Scotland produced their best performance in years to defeat France 29-18 and hand the Six Nations title to unbeaten England at Murrayfield yesterday. Vern Cotter’s side ran in three tries to two as they ran up back-to-back wins in the tournament for the first time in three years, and in the process secured their first win over France in 10 years.
A win over Ireland in Dublin next week could give the Scots a creditable third place finish while the French will host England in Paris with their championship hopes in tatters.
France came into the match needing to win by a big margin to harbour any realistic hopes of overtaking unbeaten England for the Six Nations title. Coach Guy Noves brought in potent firepower in the back division in the shape of Wesley Fofana, Gael Fickou and Scott Spedding, looking for a cutting edge that was missing in the loss to Wales.
His Scottish counterpart and close friend from their Top 14 club rivalry, Vern Cotter, opted for stability on the back of the away win over Italy with just two changes - Alex Dunbar in at centre for the injured Matt Scott and Josh Strauss adding some bulk to the back row.
Scotland charged into the French 22 from the off, but on the counter attack the visitors broke clear through the middle. The ball was worked out to winger Virimi Vakatawa, who fed inside to Fofana and he found skipper Guilhem Guirado at his shoulder to charge over for the opening score. Fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc missed the conversion and he then sent wide a straightforward penalty attempt wide as France turned on the early pressure.
Scrum-half Greig Laidlaw, winning his 50th cap for Scotland and 25th as skipper, then opened his side’s account with two easy penalties after 15 and 20 minutes as the Scottish pack drove forward. Against the run of play Scotland had their noses in front at 6-5 and it brought a period of sustained pressure from the home side. Duncan Taylor first punched a hole in French defence and then Richie Grey powered to just short of the line. Laidlaw spun the ball out from the breakdown and Stuart Hogg jinked his way over.
Laidlaw missed the conversion, but four minutes later Taylor broke clear from near his own 22-metre line puncturing some sloppy French defending and racing the length of the field to touch down for a superb individual try.
This time Laidlaw converted and suddenly it was 18-5 for the home side.
France needed a quick response before half-time and they got it right on the whistle as Fickou darted over after a multi-phase action.
Trinh-Duc finally found his range to send the sides in at 18-12 for Scotland.
A long-range Hogg penalty eased Scotland ahead 21-12 five minutes into the second half only for scrum-half Maxime Machenaud to reply in kind three minutes later.
France turned down another penalty award in search of a third try, but the Scottish defence held firm. Shortly afterwards Machenaud reduced the deficit to three points from much further out after another Scottish infringment.
Scotland worked their way deep into French territory from the kickoff and two charging runs from Richie Gray and Willem Nel to just short of the line fixed the French defence and Tim Visser dived over in the corner on a tap-on pass from Hogg when the ball was swung left.
The Scots had a 26-18 lead with 10 minutes to go and another Laidlaw penalty gave his side some breathing space at 29-18.
Fickou sped over for a desperate France, but he was called back by the referee allowing Hogg to clear the danger and secure a famous win.
France’s Damien Chouly (centre) catches the ball in the line-out during the Six Nations international rugby union match against Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh, Scotland yesterday. (AFP)