This looked like being a really interesting match to predict, because France have been seemingly unstoppable this year, whilst Scotland have put in some good performances but haven’t been able to get the rewards for them. On paper, it looked obvious who would win, but on the pitch, it was exactly the opposite of that.
France, who have been this year’s form team, didn’t seem to be able to get into their rhythm much in the early stages of this game. They were dropping catches and making lots of errors all of over the pitch. They had a really high penalty count in the first half as a result.
An early yellow card for flanker Francois Cros and the departure of star fly-half Romain Ntamack after only 10 minutes or so seemed to have really rattled them. Their lineouts were scrappy and and they just didn’t seem to be concentrating as they have been so far in this tournament. It looked like a completely different team to the one we have been used to recently. They couldn’t pass well or keep hold of the ball, and just lacked composure all over the place.
The French defence has been one of the strongest things about their team under new head coach Fabien Galthie, with Shaun Edwards as defence coach, but against Scotland it was sloppy, and was struggling under the pressure Scotland were applying to it. It seemed only a short amount of time before it buckled, but in fact France were the team to score a try first.
The try came when France had finally managed to get their attack going, and were putting together some really promising moves. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont was central to it, and he saw the space on the wing and kicked it out there for returning winger Damien Penaud to get hold off and ground well. It was really good to see Penaud back on the rugby field, because he has been one of France’s biggest threats and last year was one of their best players in the Six Nations.
Unfortunately for France, that wasn’t the end of the poor play, because there was a red card shown to prop Mohamed Haouas, and there is nothing to say about this apart from the fact that it was a direct punch to the face of Scotland’s Jamie Ritchie, so was a clear and definite red card.
France obviously came to Murrayfield expecting things to go their way, and just got incredibly frustrated when they didn’t. Credit should go to Scotland for that, because whilst it wasn’t a pretty first half from either side, the home side managed to bring out the old France that we have become so used to in recent seasons.
After conceding one try, Les Bleues’s poor first half was only made worse when they conceded a second try, again scored by Saracens’ winger Sean Maitland, after good work by centre Sam Johnson.
In the second half, it didn’t get much better for France. Even when they were attacking well, they were constantly making mistakes, and that was what was letting them down. One such example was a neck roll during a clearout, whilst another was Ntamack’s substitute Mathieu Jalibert kicking the ball into the hands of Adam Hastings from just a few centimetres away, which allowed Scotland to then clear the ball easily. They just didn’t seem to be able to get anything going at all.
The weather didn’t help them either, because as soon as the rain and the wind came down, it meant that kicking high balls was going to be more risky. That meant that there would be more passing and carrying the ball in hand, which was exactly where France had struggled so far.
They did manage to get a second try late on though. Thomas Ramos had come on at full-back for Anthony Bouthier, who had been really quiet up until then, and he had an instant impact. He was much more direct, and helped to set up the try by adding pace to the attack. He combined with Jalibert and others to move the ball up the field nicely and get it into the phases on the ground. Captain Charles Ollivon was the one to eventually get the try, but ultimately, France didn’t really celebrate it too much because they knew how poor they had been in the game.
Scotland, meanwhile, started the game really well. They didn’t find it easy, and it wasn’t the prettiest of first halves, but it was certainly easier for them to play than it should have been, although that was more down to France than Scotland. The home side were the exact opposite of France; composed on the ball and not rushing things. They weren’t pushing for the ball because they knew that France were happy to let them have it, by way of penalties and turnovers.
Scotland obviously saw how bad the French defence was, because they wanted to kick up the field and then chase it, piling the pressure onto France every time this happened, and it was partly the reason why the normally solid defence was showing some signs of buckling.
The second half is where all of the analysis on Scotland’s good play can be done. They just turned up the intensity after half-time, and Sean Maitland’s try after just five minutes showed just how badly France had been defending. Shaun Edwards must have been furious watching on. As far as the try itself came about, Maitland just stood back from the defence, which created the space he needed to then go over and score. It really wasn’t very difficult at all.
Scotland’s main threat throughout the game was their back line. They had captain Stuart Hogg at full-back, and we know all about his pace and the threat he carries. However, the two wingers, Blair Kinghorn and Maitland, and the two centres Sam Johnson and Gloucester’s Chris Harris, were so impressive throughout the whole of the game, and anything good that Scotland had usually involved one or two of these five players.
Scotland’s third try summed up the match in all honesty. Substitute hooker Stuart McInally threw the ball into a lineout, the French knocked it back towards their line, and McInally picked it up and went over for a very easy try, completely unopposed.
As far as improvements go for Scotland, they will want to work on their lineout, as it was a little unreliable at times in this game, and they will just want to tidy it up before next weekend, but otherwise, everything seemed to come together for them in this game. It was nice to see them winning again, because some of their recent performances have deserved more than they have actually got.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
There were a lot of really good performances in this one. Chris Harris was outstanding, Sean Maitland carried a threat throughout the whole match, but there was one player who had a really good game throughout. Adam Hastings has been criticised by some for inconsistent performances in this tournament, but today he was really good. His kicking was exceptional and very reliable, even from tight angles, so he gets the MOTM award for this game.
Scotland travel to the Principality Stadium to take on Wales in their final game of the 2020 tournament on Saturday lunchtime. France’s final game against Ireland has been postponed, so it is yet to be worked out when that one will be played.