By Paul Morgan, editor of Rugby World
Scotland 9 France 18
FRANCE looked ominously good in this win against Scotland they were worth far more than the nine-point winning margin suggests.
Rustiness, Scotland’s stoic defence and lack of execution at the vital time kept the scoreline respectable but the French put in – far and away – the most complete performance of the first weekend, justifying their tag with the bookies of Six Nations favourites.
They will also get better and the other four sides must focus on stopping their possession at source. If scrum, lineout and restarts go this well in the next four games they will be celebrating a Grand Slam at the end of March.
They were in control of so many facets of the game Scotland were forced to rely on opportunist chances and long-range efforts, especially in the second half, when the French took complete control.
Scotland’s biggest worry will have been in the scrum as France won that battle going away. Euan Murray’s return will help this but the performance of the France front five will have made the rest of the Championship sit up and take notice. Great scrummaging, efficient lineout and impressive around the park.
France will definitely wonder how their vast domination in the scrum did not lead to more than 18 points.
But for Scotland they failed to capitalise on their opportunities to score and clinical way the French finished their two tries will worry the other four sides. They made it look too easy.
Nathan Hines was a big positive for Scotland but far and away the best performances came from the so-called Killer Bs, the back row of Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie. And with one of their true world-class players, Euan Murray, back at tighthead against Wales they will be a far better team.
Scotland’s lineout also went well so Warren Gatland would be mad to carry out his implied threat and leave out Alun Wyn Jones, as a disciplinary measure for his trip on Dylan Hartley against England. He will be crucial to Wales’s hopes of gaining parity in the lineout against Scotland.
Morgan Parra – The most complete scrum-half in Europe. Is there anything this guy can’t do – he even kicks goals!
François Trinh-Duc – Impressive with ball in hand but England’s back row will have been delighted to see his half-attempts at tackles during the game. Wilkinson he is not. The other teams may be boosted by France’s error count. They made 20 on the day, but the flip side of that is that they are unlikely to be so careless again.
Imanol Harinordoquy – Some members of the England 2003 World Cup winning team used to call him Harry Ordinary. He was far from that against Scotland and stood like a colossus over the game. He can be a bit greedy at the base of the scrum. A great battle with Heaslip in the making next Saturday.
Sean Lamont – He is clearly thriving in his time at the Scarlets and playing his club rugby mostly at outside centre is giving him a new string to his bow. If only Scotland had supported him and seen the opportunities his breaks brought it could have been different.