French machine remains on course for Slam
February 26, 2012
Wesley Fofana goes over for France's first score of the match © Getty Images
With all the fanfare and celebration surrounding Wales' Triple Crown-clinching victory over England at Twickenham on Saturday you could be forgiven for thinking that the destiny of this year's Six Nations was a foregone conclusion but you would be wrong.
France's victory over Scotland at Murrayfield may not have matched the spectacle served up 24 hours earlier - although it was another thrilling advert for the game - but the result leaves them on course for a Grand Slam with their final outing against the Welsh in Cardiff looking increasingly like a title decider. Like the Welsh, France failed to produce their best but crucially, they did enough to win and knew exactly when to raise their game and take the game away from their rivals.
The visitors' ability to soak up wave after wave of pressure and then spark into life with ball in hand has long been the envy of the rest of the world with the timing and execution of their tries against the Scots ominous warning signs for anyone else with title aspirations. Centre Wesley Fofana continues to impress with his second try in as many Test appearances having made his international bow in his side's opening victory over Italy. His pace and clever angles make him a potent threat and in this kind of game-changing form he will n doubt become a permanent fixture in the French midfield. He's not quite as a graceful runner as fullback Maxime Medard who notched what proved to be the match-winning score but both offer skills in short supply elsewhere in this year's Championship.
The French pack will know they were in a game today with their Scottish rivals holding their own for throughout but while matched in phases, Thierry Dusautoir and co were never bettered for long - a telling statement given the strength of the home side's forward unit. Having re-grouped at half-time, France turned the screw up front and began to dominate the game and then the scoreboard.
France's bench played a crucial role and their enviable strength in depth is sure to come into play in the coming weeks with Philippe Saint-Andre's side facing four games in as many weeks due to the postponement of their clash with Ireland earlier this month. Next up is that re-arranged clash with the Irish and then a date with England with both games in Paris. Neither is an easy prospect but on home soil they will start favourites and also know that victories would hand them significant momentum heading into their trip to Cardiff.
Not for the first time, the over-riding emotion for the Scots come the final whistle was frustration. Plagued by an inability to find a cutting edge in their opening two defeats, the hosts scored not one but two tries - a feat saved for the powerhouses of Italy and Romania of late - only to end up on the losing side once again.
As in previous weeks, there were positives but none so far in this Championship have shone as brightly as Stuart Hogg. The 19-year-old debutant had an excellent game that included the opening try of the game as the Scots threatened to upset the odds. Lively and composed throughout, he provided a spark that has been missing from Scotland's best efforts in recent months.
In defence too, their industry was notable with an effective blitz defence helping to shackle their multi-dimensional rivals. At the heart of that effort, the back-row trio of Ross Rennie, John Barclay and David Denton were once again stand-out performers - with Rennie claiming deservedly taking the Man of the Match honours on this occasion - but once again not even their combined prowess and some rare whitewash-troubling endeavour was enough to break their duck in this year's Six Nations.
They were guilty of not making more of their dominance in the first half and simple errors struck at the heart of their challenge after the break. In between, incisive runners yet again found themselves isolated with scrum-half Mike Blair and hooker Ross Ford left woefully short of support when even one runner on a shoulder could have led to a pivotal score. The game took a drastic toll that did not help Scotland's cause with what looked like a broken leg for winger Rory Lamont and both starting half-backs forced out of the game by the early stages of the second half. But while fortune did not smile on them, they only have themselves to blame for letting yet another opportunity slip through their grasp.
The future of coach Andy Robinson will now come under further scrutiny. His Six Nations record is now beyond alarming with his charges having notched just two wins in 13 Championship outings. If he is to rescue his reputation - and his hopes of coaching the British & Irish Lions in 2013 - then his side are going to have to do it the hard way. Next up is a trip to Dublin to tackle an Ireland side that have now remembered how to win at home.
And no matter what they reap from that game, the showdown against Italy in Rome on the final weekend is surely set to define not only their Championship campaign but also Robinson's tenure.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.