x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Six Nations: France finally claim victory but win over Scotland not enough to avoid wooden spoon

The hosts brought the curtain down on a disappointing 6 Nations campaign with a 23-16 win over Scotland in Paris, but were still left propping up the table.

France's Benjamin Kayser looks for a way through the Scotland ranks at the Stade de France.
France's Benjamin Kayser looks for a way through the Scotland ranks at the Stade de France.

Scott Johnson insists Scotland cannot accept half-measures if they are to shake off their tag as international rugby's nearly men, after the caretaker coach watched his side go down to a 23-16 defeat to France.

The hosts collected their first win of the 6 Nations campaign as two quick-fire tries in the second half proved decisive.

Despite their disappointment in the French capital, Scotland finished the tournament tied for third place with Italy on four points.

But Johnson believes the side could have done better had they been tighter in certain key areas.

"We defended really well tonight - I thought we were great in our resolve," he said afterwards.

"But we let ourselves down in other areas. However, I asked the guys at the start of the tournament not to send me out to defend the indefensible. But that never happened. They never put me in that position.

"From a progress point of view, I look at some things and say 'Gee that is fantastic' and then the next day I am disappointed.

"I was really, really proud of our defence tonight. That was superb. But we let ourselves down in some of our kick-return stuff. We dropped a lot of balls and put ourselves under pressure.

"So there has been progress but like all things, it doesn't improve as quick as you'd like.

"But we have got to get rid of this tag that near enough is good enough. We've got to take our opportunities to put teams to bed."

The visitors to had shown guts and determination to hold off continued French assaults in the opening 40 minutes but the pressure finally took its toll as Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard crossed for converted scores within five minutes.

Scotland had led early from the boot of Greig Laidlaw and were tied at 9-9 as the Edinburgh scrum-half and French playmaker Frederic Michalak exchanged penalties before the home tries arrived.

A late Tim Visser touchdown gave the score line a more respectable look than was perhaps deserved but last year's Wooden Spoon winners can at least console themselves with the a third-place finish - their best result since 2006.

They had travelled across the Channel hoping to secure second - only to be dashed before their match had even kicked-off as England's defeat to newly-crowned champions Wales kept them outside of the top two.

Meanwhile, given Italy's surprise win over Ireland, France faced the reality that unless they could register their first win of the tournament following three defeats and a draw, they would end the championship routed to the bottom of the table - a humiliation last suffered in 1999, the same year as Scotland's most recent win in the French capital.

With the wind and rain blowing down upon the match venue in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis, conditions were not going to make the job easy for either side.

And with the downpours enough to sow the seeds of doubt, it was the visitors' Stuart Hogg who showed the first sign of nerves after two minutes of play when he knocked on a long punt, putting his side under immediate pressure.

Winger Sean Maitland saved any blushes with a brave tackle on Michalak and with that let off, the Dark Blues pushed forward, gaining their just rewards after four determined drives into French territory. Laidlaw knocked over the opening penalty of the afternoon following a misdemeanour by the home side at the breakdown.

Yet more handling errors from both sides highlighted the challenges presented by the weather but Laidlaw had adapted well to the circling gusts and doubled Scotland's lead with a second penalty.

Vincent Clerc was brought down as he looked poised to dance his way over while yet more scrambling was required from the away side to prevent Mathieu Bastareaud from battering in for the try.

It was exhausting stuff for Scotland but it was France who ran out of patience and let their under-pressure opponents off the hook with an infringement at their umpteenth try-line ruck.

A dust-up between Hogg and Michalak three minutes after the restart may lead to repercussions for the latter but Welsh referee Nigel Owens made do with a lecture for both.

But the argy-bargy did enough to unsettle Scotland, while Michalak slotted over the home side's first points from a penalty following a collapsed Scots scrum.

When he was not tangling himself in needless squabbles, the 30-year-old Michalak showed he could play too. His guile at fly-half was becoming ever more apparent as he teased the visitors one way and the other. Again the Scots were forced into desperate defence and stepped over the line at the breakdown, handing the French number 10 the chance to slot a second kick over the posts to tie the scores.

The pressure was beginning to build on the Dark Blues and a third penalty was dispatched by the Toulon playmaker to put the French ahead for the first time.

In Laidlaw, though, Scotland have their own Mr Reliable and the Edinburgh scrum-half soon restored parity with his third penalty of the evening.

And yet French hunger for the opening try was not diminished. Neither, though, was the tenacity of Hogg as he bravely blocked the way of Clerc as he burst through the gain-line, holding up the galloping winger single-handedly just yards from disaster.

But he could not repeat the trick as another overload on the right flank proved fateful.

Fofana broke through before brushing off Hogg's despairing lunge before running in to score under the posts with 14 minutes left. Michalak added the extra two points to rub salt into freshly-opened Scottish wounds.

Having defended for their lives for most of the match, the tank was now empty and France added a second touchdown with 10 minutes remaining. Quick ball had been a rarity for them for most of the game thanks to the sheer awkwardness of the visitors but there was little resistance as Medard collected from a ruck and skipped in between the sticks.

With Michalak ruled immobile after dislocating his shoulder, substitute Maxime Machenaud took over kicking responsibilities with a successful conversion to extend the team's lead to 14 points.

That lead was trimmed back to seven, however, as Hogg darted forward before playing in Visser for an easy try, with substitute Ruaridh Jackson converting.

Philippe Saint-Andre, the French coach, had been under pressure after his side lost their first three games of the championship, with their best result before Scotland's visit a 13-13 draw with Ireland.

"It was a difficult match but it had been a reflection of where we had been in the tournament this year," he admitted afterwards.

"We made many opportunities in the first half but we were not patient enough.

"In the second half we scored two great tries but we are still last in the tournament and we have to accept that."

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