Six Nations 2021: France v Scotland

The final game of the 2021 Six Nations tournament had a lot riding on it, with France looking to take the title away from Wales, having taken the Grand Slam away from them last week, whilst Scotland knew that a big win could see them finish second in the table. For France, the conditions were clear; win by 21 points AND score four tries or more, and the title was theirs. If one or both of those wasn’t met, Wales would be champions. This all made for a nerve-racking encounter, but a thoroughly enjoyable one as well.

France didn’t look to kick overhead too often in the early parts of the match, instead choosing to move the ball along the ground instead. This was because we know how good Scotland are in the air, with captain and full-back Stuart Hogg particularly influential there, so, by kicking the ball along the ground, France were asking different questions of Scotland’s back line, as well as keeping the visitors on the back foot.

However, it was noticeable that France lacked confidence, which is not something we have said about them too often this year. This was perhaps because of the importance of the match, but they didn’t seem to be in the game at all until they got their second penalty. However, after this, they had more creativity and looked sharper in more parts of the game, using dummy runs and scissor passes to create options, and Scotland struggled to hold them back. The away side’s discipline was starting to crack because of this newfound energy, and France full-back Brice Dulin’s try after a long pass from scrum-half Antoine Dupont highlighted how they were on top in the closing stages of the first half. This meant that France had something to be positive about at half-time, and gave them something to build on afterwards too.

The home side knew there was space behind Scotland’s defence available for them to attack, and they just had to keep pushing forwards to get to it. Their key players moved into the Scotland line as well, continuing to add the attacking presence they had shown at the end of the first half. They were giving everything they had, including attacking from the back, and Dulin was always driving forwards from there whenever he got the ball. They needed to keep possession in this way, rather than kicking it, because they had to find a way to score the tries they required. The fact that powerful centres Virimi Vakatawa and Arthur Vincent always got up to support Dulin reflected how this was clearly something they were using to keep themselves in control of the match.

It should be said that both sides were playing attacking rather than defensive rugby, for obvious reasons. However, because of this, both cancelled each other out on the whole, with lock Swan Rebbadj scoring a try shortly after Scotland had got one for themselves, but what was particularly notable about Rebbadj’s was that he crouched as he went for the line, thereby ensuring he could get the ball over it. This was clever play, and showed how France had regained their confidence following their slow start to the game.

Both sides went back to basics after half-time, with not too much creativity on show from either team, but both simply looked to crash into each other’s defences to gain ground. However, they struggled to break each other down, leading to an end-to-end game, but with not much end product; this wasn’t helping either side at this point. France’s defence in particular had been open at times, but they managed to keep Scotland out in key moments on the whole. However, they couldn’t do so at the end, which was unfortunate and would have been so disheartening for them.

Scotland, meanwhile, scored their first try when winger Duhan van der Merwe found space to go over the line, with France unable to shut the door completely on him. They had some strong general attacking play, leading to a good overall start from them. Their game plan meant that they were happy for France to run at them, and then to clear the ball whenever they reclaimed it. This meant that France were unable to find the breakthrough that they were looking for, giving Scotland confidence in their tactics.

However, what let them down at times was their discipline. We have mentioned how France scored their first try when Brice Dulin went over from Antoine Dupont’s pass, but the fact that Stuart Hogg was in the bin at this point meant that they lacked their usual leadership qualities at the back, even if the pass was slightly fortunate from Dupont.

In the second half, Scotland had to rely more on their key defensive players, such as centre Chris Harris. The Gloucester back was outstanding at the back, making tackles on the front and back foot, and defended as we know he does on a regular basis for the Kingsholm side in the Premiership. With Hogg in the bin, his presence stopped France scoring when in the ascendency in the early stages of the second half.

The weather was definitely playing it’s part in the game, with both sides struggling aerially and seeing the ball slip through their fingers, but Scotland still had their opportunities to score. On one occasion, centre Sam Johnson ran through a gap and almost made it to the line, with France giving Scotland just enough space to play their attacking rugby, and replacement hooker David Cherry’s try seemed inevitable, given the pressure Scotland were putting France under. France were giving away a lot of penalties, meaning Scotland had opportunities to advance up the pitch, and Cherry’s try came from one of these.

Their late try, which came well after the 80 minutes were up, came after Scotland had put together 19 or 20 phases of play, continually pushing against the French defence, but they were struggling to find a way through to score the try. Eventually, they did exactly what France did to Wales last week, with substitute Adam Hastings passing out to van der Merwe on the wing, who went over the line in space. France deserve credit for keeping going, but Scotland will be delighted that they managed to find a way through to claim their first win in Paris in 20 years. This dogged determination and desire to never give up also highlights why Scotland have been the team to watch this year, and why they look back to their best.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

There were several outstanding individual performances on both sides. For Scotland, Chris Harris was brilliant throughout, Stuart Hogg put in a captain’s performance from the back (sin bin aside), and the usual suspects like flankers Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie were as excellent as they always are. France substitute flanker Anthony Jelonch was involved in a lot of good play after he came on, but Brice Dulin gets it for the second week in a row. The full-back was constantly on the front foot, getting France into good positions whenever he got the ball, and he was good in defence too. It was another solid performance from him, and he was unlucky to be on the losing side at the end.

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