Scotland 17-19 France: Lessons Learned from Six Nations Clash
Scotland contrived to conjure a defeat from a game they dominated against an abject French side, leaving Les Bleus in with a shout of still claiming this year’s Six Nations title. France is tied for first with Ireland and England on six points going into the final matchday, though trails both on point differential. Scotland is second from the bottom.
This was a vastly improved performance to that produced by Scott Johnson’s side in their last outing at Murrayfield when they failed to register a single point against England.
But they somehow ended up on the wrong side of the ledger thanks to a moment of madness from the hero of the last round, Duncan Weir, and a last-gasp infringement that handed France the match.
Here’s what we learned.
Super Rugby Ref Makes Breakdown a Different Ballgame
New Zealand's Chris Pollock applied the style of breakdown officiating often seen in the Super XV.
He insisted the tackler had to leave the man and ball alone on the floor to ensure a more fluid recycling of the ball from the ruck, and he penalised both sides for not toeing the line in this area throughout the game.
But, crucially, the last penalty of the day fell France’s way as Tim Swinson grappled for the ball after bringing his man down, and France stole the game.
Adapting to the way a referee polices the tackle area is key to stopping a constant stream of penalties against you at the highest level, and Scotland learned this the hard way.
Weir’s Wobble Cost Scotland the Game
Scotland looked poised to inflict the killer blow in the second half when they turned over a French line-out and immediately had a three-on-two scenario.
Rather than use that simple numerical advantage, Duncan Weir slung a looping pass out that was picked off by Yoann Huget to bring France right back into a game they had no right to be anywhere close to winning.
Weir will probably relive that moment for a good few days to come, but you can bet he won't do it again in a hurry.
Bastareaud Is Doing France No Good
Mathieu Bastareaud’s inability to look outside him cost France a certain try following a great break by early in the game.
With Scotland struggling to string their defensive lineout, rather than stretch them to breaking point, Bastareaud put his head down and tried to barrel his way through two defenders.
It was a perfect example of how the Toulon man—whilst effective at trucking the ball up—has only that dimension to his game and is stifling the French back line.
His work at the breakdown in defence was excellent on more than once occasion, but as an outside centre he is severely limited.
French Tactics Are in a Mess
France effectively handed Scotland the lion’s share of possession with an awful kicking game and desperate back play.
Jules Plisson achieved neither distance nor direction with much of his kicking from hand, and their only try came from a Scottish mistake.
In the second half, the longest they spent in Scottish territory was when Yoann Huget raced away for his try.
They might be missing many of their first-choice players, but this French side simply doesn’t seem to know how its coach wants it to play.