NatWest 6 Nations
Scotland 32-26 France
Greig Laidlaw produced a flawless display from the kicking tee to lead Scotland to a comeback win over France that gets their 2018 6 Nations back on track.
Laidlaw – starting for his country for the first time since this same fixture 12 months ago – slotted 22 points from the tee as Gregor Townsend’s side claimed their second win in a row over France at BT Murrayfield.
Jacques Brunel’s France – downed by Jonathan Sexton’s last-gasp drop goal in Paris last weekend – came agonisingly close after Teddy Thomas’s quickfire double in the first half.
But their ill-discipline cost them dear after the interval as Laidlaw made them pay – adding to Sean Maitland and Huw Jones who both crossed in the first half for the hosts.
Defeat for France extends their winless run to eight games – and they will have their fingers crossed that the injury to Maxime Machenaud is not too serious ahead of their clash with Italy in round three.
While Scotland, after their heavy loss to Wales last time out, will now welcome defending champions England to BT Murrayfield in two weeks’ time with confidence renewed.
After a chastening opening weekend for both sides, it was France who sparked to life quicker at BT Murrayfield.
And wing Thomas picked up where he had left off in Paris, the winger shrugging off tackles for fun with another remarkable solo score cutting in from the right wing inside three minutes.
Machenaud added the extras and a subsequent penalty and Scottish hearts – so full of optimism before their trip to Cardiff a week ago – were beginning to sink.
10-0 down after ten minutes, the hosts needed a response and it was Maitland who provided it, the winger dotting down in the left corner after good work by Jonny Gray and Finn Russell in the build-up.
Russell’s kicking from hand in the first half was leaving a little to be desired while both teams’ defence in the wide channels was porous at best.
And it did not take long for France to strike again, Thomas again the scorer after his chip ahead deceived Laidlaw and allowed the Racing 92 star to collect and round under the posts.
Machenaud’s extras made it 17-7 but Scotland, cheered on by a vociferous home crowd, kept coming and they had their second try soon after.
Jones’ quick hands had put Seymour away for the initial break and when the ball came back left, the centre cut a lovely line off Laidlaw to ghost under the posts.
Laidlaw added the extras but his opposite man Machenaud had the final say in a breathless first half, slotting his second penalty and Les Bleus led 20-14 at the interval.
That was the No.9’s last involvement however, he was withdrawn through injury at the break for Baptiste Serin as France’s rotten luck with injury in the half-backs continued.
Serin looked settled right away, slotting a long-range penalty either side of two Laidlaw kicks as the start of the second half was littered with ill-discipline.
Now only trailing 23-20, the hosts should have been building momentum but Russell’s kicking from hand remained patchy and France came storming back.
The impressive Geoffrey Doumayrou made the initial break down the right and while Virimi Vakatawa bashed away from close range, Scottish defence held firm. Play came back for an earlier penalty however, and Serin pushed the lead back out to six points.
But the pattern continued, France conceding a penalty just moments after scoring one and again Laidlaw was nerveless to make it 26-23.
Replacements were introduced after the hour mark, Louis Picamoles back at the base of the scrum for France but a scrum penalty for Scotland gave Laidlaw another chance and once again the British & Irish Lion did the damage and the scores were level.
Lionel Beauxis – starting his first game for France in six years – then had a horrible minute where he knocked on and then threw a suicidal offload on his own try line to put Geoffrey Palis in all sorts of trouble.
That laid the platform for Scotland to come again and when referee John Lacey again pinged France, Laidlaw – now at fly-half instead of Russell – put the hosts in front for the first time.
France made a Championship-high 253 tackles last week in Paris against Ireland and that appeared to be taking its toll in a nervous second half as Laidlaw twisted the knife with his sixth penalty soon after.
Scotland led 32-26 and while France tried to muster one final response, it was not to be as man of the match Laidlaw sent the ball into the stands to cap a dramatic win.