Scotland spring surprise win on France
February 5, 2006
Scotland winger Sean Lamont dives in to score the opening try
© Getty Images
Scotland injected the element of the totally unexpected, on which the Six Nations has always thrived into this year's competition with a magnificent victory over pre-tournament favourites France.
And it was thoroughly deserved. Their 13-3 lead at the break was a precise reflection of the balance of play, they extended it with a further try six minutes into the second-half and then ensured that the inevitable French resurgence was kept within controllable limits. Even when the French did manage to cross the Scottish line, they were forced wide in order to do so, leaving Jean-Baptiste Elissalde exceptionally difficult conversions that he failed to land.
Superbly organised and committed defence ensured that the French never really created any flow and continuity. Ball carriers were confronted in midfield with a wall of white shirts. Only centre Florian Fritz upheld his reputation among France's attackers.
Scotland extended their 10-point interval lead six minutes into the second half, winning a line-out on their left just outside the French 22 then staging a marathon rolling maul which culminated in wing Sean Lamont plunging over for his second try of the afternoon. Chris Paterson converted to make it 20-3.
Within five minutes France had finally got it right, Fritz's loping surge on the right drawing the Scottish defence across and creating the space in which Cedric Heymans' finely timed pass sent Julien Bonnaire over on the far left. But Elissalde's looping conversion attempt struck the post and Scotland's lead remained 12 points.
If there was a moment's sign of Scottish self-doubt it came seven minutes later as Paterson missed the simple penalty that would have restored their two-score lead. Two minutes later Elissalde landed his attempt from 40 metres and it was 20-11.
But Scotland, with Chris Cusiter replacing Mike Blair when the scrum-half went off clutching a bloodied nose, continued to compete on equal terms. The French never managed to create any consistent momentum and, although they cut the gap to four points with four minutes to go when replacement flanker Thomas Lievrement's pass sent Sale hooker Sebastien Bruno on the left, Elissalde's missed conversion left them needing another try - and they didn't get remotely close to that in the time that remained.
France had started confidently from the kick-off, running fluently and taking the ball through multiple phases as they sliced into Scottish territory. They met with defence of the resolution one might reasonably expect for from a team at home in the opening minutes of a Six Nations.
What had not been reasonably expected was that this was almost the last time France threatened during a first-half that may have been Scotland's best 40 minutes since the supernatural, title-clinching performance in Paris in 1999. That they were not to be taken lightly was signalled within five minutes as Parks hoisted a kick, Marcus di Rollo's chase and challenge disconcerted full-back Nicholas Brusque, Scotland reclaimed and skipper Jason White drove to within three yards before being halted.
Three minutes later it was Simon Taylor who was halted within arm's length reach of the French line and it was the Lions number eight who set up their breakthrough in the 11th minute. Taking a quick tap when France were penalised at a scrum, he carried three times as Scotland drove confidently forward, sucking in French defenders as they drove and recycled at a high tempo before moving leftwards for wing Sean Lamont to come into the line at centre and drive through a tackle to the line. Chris Paterson converted.
Scotland maintained their pressure with France showing only in flashes and prone to error, with Brusque and the threequarters unable to time the full-back's incursions into the line.
Scrum-half Mike Blair was fully justifying his selection ahead of Lion Chris Cusiter, three times breaking around the fringes to set up Scotland attacks while White and Taylor were always available in support, the bulk of the action took place in French territory.
Paterson added two penalties - the second after he had been obstructed chasing a kick ahead which, gathered cleanly, might have brought him a try - to give Scotland a 13-0 lead.
Equally encouraging was Scotland's resistance when the French made their rare incursions - repelling a series of thrusts so successfully after a penalty and line-out gave the French a highly promising position 30 metres out that Freddy Michalak was forced into a horribly miscued drop-kick attempt.
The French did get on to the scoreboard just before half-time as Elissalde landed a close-range penalty, but the 13-3 scoreline was both better than the most optimistic Scot could have dreamed before the match and a completely faithful reflection of the play.