What you need to know about Scotland’s 32-26 win over France in the Six Nations
Scotland 32-26 France Talking Points
It was a nip-tuck affair, particularly in a frenetic first half that saw both sides show a lot of ambition in attack and score two tries apiece – Teddy Thomas with a brace for France, and Sean Maitland and Huw Jones crossing for Scotland.
In the second half it all came down to the kicks – Baptiste Serin slotted two for France but Laidlaw was masterful as he continued to make the visitors pay for their infringements.
It was a more balanced performance from Scotland than in last week’s defeat by Wales, although they will most likely need to improve further if they are to beat England in the Calcutta Cup in a fortnight.
Here are the big talking points from the game…
Laidlaw punishes French ill-discipline
France gave away far too many kickable penalties in the second half. Greig Laidlaw slotted six penalties in the second 40 to put Scotland in front as Les Bleus were continually penalised in their own 22.
Laidlaw may not be considered as exciting a player as Ali Price, but his accuracy from the tee came to the fore and closed out a memorable win.
Captain John Barclay highlighted afterwards how Scotland’s ability to play at tempo in that second period, forced the errors from France as the visitors couldn’t continually defend legally at the breakdown.
Those teams yet to play France will pay close attention to the visitors’ penalty count. When Scotland put the pressure on in the French half, the players in blue were regularly pinged by John Lacey. In all they conceded 13 penalties to Scotland’s ten – but it was the position in which they conceded those penalties, deep in their own half, that proved decisive.
France will need to improve their discipline – and particularly where they concede penalties – if they are to win games in this championship.
A problem area for Scotland recently has been their lack of powerful ball-carriers to get across the gain-line.
In Wales last week they were criticised for going wide before going forward. Here there was a change in approach. Yes, they were still looking to go wide but they also had players looking to make yards through the middle.
Grant Gilchrist was promoted from the bench to the starting line-up for this match and his red headguard regularly popped up as Scotland used carriers off rucks to gain those extra metres. The three starting front-rowers were also used effectively in this facet, particularly Simon Berghan, who made 12 carries. The Scots as a team achieved more penetration than they had in Cardiff.
The best line of all came from Huw Jones in the 32nd minute. After the likes of Gilchrist had made ground into the French 22, Greig Laidlaw fed the ball to Jones and the outside-centre timed his run to perfection to cut between two French defenders on the angle.
Teddy Thomas scored a fantastic try against Ireland last week and bettered that by crossing twice in the first half-hour here.
For the first, scored inside three minutes, he sprinted down the wing past Finn Russell and then cut inside to evade Stuart Hogg’s attempted tackle and touch down.
The second came when he kicked over Hogg, chased hard and as the ball bounced away from the retreating Greig Laidlaw it fell into Thomas’s path. He eagerly accepted the kind bounce of the ball and cantered over.
He may not be the most solid of wings in defence but he certainly entertains with ball in hand. Expect more from him in this championship.
Related: Who is Teddy Thomas?
At Twickenham yesterday, George Ford and Owen Farrell offered a masterclass in kicking out of hand. At Murrayfield we did not see the same. There was plenty of kicking, but much was not only inaccurate but it presented the opposition with chances.
Related: England 12-6 Wales match report
Finn Russell is known for his speed of thought but sometimes he needs to take that second or two longer.
He looked to send one first-half penalty deep into the French 22, took it quickly and sent it dead. Back they came for a France scrum close to halfway.
On another occasion he kicked the ball straight out as he looked to gain territory and he missed touch with a penalty early in the second half too.
On the whole both teams kicked too often to the opposition back three, giving them the possession and space to launch counter-attacks.
In the second half it was interesting to see that Russell and Stuart Hogg opted to attack the line more often and this brought its own rewards in the penalties that Greig Laidlaw sent through the posts.
The French are often criticised for not putting the same onus on fitness as other nations do. There have been tales of British and Irish players joining Top 14 clubs and being shocked by the lack of focus put into conditioning programmes.
France No 8 Louis Picamoles even spoke about the improvements he made in terms of his fitness while at Northampton last season.
Now, though, there seems to be a new breed of athletic French forwards. The likes of Arthur Iturria, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Wenceslas Lauret and Yacouba Camara are comfortable in the loose as well as the tight – and add a different dimension when not simply used as carriers from close range.
Scotland – Tries: Maitland, Jones. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pens: Laidlaw 6.
France – Tries: Thomas 2. Cons: Machenaud 2. Pens: Machenaud 2, Serin 2.