French power too much for Scotland
February 7, 2010
Mathieu Bastareaud scored a first-half brace
© Getty Images
Chris Cusiter Max Evans Thom Evans Nicolas Mas Lionel Nallet Morgan Parra Chris Paterson Andy Robinson Francois Trinh-Duc
France produced a performance of power and precision to defeat Scotland 18-9 at Murrayfield and signal their intent for the Six Nations.
Mathieu Bastareaud scored France's tries on his return to the side, the giant Stade Francais centre powering over twice in the first-half to underline a dominant forward effort and some superb backs play. Scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked the remainder of France's points and dominated the tactical battle, while Imanol Harinordoquy returned at No.8 and picked up the Man of the Match award.
Scotland struggled in the tight without Euan Murray, who ruled himself out due to his religious beliefs, and only had three penalties from fullback Chris Paterson, winning his 99th cap, to show for a dogged performance.
The game exploded into life with a barnstorming hit on Kelly Brown by the burly Aurelien Rougerie, who lasted a matter of minutes after a second shuddering collision, this time with the heavyweight Scotland No.8 Johnnie Beattie.
Scotland were forced back by two powerful scrums early on, the power of Murray conspicuously absent. With early dominance at the scrum France looked to move the ball wide at every opportunity, Parra looked lively at the base and Bastareaud was a willing combatant in midfield.
Despite France dominating the early possession, it was Scotland that snatched the first points after Max Evans latched on to a looping pass in midfield and scythed clear of the defence. Support arrived in the form of skipper Chris Cusiter, with the scrum-half finding Graeme Morrison in midfield. The centre surged for the line and Harinordoquy could not resist handling in the ruck. Paterson clipped over the penalty to open the scoring but the home side were immediately on the back foot.
Rougerie's replacement, Toulouse's Vincent Clerc, broke clear along the blindside but was stopped first by a superb ankle-tap from Brown and then a gravity-defying tackle by Thom Evans to hold the ball up over the line. From the ensuing scrum though, France were back to their dominant best. After several resets and warnings, Harinordoquy picked up and powered into midfield, drawing the Scottish backs and ensuring an easy trot over in the corner for Bastareaud after a brilliant pass from Francois Trinh-Duc.
To their credit, Scotland bit back immediately as Phil Godman's clever inside ball to Beattie unlocked the French blitz defence. The Glasgow No.8 powered through two tackles but his offload to Cusiter went to ground, the captain hacking the ball away in frustration. Scotland continued to live a charmed life in defence, with Godman seeing an ill-judged kick charged down by Trinh-Duc, who kicked towards the line. The bounce was unkind for the Montpellier playmaker and Sean Lamont produced the game's second great try-saving tackle to prevent France landing a debilitating blow.
Parra found his range from the kicking tee to deservedly extend the French lead but Scotland again saw a break, this time from Lamont, yield a penalty to Paterson as the visitors infringed at the breakdown.
Bastareaud was not finished for the half though, taking his second try with consummate ease before the break. With acres of space created by Trinh-Duc slotting in at outside-centre to pull the strings off a deep pass, Bastareaud accepted an offload form Harinordoquy and stood up both Godman and Evans with a subtle dummy before crashing over in the corner.
After Parra's conversion France immediately went back on the offensive following a charge down off Paterson. The Scots dug in though and through Brown had a turnover to hold off the flood of dark blue on their line, bringing half-time and sighs of relief.
Godman's second-half kick-off sailed out on the full and only a knock-on from Bastareaud prevented further damage being inflicted on the scoresheet. Parra gleefully accepted another penalty opportunity to open up a 12-point cushion after pedestrian Scottish play at the ruck and events almost took a further turn for the worse as Clerc and Bastareaud combined along the blindside.
Godman was then withdrawn and replaced by Hugo Southwell, with Paterson at fly-half, while Benjamin Fall had a length-of-the field interception chalked off by an earlier infringement from the French forwards. Paterson's third penalty immediately followed and raised the volume inside Murrayfield, only for his next touch to be a horrible slice out on the full.
Trinh-Duc pinned the Scots back into their 22 with a raking kick and they again set up camp in enemy territory as the ground's large French contingent launched a rousing rendition of Le Marseillaise. Parra barked his pack forward and collected the ball for yet another penalty as the life was slowly strangled out of the home side.
The scrum-half's kick faded wide but the French effort was not halted. Some magical handling by Harinordoquy threatened to open the defence for Clerc, but Bastareaud lost the ball in contact to again let Scotland off the hook. With two French players down following a surge from Beattie, Scotland probed at the depleted defence through 10 phases but lost the ball as Brown was isolated after a short snipe around a ruck.
Parra showed his kicking game in open play by hooking the ball in behind Scotland, who conceded possession with a lazy lineout tap from Al Kellock, which was touched down behind the line by Richie Gray. France set to at the scrum and Thomas Domingo continued to punish Moray Low but again Scotland stood firm as Harinordoquy was stripped of the ball in the tackle.
Lamont finally ignited the Scottish attack with a brilliant break, well supported by Scott Lawson, but there was to be no fairytale for the man that sunk France in 2006 as Les Bleus swarmed all over Scotland and ended the attack as well as any hope of a comeback. Next up for France is a potentially vital home meeting with Ireland, while Scotland face a wounded Wales at the Millennium Stadium.
Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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