Autumn Nations Cup: Scotland 15-22 France

Scotland’s Autumn Nations Cup fate is out of their own hands after they fell to a frantic defeat by France at Murrayfield.

Stuart Hogg Autumn National Cup
Stuart Hogg had a failed attempted kick to touch in the closing moments of the game

Their hopes of reaching Autumn National Cup final now rest on whether Italy can beat France in Paris next week.

The sides were level at the break, but within minutes of the restart Virimi Vakatawa claimed the game’s only try.

Scotland had to hang on against repeated French attacks, but their brave defending went unrewarded.

Gregor Townsend’s side were aiming for a sixth consecutive Test win for only the third time ever, and the first since 1990, but they were never in a winning position against the French.

France’s win ends a run of four successive defeats at Murrayfield, and is their first win in Edinburgh since 2014.

First half kicking duel

The last meeting of these sides delivered all sorts of fireworks; a red card for the French when Mohamed Haouas punched Jamie Ritchie in the gob, a complaint from France that Nick Haining should have been sent off too, for making contact with Haouas’ eyes and, of course, a Scotland victory – their fourth in a row against the visitors in Edinburgh.

There was saucy recent history, then. France arrived with intent and no end of power, their first big maul of the day reaping a penalty which Ramos banged over. The full-back put over another within minutes after Kinghorn just about won a chase to the line ahead of Vakatawa. When play returned for the penalty, Ramos made it 6-0.

These were slightly ominous moments for the Scots, but they’re made of sterner stuff these days. In the past they may have let the scoreboard get away from them. This time, they dug in and clawed their way back. Weir, goal-kicking like an angel, made it 6-3 and then levelled it when Gregory Alldritt got done at a breakdown.

The kicking duel carried on. France tried to unleash their horses but Scotland’s defence halted them. Jalibert, having seen enough of the power game, dropped back and dropped a goal instead. Weir replied when Dylan Cretin failed to roll away after sustained Scotland pressure; 9-9.

Two further penalties made it 12-12 before a compelling end to the half. France had a lineout five metres out and a maul that looked incapable of being stopped. They worked it to the line and fired up their heavies. You’d have bet the house on them breaking through, but they didn’t. Held up, they retreated with something approaching fury etched on their face.

Scotland have to hang on

Not for long, though. Their first attack of the new half saw an altogether different outcome. Precious little was seen of France’s lethal runners to that point. Antoine Dupont was quiet, Gael Fickou had offered nothing, Vakatawa was hushed.

Duncan Weir
Duncan Weir scored five penalties for Scotland

That changed inside two minutes. A solid French scrum, a Fickou pass to Vincent Rattez and Scotland were in trouble. The wing sliced through and found Vakatawa on his shoulder. With that momentum and from that range, there was nothing that could be done to stop him, though Stuart Hogg did his damndest.

The conversion made it 19-12, but a fifth Weir penalty narrowed the gap in quick order. How Scotland survived the next 10 minutes conceding only three points was a minor miracle – or a testament to their scramble defence.

France’s forwards dominated the breakdown, their backs became influential, their ball was quicker and their threat grew. They launched a couple of mauls that motored downfield. Scotland were hanging on, closer and closer to their own line. Eventually, they made a call that a guaranteed three points was better than banging away all night for five or seven. Ramos put it over. A seven-point gap now.

The endgame was scrappy and bizarre. Scotland were awarded a lineout five metres from the French line despite Hogg shoving Fickou in the back off the ball in the preamble. A huge opportunity – and a huge French defensive set, Dylan Cretin ruining Scotland’s big chance. France then had a penalty in their own half, Ramos opted for goal, in part to wind the clock down, then rushed it for some reason.

His kick fell short. France regained it and kicked it out on full. Scotland regained it and with time practically up they had a penalty. Hogg went for touch – and kicked it dead. A slapstick end to a battle. A full stop on Scotland’s winning run.

Scotland: Hogg (c); Kinghorn, Harris, Johnson, Van der Merwe, Weir, Price; Kebble, Brown, Berghan; Cummings, Gray; Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson.
Replacements: Turner, Bhatti, Z Fagerson, Skinner, Thomson, Hidalgo-Clyne, Taylor, Maitland.

France: Ramos; Thomas, Vakatawa, Fickou, Rattez; Jalibert, Dupont; Gros, Chat, Bamba; Le Roux, Taofifenua; Cretin, Ollivon (c), Alldritt
Replacements: Marchand, Baille, Haouas, Willemse, Woki, Couilloud, Carbonel, Vincent