Classy France cruise past Scots
February 5, 2011
Scotland's Richie Gray takes on the French defence
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France opened their defence of the Six Nations crown with a thrilling 34-21 victory over Scotland at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.
Tries from Man of the Match Maxime Medard, Imanol Harinordoquy and Damien Traille along with a penalty try saw the hosts bounce back to form following their drubbing at the hands of Australia in their last outing. Scrum-half Morgan Parra and his replacement Dimitri Yachvili also weighed in from the kicking tee but it was the home side's breathtaking ability with ball in hand that laid the foundation for the most impressive victory in the opening round of Six Nations fixtures.
Scotland played their part in a hugely entertaining encounter with captain Al Kellock, Kelly Brown and replacement Sean Lamont all crossing for tries, while lock Richie Gray was a standout performer with an industrious display. But in the end they were unable to keep pace with their impressive hosts.
France wasted no time in banishing the memories of that dark November night against the Wallabies with the opening try of the game coming with just two minutes on the clock. A tackle from Francois Trinh-Duc on Scotland's Nick De Luca forced the turnover on halfway before flanker Thierry Dusautoir and then centre Aurelien Rougerie injected pace down the flank. A kick ahead then bounced kindly for Medard who gleefully snapped up the loose ball before touching down for the score, converted by Parra.
France's application in defence was equally impressive, forcing a succession of errors from the visitors and it was not long before the hosts were closing in on the Scotland line once again. The home side's muscle secured clean ball inside the 22 and a lazy-looking but efficient swing of the boot from Trinh-Duc landed a drop goal and took them out to a 10-0 lead.
The defending champions continued to look dangerous when they shifted the ball wide and their insatiable hunger for possession gave the Scots little respite. A Trinh-Duc cross kick then threatened to carve the Scots open with the bounce going their way once again. Flanker Julien Bonnaire was the grateful recipient and he found support in Dusautoir and then Rougerie with only some desperate defence preventing France from adding to their try tally.
Scotland rallied well with Kellock leading the charge with a strong run into the French 22. Scrum-half Rory Lawson then had a dart before his skipper exploited some lazy defence on the fringes by hooker William Servat to burrow over for a score, with Parks adding the extras.
The try only served to infuriate France, who simply raised the tempo once more with first Medard and then wing partner Yoann Huget making great strides into Scotland territory after the visitors had squandered possession all too easily. The impressive French scrum then turned the screw and a succession of penalties in the shadow of posts resulted in the inevitable penalty try. Parra added the simple conversion while Scotland could count themselves lucky not to be punished further with a yellow card.
Strong breaks from Scotland's Max Evans and Nikki Walker threatened to buck the trend of the game but usual service was soon resumed with Harinordoquy ranging into the 22 where he was denied by some scrambling defence.
There was no let-up in frantic pace of the game as the half drew to a close with Scotland lacking the composure to capitalise on excellent field position. Instead, moments later they were under the cosh in their own 22 where a rare moment of imprecision served as a let-off for Scotland.
Scotland's scrum woes continued soon after the re-start but it was the ease at which France crossed the gain line and their miserly defence that proved the more immediate problems. Parra offered them a reprieve of sorts when he pushed a long range penalty attempt wide of the posts.
Scotland continued to hold firm in defence but they could not prevent France conjuring their next sensational score. The hosts once again backed themselves with ball in hand and the elusive Medard wriggled free in midfield before finding Trinh-Duc, whose outrageous pass through his legs put Harinordoquy away. The strong-running No.8 then powered past the cover defence to score under the posts and following Yachvili's conversion they were soon hunting for more.
Scotland were not about to capitulate and more industry from the forwards took them to within inches of the French line before the whistle went in their favour. From the resulting penalty the Scots opted for a quick tap and a forceful run from Brown carried him through the tackle of Sebastien Chabal and over for his side's second try. Sensing an unlikely comeback centre Joe Ansbro led the Scots' latest sortie with a powerful break out of his own 22 only to be thwarted but there was further cause for hope when Yachvili pulled his next penalty attempt wide.
The French had more luck with ball in hand and had the crowd on their feet again with another great try. Medard was again involved as he picked his way through a broken defence before feeding Yachvili, who in turn found replacement Clement Poitrenuad. The fullback was hauled down just short by Lamont but not before offloading to Traille for the five points. The conversion was a formality for Yachvili.
The gutsy Scots picked themselves up again and were rewarded with their third try of the game. Ansbro took the ball to the line and a well-timed run from Lamont saw him gather the ball at pace before speeding in to score. Jackson notched the conversion to add a little more gloss to the scoreboard but France would have the final say with Yachvili setting the seal on the win with a late three-points.
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Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum.