France breeze past Scotland
March 21, 2004
Yannick Jauzion breaks the Scottish defence to score
© Getty Images
In line with expectations France duly beat Scotland at Murrayfield to remain on course for the Grand Slam with only England to beat in Paris. The fact that the Scots competed from whistle to whistle was encouraging but since France played well within themselves to register the win does not forecast any immediate rise in the home team's fortunes. French coach Bernard Laporte felt able to replace his playmaker Frederic Michalak at half time with one eye on the England match nest weekend which says all you need to know about the threat posed by the home side.
Scotland coach Matt Williams defended the effort from his side. "The commitment from the team was there again today but we made too many errors in possession and too many turnovers. We gave a great French team too much possession." But Williams remained diplomatic on next week's crunch tie between France and England that should decide the championship only saying that it would be a close game. However he did admit that today's opponents were: "a very very good side. They have very few weaknesses and if you make mistakes they make you pay."
France could have exacter a far greater price scoring their first try after just five minutes (but the second only coming in the 64th minute) and it arrived courtesy of the recalled Olivier Magne who celebrated his return to the team with a standout performance of sustained excellence that suggests he may still play a central role in the championship decider next weekend.
Magne was everywhere, the oil that lubricates the entire French machine that was on awesome show yesterday. If he wasn't scoring tries he was intercepting the Scottish passes, he found two but failed to hold onto one of them, and generally making a prize nuisance of himself. One pass he made out of contact just after the break was high art.
His early touchdown came with almost embarrassing ease as the ball was move from right to left with Serge Betsen feeding Yannick Jauzion and the centre made inroads into the home defence before finding his breakaway lurking on the wing. Mange still had plenty to do and Paterson will be disappointed that he didn't make a better fist of his attempted tackle on the flying flanker.
Dimitri Yachvili added two first half penalties as the visitors took appeared to do no more that they had to to win the match. France were rarely out of the Scots half throughout the first forty and Derrick Lee's trip to the sin bin for an appalling early tackle on Yachvili while the scrumhalf was jumping for the ball only exacerbated the Scots woes. Lee later made two further crucial errors in getting caught running out of defence and throwing one pass a good two yards forward without a Frenchman in sight.
That France was only able to score one try in the first half speaks volumes about the fight that the Scots brought to the table yesterday and, in truth, almost as much as France's incompetence. Time and again a score seemed a certainty until a drop pass or a desperate tackle saved the situation. Six Nations debutant Pepito Elhorga knocked on over the try line after a deft grubber over the line from fullback Nicolas Brusque.
On another occasion the French forwards drove a lineout inexorably towards the home line until the referee, perhaps generously, decided that the ball had been held up in a maul. Otherwise Frederic Michalak chipped over the first line of defence and looked set to collect his own kick until Gordon Bulloch pooped up to save the day. Indeed the little flyhalf tormented the Scots throughout the first half with his tactical kicking from hand.
The Scots had little to say in response. Only in the dying minutes of the half did they run with conviction at Les Blues when first Tom Philip and then Jason White cut huge inroads in the visitors' defensive line. The move finally faltered when Bulloch failed to hold onto a pass with Simon Webster unmarked outside him which proved to be the last action of the half.
The second half was almost exactly the same story. The two French centres pounced on a loose kick by Philip and it took two smart tackles by Paterson and Mike Blair, on for Cusiter, to stop them. Yachvili kicked two penalties on 43 and 48 minutes to give his side a 17-0 lead and effectively end the match as contest and much of the remainder was played out in a resigned silence.
The Scots showed well in small bursts and Bulloch, Blair and Philip all ran straight and hard to stretch the best defence in world rugby right now but it was all too predictable, painting by numbers rather than splashing bold colours on the canvas. Instead the scoring come at the other end of the pitch with Yannick Jauzion taking advantage of a tiring defence to slip through for two tries in the last quarter.
Dan Parks replaced Paterson at flyhalf for the final twenty minutes, the skipper shuffled to fullback, but if the insipid Glasgow number ten is the answer to Scotland's woes as coach Matt Williams seems to think then they are in a worse state than anyone could possibly imagine.
The match ended with the Scots mounting a rare assault on the French line but the visitors' defence, the video referee and a knock on by Blair ensured that Scotland failed to trouble the scoreboard all afternoon. The first time in 26 years that Scotland has been held to nil at Murrayfield.