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It ain't what you do, it's the place that you do it - and the time

The rugby gods were being lenient when they failed to punish Scotland for the penalties they gave away to Italy in their previous match but they took a dimmer view of Scottish indiscretions at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Max Evans takes on Brice Dulin of France. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Max Evans takes on Brice Dulin of France. Picture: Stewart Attwood

That might have been frustrating for the players and coaches, but they have only themselves to blame.

France were maybe a little lucky to get the penalties where they did, and one or two were probably a bit harsh on Scotland, but most were deserved so we have few grounds for complaint. Scotland were naive in contact, for as the penalty count mounted against them they should have been able to mend their ways. Yes, there were probably some issues of interpretation, but they should have been sorted out long before they became critical. A good side has to be able to think on its feet.

Losing is always painful, but it is generally easier to bear when you can hold up your hand and admit that the other lot were better. Scotland did not have that comfort on Saturday evening. They were better than France in almost every department. But they weren't smart enough to win.

Attention focused on Tim Swinson's infringement at the finish, but the penalty that preceded it, a couple of minutes earlier, was probably more significant. Ryan Wilson had taken the ball into contact near the French 10m line, but Scotland did not get the numbers in there to support. Wilson was pinged for not releasing and France had the field position for their final surge but Scotland should have been flooding the breakdown to guarantee possession. All they had to do at that point was churn through the phases and force France to take risks. In those circumstances, it is usually the defending side that surrenders a penalty. That Scotland gave one away, in that part of the pitch with a one-point lead, was inexcusable.

That's what I mean by decision making. At that point, the thing to do was nail down the game, close out the result. There was no need for the hero play, to take chances. Get the bodies in there, get the ball back, keep doing it and wait for the final whistle.

The salt in Scottish wounds comes from knowing that France are a very ordinary side. It is staggering to think that France are actually still in the title race. They were lucky against England, workmanlike against Italy, wretched against Wales and flat against Scotland. Despite that, they will go up against Ireland on Saturday with a championship potentially at stake.

Scotland gifted victory to France. It goes with the territory of playing stand-off that you will throw the odd interception pass, but Duncan Weir picked the wrong time and place to do it. What on earth was he thinking of when he tried that long miss-pass to Alex Dunbar that led to Yoann Huget's try? There was an easy try on offer for Scotland and no need to take the risk. Hopefully, he'll know what to do next time.

That was France's only real chance, but you had to admire the way they finished the game. Sure, it was a penalty that clinched it, but they looked stronger and more urgent in those closing minutes than they had at any other stage. Scotland, perhaps understandably, were looking heavy legged by then.

Had Scotland won, as they should have done, then this RBS 6 Nations would have been considered a success. On the balance of what they have done over the four matches to date, it would be a fair return to have two entries in the win column this morning. Now, if they want to match what they did last year, when they beat Italy and Ireland, they will need a victory in Cardiff on Saturday.

Tall order. Scotland went four years without winning a championship match away from home, so to win two on the trot really would be asking something. And yet, if you put together all the good things Scotland have done in recent matches (all but the game against England at least) you have a pretty impressive side.

Props Ryan Grant and Geoff Cross were outstanding against France. Stuart Hogg, Weir and Greig Laidlaw all kicked well. The backline is starting to play with confidence and cohesion. All in all, we have the makings of a Scotland team that could be more competitive than any of recent years. But they need to find the consistency that Scott Johnson has demanded. They need to put in an 80-minute performance. Clearly, 78 minutes just isn't enough.

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