Guinness Six Nations
France 23-27 Scotland
France missed out on their first Guinness Six Nations title in 11 years, as Scotland claimed a late victory at the Stade de France to hand Wales the trophy.
Duhan van der Merwe crossed in the 86th minute to complete a pulsating game and thrilling Championship, and earn Scotland a first away win in France since 1999.
Van der Merwe’s try made little difference to the destination of the title, with France set to fall short regardless of whether they won or lost at the death.
Les Bleus needed to cross at least four times and to win by at least 21 points but they could only score three and never truly threatened to run away with the game.
The re-arranged Round 3 fixture was still packed with drama, with six tries scored and both sides down to 14 men at the end.
Brice Dulin, Damian Penaud and Swan Rebbadj scored tries for France but their largest lead was just eight points, as dogged Scotland kept them within sight.
Van der Merwe also crossed for a first-half try and Dave Cherry burrowed over late in the second half for Scotland, before Adam Hastings’ long, looping pass set the winger free in the left corner to win it.
Scotland regain the Auld Alliance Trophy and have now won three of their last four Championship matches with Les Bleus.
France’s 2021 Championship started in beautiful Rome sunshine but ended in pouring Paris rain, only adding to the drama ahead of kick-off at the Stade de France.
Both teams made handling errors in the first few minutes and it was clear that this would be a battle of will, as much as a battle of skill.
Gael Fickou showed both when he chased an Antoine Dupont kick, outjumped Darcy Graham and caught the ball, setting up an attack that ended with a France penalty and an easy three points for Romain Ntamack.
However, Scotland arrived with ambitions of a second-placed finish and were not going to roll over. They hit back with aplomb, Van der Merwe burrowing his way over the line from a metre out after a well-executed lineout to put the visitors on top.
Russell, who plays club rugby in Paris with Racing 92, extended Scotland’s lead to seven with a penalty in front of the posts and, even though the game was just 20 minutes old, Wales supporters must have felt quietly confident as France struggled to gain traction in the match.
The hosts responded seven minutes after as Ntamack’s second penalty cut the gap to four and they then lay siege to the Scotland line, trying to muscle their way over for the first try.
Scotland held firm for more than five minutes, although conceded four penalties under the posts, but France finally made their pressure tell when Penaud beat Van der Merwe on the wing and flicked a pass inside to Dulin, who crossed.
With that score, the momentum changed and France nearly scored a second before half-time after a powerful carry from Gregory Alldritt took France into the Scotland 22 and the visitors, through desperation, conceded another penalty which cost them.
Stuart Hogg was sin-binned for being off his feet and France kicked to the corner to set up a lineout with the last play of the half. However, Scotland stole it and kept the score to 13-10 at the break.
France had not scored a second-half try in two of their last three Championship home games against Scotland but started this 40 needing three to have a shot at the title.
They started like a side in a hurry, with Fickou driving upfield and carrying Scotland to the five-metre line but the defence held firm and won a penalty.
However, the hosts, desperate to take advantage of Hogg being off the field, scored a brilliant try through Penaud, who collected a fabulous offload from Virimi Vakatawa, chipped the ball over Russell and sprinted to the line.
The winger just got to the bouncing ball before Ali Price and flopped on it to score and put France eight points up, with Ntamack missing the conversion.
Scotland responded well, winning a penalty in front of the posts which Russell converted, and almost scoring a try from a superb Sam Johnson break.
Johnson was held up short and then pushed ten metres backwards by an excellent Camille Chat tackle, but Scotland won a penalty and kicked to the corner.
Cherry hit Grant Gilchrist with his lineout and the second row immediately palmed it off to Watson, as Scotland shifted the focal point of their driving maul. France managed to strip the ball from Watson but Cherry reacted first, pounced on the loose ball and dotted down.
Russell’s conversion put the visitors two points ahead with 20 minutes to go, all but ending France’s hopes of becoming champions.
However, there was a still a match to be won and France weren’t going to give in without a fight. They regained the lead in the 66th minute through second row Rebbadj, who slid over from a metre out.
Scotland, seeking their second away win of the Championship, were desperate to get back on top and their next trip to the 22 looked set to produce another try, as Russell aimed to take advantage of an overlap down the right.
The fly-half put his head down and ran into Dulin but the TMO caught him leading with his arm into Dulin’s neck, leaving Wayne Barnes little choice but to send him off for foul play.
France couldn’t keep their one-man advantage though, as replacement scrum-half Serin went to the sin-bin just two minutes after coming on and Scotland’s late pressure told.
It initially looked like France would see it out when they won a turnover on their own five-metre line past the 80th minute, but Dulin elected not to kick it out and end the game.
Instead he carried into contact, Scotland won a penalty and from there they went through more than 20 phases before Hastings fired a long pass out to Van der Merwe, who stepped inside to score.