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France 23-27 Scotland

2021. The year of the hoodoo well and truly blitzed.

If Twickenham after 38 years was a cracking start to the GUINNESS Six Nations Championship, what about Paris late on a Friday night in the teeming rain. Astonishing!

Scotland were stubborn to the nth degree. But they were clever and uber-resilient too. They won at the Stade de France for the first time since 1999 when head coach Gregor Townsend was dazzling on the field.

Some of the omens did not look brilliant.

Stuart Hogg was yellow carded just before the break. Finn Russell was red-carded ten minutes before an extraordinary ending.

But Scotland would simply not bow down and those who question the grit of this current squad had their answer in the 85th minute.

Tries from Duhan Van Der Merwe (2) and Dave Cherry, plus points from the boot by Russell and Adam Hastings took Scotland home.

But for plaudits look no further than a magnificent, incessant, uncompromising tour de force from Hamish Watson and Grant Gilchrist, with the unsung Nick Haining not far, if at all behind.

After all that, it seemed incredulous that Scotland still finished fourth in the Championship and the result that really sticks in the gullet is the one-point loss to Wales at BT Murrayfield last month. Wales taking the Championship as a result of tonight’s drama.

The match, originally due on 28 February, was postponed after a Covid outbreak in the French camp, and rescheduling was only confirmed last week.

Both teams enjoyed victories six days ago, Scotland with a record-breaking drubbing of Italy; France with a dramatic last-gasp winner against Wales, which ended the latter’s Grand Slam ambitions.

The rain hosed down during the pre-match warm-ups and as the teams took to the field.

Hogg kicked off for Scotland and from a French clearance, Haining had a breenge in the prelude to a gorgeous touch-finer from Russell to within five metres of the French line.

However, a quickly taken lineout by the hosts derailed Scotland’s early momentum and a contact penalty against Chris Harris – who gave an indefatigable lead in defence throughout – after two minutes took France to close to the visitors’ 22.

Gilchrist won Scotland’s first lineout – a settler for George Turner - and Jamie Ritchie successfully gathered the next.

However, a high kick collected by an aerial Gael Fickou and then a probing grubber kick from Romain Ntamack, forced Van Der Merwe to concede a scrum five.

Scotland were in trouble at that scrum and caught offside. Ntamack goaled the opening points (3-0, 8 mins).

From another Gilchrist lineout take, Scotland’s maul cranked into gear and France were penalised as Anthony Jelonch changed his bind.

Russell fired Scotland up the touchline. Gilchrist caught and Turner rampaged forward for France to infringe again.

Déjà vu all over again. Russell, Gilchrist and Turner reprised their roles. Hamish Watson had a tilt, but he was denied, before Van Der Merwe brought his power into the game from close range to muscle over for his seventh try for Scotland, satisfying Wayne Barnes that there had not been a double movement. Russell converted (3-7, 14 mins).

Four minutes later Scotland extended their lead. Russell’s diagonal kick was pursued furiously by Darcy Graham and when Brice Dulin was collared by Ritchie, the flanker’s breakdown nous won a penalty which Russell goaled in front of the posts (3-10, 18 mins).

Another sumptuous touch-finder, this time from Hogg, set up Scotland deep inside the French 22, and a turnover pilfered by Sam Skinner hinted at further opportunity, until a knock-on from Watson.

Into the second quarter, and Scotland’s scrum found its groove and Antoine Dupont had to be at his most quick-witted to escape a fractured heel from his pack.

A breakdown penalty won by French hooker Julien Marchand and then a scrum offence enabled Ntamack to reduce the deficit (6-10, 26 mins).

We saw in the Scotland v Wales game the detrimental effect of accumulative penalties and sadly the pattern was repeated today.

Frustratingly, Scotland conceded a penalty from the restart giving France a chance to rumble from the touchline.

Two further penalties were awarded to the hosts inside the Scotland 22, and from the second, France opted to scrum in the shadow of Scotland’s posts.

The attack was thwarted at the concession of another penalty – and a warning that the next infringement would lead to a yellow card.

Another scrum, France edging forward, before Dupont’s looping miss-pass was gathered by Damian Penaud, who evaded Van Der Merwe’s tackle by stepping closer to the touchline before releasing to Dulin for the try. Ntamack converted superbly from out wide.(13-10, 36 mins).

Just before the break, Price caught a kick ahead and Fickou appeared fortunate not to be pinged for loitering on the wrong side.

However, ball ballooned free, and Gregory Alldritt was almost through. Scotland again scrambled but another penalty saw Hogg sent to the bin.

With the clock in the red, France again opted for the close-range touchline, but Scotland pirated ball and a chance was lost for the home team.

Half-time: France 13 Scotland 10

Scotland’s game management when Russell was yellow-carded at Twickenham was exemplary and the hope for the visitors was that Hogg’s absence for the opening nine minutes of the second-half would not prove their undoing.

Initially, Scotland defended stoically, went through their routines sensibly and a penalty inside their own 22 helped. Haining made inroads but Dulin’s quick tap from a marked Price box-kick, triggered a grand French counter-attack and Virimi Vakatawa released Penaud, whose footballing skill took him beyond the covering Price for France’s second try. Ntamack missed the conversion (18-10, 45 mins).

Hogg returned, his last view from the naughty step was of Scotland winning a scrum penalty, which Russell then thumped into the 22.

Gilchrist was the provider from there and Scotland went through their pick and go repertoire until France were caught offside. Russell goaled the penalty (18-13, 52 mins).

Penaud, daring as ever, launched a stunning French attack from deep in his own half and Russell had to make a crucial saving tackle on Fickou before Scotland again responded with equal pizzazz.

From a lineout, set up by Russell’s penalty, Price arced left and detonated Sam Johnson who was clawed down five metres short by a combination of Fickou and Dulin.

The penalties continued to flow against the French and Scotland continued to opt for the touchline. On the hour it bore fruit.

Gilchrist caught. The ball was switched to Skinner, then Watson. French lock Swan Rebbadj ripped the ball from the contact. It bounced backwards off Fagerson’s back and was gathered with the aplomb of a slip catcher by Scotland’s substitute hooker Dave Cherry who was over for the try. His third for his country in six days! Russell converted and Scotland had the lead (18-20, 61 mins).

A daft lineout penalty gave France the chance to build pressure and a monstrous driving maul set up another penalty chance. Alldritt was at the heart of their next maul and Dupont sent Rebbadj in for the try. Ntamack missed the conversion but the hosts had engineered a lead once more. (23-20, 65 mins).

Scotland kept bouncing back and from another penalty against France, the kick at goal was passed up, yet sadly the lineout went awry.

If that was bad enough, Scotland then had Russell sent off, referee Wayne Barnes ruling that he had made contact to the neck of Dulin as he attempted to fend off the French full-back.

Was the initial contact to the shoulder before slipping up? Initial angles were not conclusive.

Scotland would not give in, however, and France’s replacement scrum-half Baptiste Serin was then yellow carded for maul interference. Again, Scotland opted to play rather than kick at goal. Would they ever be rewarded for that desire?

Ryan Wilson was on for his 50th cap – the 46th Scot to reach that landmark – after a huge shift from Haining.

It had been a monumental effort and you suspected the pure theatre was not over yet. Dulin simply had to kick the ball dead but he gave away a penalty. Zut alors! With the clock in the red, Gilchrist won a lineout on the left and Scotland went through unrelenting phase after phase. Players looked out on their feet, but they were utterly unyielding and ploughed on with the fiercest of determination.

Incredibly, Adam Hastings ultimately gave the scoring pass to Van Der Merwe and it was the sweetest of tries, an astonishing eight for Scotland in ten caps for the big man. Hastings converted for the coup de grace.

Full time: France 23 Scotland 27

France: Brice Dulin; Damian Penaud, Virimi Vakatawa, Arthur Vincent, Gaël Fickou ; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas, Bernard Le Roux, Swan Rebbadj, Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon CAPTAIN, Grégory Alldritt.

Subs: Camille Chat for Marchand (55 mins), Jean-Baptiste Gros for Baille (55 mins), Uini Atonio for Haouas (60 mins), Romain Taofifenua for Le Roux (49 mins), Dylan Cretin, Baptiste Serin for Dupont (71 mins), Anthony Bouthier, Teddy Thomas for Vakatawa (58 mins).

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs) CAPTAIN; Darcy Graham (Edinburgh Rugby), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan Van Der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby), Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Rory Sutherland (Edinburgh Rugby), George Turner, Zander Fagerson (both Glasgow Warriors), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs), Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Nick Haining (all Edinburgh Rugby).

Subs: David Cherry (Edinburgh Rugby)for Turner (58 mins), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors) for Sutherland (49 mins), Simon Berghan (Edinburgh Rugby) for Fagerson (62 mins-67 mins), Alex Craig for Skinner (74 mins) (Gloucester), Ryan Wilson (Glasgow Warriors) for Haining (66 mins), Scott Steele (Harlequins), Adam Hastings (Glasgow Warriors) for Johnson (73 mins), Huw Jones (Glasgow Warriors) for Graham (66 mins)

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England). Assistant Referees: Matthew Carley (England) and Andrea Piardi (Italy). TMO: Tom Foley (England).

Sent off: Finn Russell (Scotland) 70 minutes

Yellow-cards: Stuart Hogg (Scotland) 39 minutes) and Baptiste Serin (72 mins)

Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match: Gael Fickou (France)

live commentary 8:00 PM Friday 26 Mar 2021

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