France down brave Scots
February 26, 2012
France's Maxime Medard crossed for one of his side's two tries at Murrayfield
© Getty Images
France made it two wins from two in this year's Six Nations with a 23-17 victory over Scotland in a highly entertaining encounter at Murrayfield.
Scotland looked on course for a stunning upset with a first half try from debutant Stuart Hogg and another after the break by winger Lee Jones putting the hosts in control of the contest but both times they failed to capitalise on their advantage. Centre Wesley Fofana doused Scottish hopes with a try in the opening period while another from fullback Maxime Medard on the hour saw the game swing one last time in the visitors' favour.
The result leaves France, who saw their last clash with Ireland fall foul to the recent cold snap, on course for a Grand Slam ahead of their re-arranged date with the Irish in Paris next weekend. In contrast, the win-less Scots look increasingly destined for a Wooden Spoon decider with fellow strugglers Italy next month.
The Scots got the rub of the green in the early stages only for a long-range Greig Laidlaw penalty to fall short of the posts. His forwards experienced similar frustration after a 17 phase foray deep into French territory failed to bear any fruit. Undeterred, Scotland continued to pound away at the French defence and were finally rewarded for their bold endeavour. A poor pass appeared to fool the French defence but not Laidlaw who pounced on the loose ball inside the 22 before spinning it to Jones who in turn fed fullback Hogg who dived over in the corner for the opening try. Laidlaw cemented his side's strong start with an excellent conversion from the touchline.
France's efforts to claim a foothold in the game were largely thwarted by Scotland's ability to slow things down at the breakdown with openside Ross Rennie - a clear man of the match - a near-constant thorn in their side. In a breathless passage of play midway through the half, typical of much of the match, the Scots charged down field on the back of some crowd-pleasing adventure only for the French to turn the ball over and spark a length of the field break. Fullback Maxime Medard and winger Vincent Clerc galloped into space with some desperate defence required to snuff out the danger.
However, the Scots were soon back on the front foot with another clean break from hooker Ross Ford and while he lacked support, his side's latest raid did at least end with Laidlaw's first penalty that took his side out to a 10-point lead - but it did not last long.
A poor tackle on fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc enabled him to breach the gain line where the ball was recycled through scrum-half Morgan Parra and Clerc to Fofana on a superb line and he had the pace and power to carry himself over the line. Parra's conversion reduced the arrears yet further and there was further woe for the Scots when fullback Rory Lamont and scrum-half Mike Blair were forced out of the game with injuries.
The lengthy delay that preceded their exit threatened to rob Scotland of some hard-earned momentum and while they bravely attempted to regain the initiative, it was France who kept the scoreboard ticking over with Parra drawing his side level from the kicking tee shortly before the break. A clumsy high tackle from prop Allan Jacobsen on French lock Pascal Pape gave Parra a chance to edge his side ahead with the last act of the half but on this occasion his kick slipped wide of the uprights.
Scotland's Stuart Hogg dives over to score © Getty Images
Scotland's attempts to slow France's progress after the re-start also incurred the wrath of referee Wayne Barnes and this time Parra made no mistake leaving the hosts chasing the game for the first time. Scotland's hopes took a further knock with Laidlaw forced to make way after a heavy hit a few minutes later and Duncan Weir entered the fray to claim his first Test cap.
France dominated possession and territory as the second half wore but they were hit by a stunning strike from the Scots. A big tackle on Fofana in midfield by flanker John Barclay led to a crucial turnover and a break from replacement Richie Vernon was ably supported by Jones who added the finishing touches to his side's second try. Weir opened his Test match account with the extras but their delight was short-lived with a lapse in concentration handing the initiative straight back to France. Parra exploited a gaping hole in the Scotland defence before feeding winger Julien Malzieu who kept the defence guessing long enough for Medard to ghost up and take a scoring pass.
Parra slotted the simple conversion before the Scots rallied once again with Hogg scything through at pace only for Parra to throw a spanner in the works. It didn't quell the Scots for long but another lung-busting effort would come to nothing soon after. France were a little more ruthless with a formidable drive into the Scotland 22 laying the platform for a drop goal by Lionel Beauxis that gave his side some more breathing room.
Scotland pressure stopped Beauxis notching another as the game entered the final five minutes but errors also blighted their own efforts to conjure a dramatic turnaround. A timely show of strength from the French pack drew one final penalty with time running out but Beauxis could only drag his effort wide but it would not matter with the visitors closing out the win.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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