Scotland pick up first win in tight victory over free-running France

Scotland 32 France 26: Greig Laidlaw kicked six second-half penalties to guide Scots to victory

Robin Scott-Elliot
Murrayfield
Sunday 11 February 2018 17:54
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Scotland got their first win of the Six Nations
Scotland got their first win of the Six Nations

A breathless, captivating, error-strewn encounter that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous and most stopping points between – this was the Six Nations as music hall, some good, some dreadful, and when the music stopped Scotland were the winners, just.

For periods, especially in the opening half, this was chaos rugby from both sides, sometimes intended, often not. The irony was it was settled by the boot of Mr Dependable, Greig Laidlaw, playing to his own surprise at 10 after Finn Russell, Scotland’s Mr Chaos, was hauled off with 10 minutes to play. Gregor Townsend’s decision to recall Laidlaw had been questioned – how would he fit the brand of rugby the Scotland coach endorses? Here was how. “Greig brought control,” said John Barclay, Scotland’s captain.

It was utterly unpredictable from first until just about the last when Fance’s discipline failed them, the first predictable course. The French ran out of puff first and Laidlaw made them pay. The man who plays his rugby in France performed as a classic petit general. It was not just his 22 points that earned him man of the match.

Teddy Thomas scored twice for France

Huw Jones, more effective back at 13, Stuart Hogg, who made 120 metres, and Simon Berghan were the other standouts for the Scot but this was a victory for the collective. The forwards were better as a unit than last week, so was the backline. The result comes as a huge relief for Townsend and his players, whose mental strength had been doubted after the drubbing in Wales. A week late, but Scotland have turned up for the Six Nations.

“We can take a lot of confidence from that,” said Townsend. “We still have to improve but that was a step up.”

France were the better team in the first half and took a six-point advantage from it. Townsend narrowed Scotland’s point of attack after the interval and his forwards hit hard and straight up the middle. Scotland’s ball carriers, so anonymous in Cardiff, did their job.

France’s fitness was questioned afterwards but both sides slowed in the second half, an inevitability after a frantic opening period that included a six-minute period of play.

Huw Jones got a reply for Scotland

Teddy Thomas did not deserve to be on the losing side. It was his try that sparked this see-saw afternoon. From a standing start, he pirouetted a couple of yards inside the Scottish half and ran a replay of his score against Ireland. This time he was aided by sloppy tackling. Russell and Peter Horne both missed their man, Hogg did likewise on the 22 and the winger was in. Soon France’s lead was 10 – this was a significant moment for Townsend’s Scotland. But France are no Wales and Scotland had the perfect riposte. It owed much to the quick thinking of Hogg, who straightened a meandering attack deep in the French 22 before Russell put Sean Maitland over in the corner for his first Six Nations score in five years.

Thomas’s second try, his eighth in 10 internationals, was another soft concession as the exuberant wing found himself in space chipped ahead and was blessed by a kind bounce that baffled Laidlaw.

The frantic pace never let up, mistakes, miskicks – Russell the worst offender – littered the field. More tries seemed inevitable but there was only one, from Jones who he angled his run perfectly to take Laidlaw’s perfectly popped pass.

Laidlaw struck six penalties

Machenaud’s last act was to end the half with another penalty. His replacement Baptiste Serin and Laidlaw exchanged penalties before Laidlaw landed another as indiscipline proved contagious. The second period was tense, tighter but never less than engrossing. The penalty count grew as bodies and minds tired, but it was those in France’s blue who tired quicker.

Serin landed his second to reestablish France’s six point lead, but Laidlaw was not to be shaken off. He landed two more and having trailed from the third minute Scotland led with 10 to go. Laidlaw’s sixth penalty opened a little daylight and one final turnover ended France’s last assault. The roar around Murrayfield at the whistle was one of relief – and exhaustion.

Scotland

Tries: Maitland, Jones Cons: Laidlaw (2) Pens: Laidlaw (6)

Scotland: Hogg, Seymour, Jones, Horne, Maitland, Russell (Price 65), Laidlaw, Reid (Bhatti 58), McInally, Berghan, Gilchrist (Toolis 58), Gray, Barclay (Denton 65), Watson, Wilson

France

Tries Thomas (2) Cons Machenaud (2) Pens: Machenaud (2), Serin (2)

France: Palis, Thomas, Lamerat, Doumayrou, Vakatawa (Fall 72), Beauxis (Belleau 73), Machenaud (Serin 41), Poirot (Gomes Sa 58), Guirado (Pelissie 72), Slimani (Ben Arous 58), Itturia, Vahaamahina (Gabrillagues 72), Lauret, Camara, Teuleigne (Picamoles 58)

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