Report | France 32-21 Scotland
Scotland’s bid for a third-straight win in the 2023 Guinness Six Nations came to an end in an absorbing Test match against reigning champions France in Paris.
Previous wins on French soil have been few and far between, with three modern day victories in 2021, 1999 and 1995 evidence of how tall an order such a feat is. Scotland had, however, reason for optimism, with six wins from their past eight championship games away from BT Murrayfield.
That optimism gave way for early concern, though, as France came racing out of the blocks in their own quest to right the wrongs of defeat to Ireland in the previous round of fixtures.
With barely five minutes on the clock, against the backdrop of a raucous and expectant Stade de France, the hosts got their afternoon off to a flyer when Romain Ntamack dotted down five minutes in, after a number of telling carries from the home pack.
The game took an unexpected early turn when referee Nika Amashukeli sought to assess a potential high tackle by Grant Gilchrist, the result of which saw Scotland’s vice-captain given a red card.
And in the moments that followed, as Scotland tried to regroup, France added a second try through wing Ethan Dumortier, with Ntamack turning provider as a 12-point lead was earned in no time.
It seemed like this Test would throw up more mayhem the longer it went on and so it proved when Mohamed Haouas, who was sent off in this fixture three years ago for aiming a punch at Jamie Ritchie, was in the dock once more, this time for aiming his head at Ben White’s, the punishment a very necessary red card.
Scotland went so close to clawing the deficit back, only for Zander Fagerson’s reach for the line to agonisingly fall short. To add insult, Thomas Ramos then intercepted Finn Russell’s double miss-pass to race away for a third France try, which he converted, to make it 19-0 after as many minutes.
A thunderous opening quarter from the hosts had the Stade de France in jubilant mood – a mood punctured by a Scottish counter that gave rise to the visitors’ own credentials. Russell timed his pass to the onrushing Huw Jones perfectly, the centre crashing over for a 14th international try to breathe life into proceedings.
France looked to hit back immediately and were it not for a terrific Stuart Hogg turnover, might have scored a fourth try. And when Romain Ntamack fluffed a drop-goal attempt, it looked like Scotland might escape, only for Ramos to knock over a penalty when Matt Fagerson went into a ruck off his feet.
15 points the difference, then, which is how it remained until the denouement of a spellbinding first half.
HALF-TIME: France 22-7 Scotland
Scotland needed to land the first blow in the second half and it was that man Jones who delivered as he so often has on the biggest stage. The centre broke the gain line with trademark intent and when the home side were scrambling to defend multiple Scottish attempts to barge over from close range, Jones took a clever pop pass from Sione Tuipulotu to wrestle and writhe his way over for a second of the afternoon.
As the hour-mark approached, and when Scotland looked like they were threatening another incredible comeback in the French capital, Ramos added a second penalty to calm the hosts’ nerves.
Such calm was replaced with serious fear when Finn Russell added a third Scottish try after 68 minutes. So often the creator of magical moments, the stand-off turned try scorer when darting through a beleaguered home defence after a series of scrum penalties left France again scrambling to cover. The conversion made it 25-21, Scotland having at one stage been 19 points adrift.
An heroic Scottish effort was displaying all the signs of one of the country’s great Test wins, but France held firm in front of a nervous capacity Stade de France. Gael Fickou, named Player of the Match, put gloss on his side’s eventual victory with a late try to end what was a truly titanic tussle.
Scotland, for their part, host Ireland in round four of the Guinness Six Nations, at BT Murrayfield on Sunday 12 March, where the possibility of a Triple Crown sure to provide ample motivation.
FULL-TIME: France 32-21 Scotland
France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont CAPTAIN; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohamed Haouas; Thibaud Flament, Paul Willemse; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Aldritt.
Subs: Gaetan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Sekou Macalou, Baptiste Couilloud, Matthieu Jalibert.
Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs); Kyle Steyn, Huw Jones, Sione Tuipulotu (all Glasgow Warriors), Duhan van der Merwe (Edinburgh Rugby); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ben White (London Irish); Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh Rugby), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby), Richie Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie CAPTAIN, Hamish Watson (all Edinburgh Rugby), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).
Subs: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors) for Turner (63 mins), Jamie Bhatti (Glasgow Warriors) for Schoeman (63 mins), WP Nel (Edinburgh Rugby) for Z Fagerson (63 mins), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs) for Watson (11 mins), Sam Skinner (Edinburgh Rugby) for R Gray (71 mins), Jack Dempsey (Glasgow Warriors) for M Fagerson (58 mins), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors) for White (58 mins). Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh Rugby), for Steyn (69 mins).
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (GRU)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (RFU) and Andrea Piardi (FIR)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
GUINNESS Player of the Match: Gael Fickou (France)