 23-21 triumph at the Parc des Princes four months ago.

The Scotland captain, who kicked five goals out of eight on Saturday (he struck an upright with his first kick) attempted to raise the spirits of his shattered side. "After a shower, the disappointment will wear off," he said. "We are not out of the Cup. France beat the All Blacks last year and we will have to play the game of our lives to become the first Scottish side in history to win against New Zealand. That will be next week's discipline."

Scotland led 13-3 at half-time but retreated into their shell in the second half. They were too conservative by half and, in terms of enterprise, France deserved to win. In the quarter-finals they will have the easier option of playing against Ireland.

"What we needed to do in the second half was to take the game to them," Dougie Morgan, the Scotland coach, said. "Some things you deserve in life. I don't think we deserved to be beaten in that game."

Duncan Paterson, the manager, said: "There's a difference between disappointment and feeling sorry for yourself. We are not out of it yet. There's a lot of character in this side."

Of that there is no doubt. The back row, once again, was outstanding; Bryan Redpath played a blinder and the midfield tackling in a fierce encounter was rock solid.

There were a number of casualties and the teams are now so much fitter, faster and stronger that the International Rugby Board may have to consider the prospect of allowing players to wear protective gear. Not quite as far as American Football but something in between.

As it is the medical staff are working overtime in this competition. France lost their No 8 Philippe Benetton with a broken right arm and the scrum-half, Guy Accoceberry, with a broken left arm. Scotland lost their centre, Graham Shiel, with a nose injury and the prop, Peter Wright, with bruised ribs.

Wright said that Olivier Merle, the French lock, threw so many punches he should become a professional boxer but when it came to dishing out punishment Wright himself was not at the back of the queue. "If you can't take a punch, you should play table tennis," Pierre Berbizier, the French coach, said.

Scotland, who on the eve of the match had a private premiere of the film Rob Roy, stunned France by scoring 10 points in the dying minutes of the first half. Hastings, who had scored 75 points in two games, created, with Redpath's help, a try for Rob Wainwright but then Scotland chose to play it tight.

In a remarkably even contest, Craig Chalmers received the ball 28 times, his opposite number Christophe Deylaud 27 times. Chalmers kicked on 19 occasions and passed the ball just six times. Deylaud ran it 16 times.

With France intent on playing an attacking game, Lacroix came into his own as a goal kicker. When he misfired against Scotland in Paris his mother was in an intensive care unit after being injured in a car crash. "She nearly died," Lacroix said. "My mind was not on rugby. Now I am fully concentrated." Lacroix runs a physiotherapy centre in Dax and his mother is receiving treatment there.

"The more we ran the ball the less successful Gavin Hastings would be at kicking," Lacroix said. "You are less accurate when you are tired or you are out of breath. You need all your faculties, mental and physical."

At the suggestion of the captain, Philippe Saint-Andre, Lacroix and the other threequarters shaved their heads before the start of the competition. "It was done to bind us together," Lacroix said. "I think everything will fall into place for France now."

"You need luck in this game but our last try was not down to luck. Scotland deserved victory as much as we did. They have a big heart." The heart appeared to be broken when N'Tamack dummied Craig Joiner and cut inside Scott Hastings to score the match-winner.

nfor his country. Cicagna, 34, plays for Toulouse.

FRANCE: J-L Sadourny (Colomiers); E N'Tamack (Toulouse), P Sella (Agen), T Lacroix (Dax), P Saint-Andre (Montferrand, capt); C Deylaud (Toulouse), G Accoceberry (Dax); L Benezech (Racing Club), J-M Gonzales (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Grenoble), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), P Benetton (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club). Replacements: M Cecillon (Toulouse) for Benetton, 19; A Hueber (Toulon) for Accoceberry, 33.

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians,capt); C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), A Shiel ( Melrose), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriots FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), D Cronin (Bourges), D Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), E Peters (Bath), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: I Jardine (Stirling County) for Shiel, 19; P Burnell (London Scottish) for Wright, 70.

Referee: W Erickson (Australia).

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