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Scotland 17 France 36: Relentless France crush Scotland to stay on course for Grand Slam

France's Gael Fickou goes through for the crucial try just before half-time.
France's Gael Fickou goes through for the crucial try just before half-time.

France swept aside Scotland with contemptuous ease to stay on course for a Six Nations Grand Slam with a six-try thrashing at Murrayfield.

The French were awesome in pace and intent and dominated all over the pitch, and Scotland had little answer to them even when they had the ball.

The meagre Scottish attempts to rally in the second half invariably ended in them conceding penalty turnovers at the breakdown.

New face Rory Darge was outstanding and scored Scotland’s first try. But the ball on the ground was a feast for the French all day, and their counterattacks were devastating on Scotland’s much-vaunted defence.

Oddly Scotland might have  actually led at half-time. Stuart Hogg had a glorious chance from a long pass from Chris Harris after the French were split open by Duhan van der Merwe.

But it went off the skippers’ fingertips and any slight chance the Scots had of staying with the relentless visitors was gone.

Scotland clearly outclassed for the first time in a while

This was the first proper case of Scotland being outclassed by anyone since the last World Cup, and the first at Murrayfield for a good while.

There’s no disgrace in losing to this quality French side, unless you were of the belief that this Scottish team were capable of being their equals, which they clearly were not.

Hamish Watson’s absence at the eleventh hour due to Covid was keenly felt, but it’s unlikely he’d have made a crucial difference. Scotland’s depth of cover is nowhere near as deep as France’s.

The visitors started as if they might overwhelm Scotland, who looked a little tentative with the ball in the opening minutes.

Melvyn Jaminet started a personally eventful afternoon by shanking an easy penalty chance. But Antoine Dupont’s brilliance set up the French after just eight minutes.

The French captain fielded a tough bouncing kick from Russell near his own 22 and counterattacked brilliantly. He sliced through the defensive line on a run to the Scotland 22, from there France moved it speedily and Marchand’s off-load found Paul Willemse to score.

Jaminet converted and although Graham’s pressure on the restart brought a quick penalty for Russell, France scored again on 13 minutes.

Jaminet’s 50-22 to an unguarded left touchline put the visitors in position. From the lineout they spun it wide in a whirlwind of offloading, twice keeping it alive on the other touchline through Penaud and Baille for Moefana to score.

TMO decision helps rally Scots to within two points

The Scots were barely in the game and Russell’s fumble of a routine ball seemed to sum up their problems. But a welcome scrum penalty and a TMO decision turned the game.

Jaminet fumbled a high kick to van der Merwe and then took out Sam Skinner off the ball. The French countered on the loose ball, but after long pleas from the Scots to referee Karl Dickson and a TMO discussion, he went back to the offence.

From the penalty Scotland kicked to the corner. Zander Fagerson was held up over the line, but the Scots kept pressing. Ali Price’s sharp pass to Darge punctured the French defensive line for the score, and Russell converted.

But the match swung again on two moments just before the break. First van der Merwe’s searing run through defenders up the middle of the field opened up the French. But Harris’ long pass to Hogg was just off the captain’s fingertips when the line was wide open.

Back came France right on the break with the Scots were stretched wide at either side. They rallied to keep Moefana out on their left but France kept it alive.

Gael Fickou got the ball with lots to do but cut a perfect line outside tackles to score in the corner. Jaminet converted for a 19-10 half-time lead.

One way traffic in the second half

It immediately got worse from Scotland after the break. A promising attack stalled when Price dithered for a moment and was dispossessed on the French 22.

Damian Penaud countered and kicked ahead. A wicked bounce spun away from two Scottish defenders for Jonathan Danty. The recalled centre had an easy, untouched canter to the line, Jaminet converting.

Scotland tried to rally, but their breakdown ball was easy meat for the French now. Turnover after turnover stalled any progress.

Even Darge, who had battled manfully, was stripped in midfield. The French countered again decisively, Penaud having an easy run up the touchline for their fifth try.

The big wing landed the sixth from N’Tamack’s perfect cross-kick to the right touchline. No Scots were within yards of him.

Van der Merwe got reward for a decent afternoon with a consolation try off Blair Kinghorn’s break in the dying moments. But France were worth every bit of handsome victory.

Att 67,144

The teams

Scotland team: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sione Tuipolatu (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh), Stuart McInally (Edinburgh), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs); Nick Haining (Edinburgh) Rory Darge (Glasgow Warriors), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh).

Replacements: George Turner (Glasgow Warriors, for McInally 56), Oli Kebble (Glasgow Warriors for Schoeman 61), WP Nel (Edinburgh, for Fagerson 56), Jamie Hodgson (Edinburgh for Gilchrist 61), Andy Christie (Saracens, for Haining 44), Ben White (London Irish, for Price 69), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh for Russell 61), Mark Bennett (Edinburgh, for Harris 40).

France team: Melvyn Jaminet (Perpignan); Damien Penaud (Clermont-Ferrand), Gael Fickou (Racing 92), Jonathan Danty (Stade Francais), Yoram Moefana (Bordeaux-Begles); Romain N’Tamack (Toulouse), Antoine Dupont (Toulouse, capt); Cyril Baille (Toulouse), Julien Marchand (Toulouse), Uini Antonio (La Rochelle); Cameron Woki (Bordeaux-Begles), Paul Willemse (Montpellier); Francois Cros (Toulouse), Anthony Jelonch (Toulouse), Gregory Alldritt (La Rochelle).

Replacements: Peato Mauvaka (Toulouse, for Marchand 54), Jean-Baptiste Gros (Toulon, for Baille 58), Demba Bamba (Lyon, for Antonio 48), Romain Taofifenua (Toulon, for Willemse 54), Thibaud Flament (Toulouse for Jelonch 54), Dylan Cretin (Lyon, for Woki 67), Maxime Lucu (Bordeaux-Begles for Dupont 73), Tomas Ramos (Toulouse for Jaminet 72).

Ref: Karl Dickson (RFU)

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