Scotland, missing several key men, including Kiwi wing Sean Maitland, edged France 27-23 in dramatic style at Paris’s Stade de France in its round three catch-up clash. The result not only gave Gregor Townsend’s men their first victory in the French capital since he carved up the 1999 Tricolores, but handed the Six Nations title to Wales, watching nervously back in the Principality.
The match finished three tries apiece, a dramatic 85th minute try to wing Duhan van der Merwe the clincher for the gutsy visitors. France had needed a bonus point victory and a margin of 21 points to head Wales, but that was always going to be a tall order in wet conditions, which would have warmed Wayne Pivac’s heart.
France was sloppy in the first half, profligate with possession and skittery with its option-taking. Its scrum, however, should have been the solid foundation off which it could work its game plan.
Van der Merwe scored the first try of the match, but French fullback Brice Dulin, who otherwise had an unhappy night, gave the riposte not long before the break. Wing Damien Penaud slipped his marker, van der Merwe, and gave Dulin the last pass after a scrum move going right. Impeccable, as the French would say.
And when Scotland’s skipper Stuart Hogg was binned just before halftime, the home side had an unlikely lead in the face of fierce Scottish resistance, especially from the pack and a back division that was committed defensively.
Surely fired by some choice words by coach Fabien Galthie, France emerged a different beast in the second spell, playing with more energy and verve. The result was a sweetly taken try by Penaud from a chip and chase after a delightful offload by centre Virimi Vakatawa.
Scotland was not to be outdone, scoring from a lineout drive via replacement hooker Dave Cherry. When French lock Swan Rebbadj crossed, it was 23-18 France with 15 to play. But the drama was only just starting.
Scotland No 10 Finn Russell, who was in fine touch, was sent off for an elbow to the throat of Dulin. It was a fair enough call by referee Wayne Barnes, in charge of his 96th international. That was promptly followed by a dumb play by France’s replacement No 9 Baptiste Serin, which incurred a yellow card.
That was not the last brainless act of the game. At 23-20 to the good, Dulin simply had to kick the ball out at 80 minutes to claim the win, if not the championship. Instead, he dithered and lost the ball. Four minutes later, after umpteen phases, van der Merwe was in the corner for his second try, sparking scenes of joy for the visitors, who have scalped England and France in this Six Nations.
The Welsh were already singing in the valleys, but every rugby person north of Gretna Green was now also in full voice.
Scotland 27 (Duhan van der Merwe 2, Dave Cherry tries; Finn Russell 2 con, 2 pen, Adam Hastings con) France 23 (Brice Dulin, Damien Penaud, Swan Rebbadj tries; Romain Ntamack con, 2 pen) HT: 13-10 France
Final points: Wales 20, France 16, Ireland 15, Scotland 15, England 10, Italy 0