Scotland’s interim head coach Scott Johnson could reflect with pride on his team’s RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign, in spite of the 16-23 loss to France in the Stade de France tonight.
Scotland finished third in the championship, courtesy of victories over Italy and Ireland, their best place since 2006, and were competitive in every match, save for the opening encounter against England, during which they scored quite palpably the try of the tournament.
The qualities of will and tenacity which Johnson had asked his players to give back in January they delivered in spades and he was right to note that in his post-match remarks to the media.
But he was also accurate to stress anew that Scotland’s own ills – today, for example, an inability to pouch high balls – are hindering the progress that has been made since the dark days of Tonga at Pittodrie.
“We have to get rid of the bridesmaid tag,” Johnson declared and it’s a theme from which he’ll not deviate in the weeks before the triangular tournament in South Africa this June.
Scotland’s defence for 60 minutes today was in Johnson’s own assessment sensational, in particular in the period in the first half where the French, seeking to crank up the gears from their scrums within the Scotland 22, pummelled incessantly to find a breakthrough. It did not materialise.
Scotland also regained their scrummage pride after the farce at the setpiece at Murrayfield the previous week and on the hour the scores were tied at 9 apiece with the ever reliable Greig Laidlaw and Freddie Michalak the respective penalty marksmen.
A moment of inspiration to unleash the talismanic Wesley Fofana set France free, Michalak adding the conversion, though the heroic standards of defence that Scotland had set in that first period seemed now to be edgy.
Mathieu Bastareaud, who had been policed diligently by the Scots, was ultimately nailed by Sean Lamont but the platform was exploited ruthlessly by Maxime Medard for French try number two, substitute scrum-half Maxime Machenaud adding the extras.
Yet still Scotland, with Ruaridh Jackson and Alastair Kellock bringing energy from the bench, all but contrived an opening for Max Evans before Matt Scott carved space in midfield to uncork Tim Visser for his sixth international try.
Jackson’s drop-kicked conversion underlined the urgency in Scotland’s finish but the fairytale ending was not to be.
Instead the mantra of hard work and the need to improve was uttered once more. It’s a mantra, however, that is delivered from positive foundations.