Scots' hearts are broken

Rugby World Cup: Injury-time try gives France momentous win and leaves black cloud over Scotland
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France 22 Scotland 19

Try: N'Tamack 80 Try: Wainwright 40

Con: Lacroix 80 Con: Hastings 40

Pen: Lacroix 40, 55, 59, 68 Pen: Hastings 37, 40, 63, 71


THIS WAS as compelling a match as any in the tournament and as momentous as any between these two proud rugby nations. France, having cast aside their inhibitions and playing as nature decreed that they should, broke Scottish hearts when they went into the lead for the first time in the game three minutes into injury-time when a try by Emile N'Tamack denied the Scots a victory they thought was theirs.

In a furious climax, France swept down on the Scottish line at blistering pace and with mesmerising skill. But the Scots, who had held on ferociously throughout the game to protect the lead which they had never relinquished, were unswerving in their determination and unfaltering in their commitment. Four points ahead with seconds left and one by one the French attackers were picked off. If it wasn't Iain Morrison it was Rob Wainwright. If not Wainwright then Eric Peters or Damian Cronin. For every Frenchman, there were at least two Scots to man the barricades.

But like crazed horses, the French kept galloping forward, at last giving free rein to backs whose sureness of touch, having for so long deserted them, had as if by magic returned. Four points behind and with nothing short of a try required, Abdel Benazzi drove from a short penalty before presenting the ball perfectly for his scrum-half Aubin Hueber, the replacement for the injured Guy Accoceberry. In a blinding flash, the ball was in N'Tamack's hands and it was this most sinuous of runners who, trading subtlety for power, smashed through the tight blue cordon to score in the corner.

Thierry Lacroix's conversion from the touchline mattered only to the statisticians. The final whistle blew and the French celebrated as if they had been crowned champions of the world. The Scots stood motionless, broken by fatigue and stunned by the injustice of it all. Their task now is to beat the All Blacks in the quarter-final while the French have much the easier passage into the last four against either Ireland or Wales.

The Scots could hardly have played any better, and their captain Gavin Hastings, who yesterday became the first player to score 200 points in World Cup competition, put the mood in the Scottish camp succinctly. "I'm shell-shocked," he said. "Now we know how the French must have felt in Paris. In many ways this game, especially in the last five minutes or so, mirrored that Five Nations match."Three-and-a-half months ago, it was Hastings's last-minute try and conversion which clinched Scotland's first victory in France for 25 years.

The Scotland manager Duncan Paterson added: "We are bitterly, bitterly disappointed, but there is a difference between that and feeling sorry for yourself. There is a lot of character in this side. We may have lost a very important game, but we are not out of the World Cup yet."

The French coach Pierre Berbizier was understandably jubilant. "This victory is a very high emotional moment for us," he said. "To win a game like that in the last seconds you have to consider yourselves to be a little lucky - but our try was certainly not down to luck."

Fortune, however, was not kind to Scotland. Their forwards so skilfully harrassed and disrupted their opponents that they forced them into all manner of indiscretion and indiscipline. Hastings, whose international odyssey began nine years ago and will end when Scotland depart this tournament, continued with his journey into the record books, kicking four penalties and the conversion of Wainwright's try to hoist his points total for the tournament to a staggering 89.

With the excellent scrum-half Bryan Redpath controlling and varying play astutely in the protective shelter of his forwards, the Scots were able to parry every French thrust. So tight and taut were the opening exchanges that it was not until the closing stages of the first half that the deadlock was broken when Hastings kicked his first penalty. Before that, the Scottish forwards had smashed the French against the ropes and had themselves repelled a couple of lightning French raids, the first when N'Tamack broke up the right wing and the second when, with delicate artistry, the winger had weaved his way from his 22 into the Scottish half supported by Philippe Sella and Jean-Luc Sadourny.

Hastings' penalty, though, appeared to release the pent-up tension. The game erupted into movement. A French attack was countered illegally by Scotland and Lacroix equalised. Injury time, extended by injuries to Philippe Benetton and Accoceberry, both with fractured arms, and to Graham Shiel, who has a suspected broken nose, still had three minutes to run. Time enough for Hastings to kick his second penalty and to set up Scotland's try. Sadourny's miscued kick to touch was fielded by Redpath, who immediately and instinctively whipped the ball to his captain charging from halfway down the touchline. When Hastings was partially held, Wainwright, who had a magnificent match, was there to carry the ball over for the try. Hastings' conversion gave the Scots a 10- point lead which, for all the French dazzle, was a fair enough reflection of the play.

For long enough now we have been extolling the virtues of this French side with nothing other than past reputation to offer as proof. Individually, they are superb players, quite possibly the finest in the world, and yet for long enough and certainly during the recent Five Nations' Championship the sum of the parts has failed miserably to make the whole. It was now or never if they were to convince us of their true worth.

The French began strongly. Their rippling movements could be only halted by the most ferociously determined defence - too ferocious according to the referee Wayne Erickson, who twice penalised the Scots for late tackles. Lacroix exacted maximum punishment on both occasions. Four points the difference, and after Hastings and Lacroix had traded penalties, that was still the gap separating the sides with less than 10 minutes left. Another two penalties, one apiece, and the Scots remained four points ahead. All around was frenzy and passion, but Scotland were holding out. Morrison put in one shuddering hit and another chance was spilled. Just one more Scottish tackle, one more French mistake would be enough. But nothing and no-one was going to stop N'Tamack.

So, by doing to the Scots what they had done to the French in Paris, they proved that there is some form of justice no matter how rough.

Scotland: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Shiel (Melrose, rep by I Jardine, Stirling County), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers (Melrose), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir, rep by P Burnell, London Scottish), D Cronin (Bourges), G Weir (Melrose), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), I Morrison (London Scottish), E Peters (Bath).

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 (Bordeaux, rep by A Hueber, Toulon); L Benezech (Racing Club), J-M Gonzalez (Bayonne), C Califano (Toulouse), O Merle (Montferrand), O Roumat (Dax), A Benazzi (Agen), L Cabannes (Racing Club), P Benetton (Agen, rep by M Cecillon, Bourgoin).

Referee: W Erickson (Australia)