France set the Six Nations standard
February 7, 2010
Imanol Harinordoquy bulldozes the Scottish defence © Getty Images
Chris Cusiter Max Evans Thom Evans Nicolas Mas Lionel Nallet Morgan Parra Chris Paterson Andy Robinson Francois Trinh-Duc
Be afraid. Be very afraid. France laid down an impressive marker with a powerful demolition of Scotland in their Six Nations opener at Murrayfield.
The warning signs were there for the Scots when France coach Marc Lievremont named his side and if Andy Robinson's charges were in need of a further pointer they didn't have to wait long. France's Aurelien Rougerie flattened Scotland's Kelly Brown with barely a minute on the clock to set the tone for the game. A pumped-up Rougerie threw himself into another head-on tackle moments later but his eagerness got the better of him and his game was over as soon as it had begun through injury. But there was no respite for the Scots with Rougerie's team-mates more than happy to take up the cause and they did so in style.
Before the game we were treated to shots of Scotland's players throwing weights around like jelly tots but it was they who were devoured like pick and mix by a dominant French side who delivered a lesson in power play. And they were roared on by a huge French contingent among the crowd who had perhaps travelled in the knowledge they were about to witness the start of something special. At times you could have been forgiven for thinking it was the Stade de France the singing was so loud and clear. Robinson has spoken about 'inspiring a nation' but it was the French fans given most reason to cheer and their vocal dominance should be a point of embarrassment for Scottish rugby.
France's No.8 Imanol Harinordoquy was the tormentor-in-chief although centre Mathieu Bastareaud can rightly feel a little aggrieved at not claiming the man of the match honour. Bastareaud's burgeoning career took a nose dive last year when he falsely claimed he had been assaulted during Les Bleus' tour of New Zealand, an incident that subsequently caused a diplomatic row. He escaped heavy sanction but his reputation didn't. His scoring efforts here, on his return to the French side, will aid his re-integration and be warmly welcomed by France's fans. But talk of redemption is wide of the mark - he has some way to go to restore his credibility.
France won the all-important battle at the breakdown, dished out a lesson at the scrum, bossed the Scots at the lineout and smothered much of the home side's attacking endeavours with a finely executed blitz defence. Quick ball, snappy passing and delightful off-loads in contact added to Scotland's woes and on reflection they did extremely well to hold the French to a nine-point margin. And in a further warning to those sides yet to face France, there is evidently more improvement to come.
Lievremont's decision to concentrate on winning the Six Nations instead of using the Rugby World Cup as his ultimate goal has paid an immediate dividend. But will he stick to his guns or revert to type and rotate his options in the weeks ahead? In fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and scrum-half Morgan Parra he appears to have a winning combination, one that needs the chance mature, so he would be best served in granting them that opportunity. On this occasion they had the benefit of calling the shots behind a dominant pack but things maybe different when that is not the case.
Scotland's fly-half woes continue to plague their best efforts. Phil Godman was the selection for this clash but suffered behind a pack that was bullied from start to finish. He was eventually replaced by Chris Paterson in a desperate late re-jigging of the Scotland backline but he was also unable to spark them into life. The home side lived largely off scraps but did have some success in breaching France's rush defence but when they did the support was slow as if caught by surprise by the attacking incision. They continue to function well as a defensive unit but sadly try-saving tackles from wingers Thom Evans and Sean Lamont were arguably the high points of a performance that promised so much more.
Paterson, who amazingly has not missed a kick in the Six Nations since the Scots' visit to Paris three years ago, kept his side in touch but the fact that his boot remains the most profitable weapon in Andy Robinson's armoury is another huge concern. If Scotland are to turn things around then they will have to do it on the road with a date with old rivals England their only other Murrayfield fixture. They have it all to do starting with a trip to Cardiff next week.
In contrast, with an away win to their name, and an impressive one at that, France can look forward to the prospect of three homes games in the coming weeks. Lievremont's side are in the driving seat with next weekend's clash with Ireland in Paris looking like a classic in the making.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.
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