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Scotland 17 France 19: Bucket list of ways to lose growing longer each week

SCOTLAND have found yet another way to lose a Test match.

Maxime Machenaud of France, who scored three penalties and a conversion, thumps the ball as Scotland captain Kelly Brown, far left, can only look on. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Maxime Machenaud of France, who scored three penalties and a conversion, thumps the ball as Scotland captain Kelly Brown, far left, can only look on. Picture: Stewart Attwood

This latest entry on their ignominious bucket list was an exercise in sheer perversity in which they had the better of so many parts of the game yet still contrived to end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.

You pitied any poor parent who had to explain the result to a disconsolate child as they walked away from Murrayfield on Saturday evening. Scotland wiped France for possession and territory, scored two tries to France's one and absolutely dominated the lineout. For most of the game they looked the sharper and more eager, while France looked nervy and uncomfortable. France, frankly, were there for the taking.

That Scotland could not finish the job came down to their profligacy, their inattention and their failure to play the referee correctly at the breakdown. They had enough ball to win this game three times over, but they stuffed it up because they gave Chris Pollock too many chances to penalise them. Afterwards, coach Scott Johnson expressed frustration with the inconsistency of referees, but there was a powerful impression here that Pollock was firm and fair in his decision-making and pretty clear what he wanted players to do.

On his microphone, Pollock could be heard barking instructions at Tim Swinson in the critical play that led to Jean-Marc Doussain's winning penalty two minutes from the end. The Scotland lock said later that he did not hear Pollock and he did not feel he was near the ball.

In the tumult of a Test match, that response might be valid, but it is inexcusable that Scotland dominated the game as a whole yet somehow contrived to cough up 13 penalties to France's five.

Of course, the other significant swing in favour of France had come just five minutes into the second half. Then, having just robbed France of possession at a maul, Scotland streamed forward at pace, an overlap beckoning on the left side - three quick passes for a certain try. Inexplicably, however, Duncan Weir tried to throw a miss-pass to Alex Dunbar, Yohann Huget read it perfectly, took the intercept and shot away for his try. Seven points on the board - Maxime Machenaud had an easy conversion - but in reality a 14-point swing.

Anyone know the French for déjà vu? France coach Philippe Saint-André certainly does. While Huget raced off towards the Scottish try-line, Saint-André's mind was probably racing back 20 years, to that moment at Murrayfield in 1994 when Scotland's tyro fly-half Gregor Townsend threw a badly judged pass and he plucked the ball from the air and sprinted away to score a try for France. If Weir is looking for sympathy when he goes back to Glasgow Warriors, his coach might be a good first point of contact.

Townsend redeemed himself in the years ahead. Weir had partially atoned for his error within a few minutes, showing the strength of character to step up and volunteer to take the awkward penalty that nudged Scotland back in front, 17-16, a strike that seemed to have settled the result until Doussain's effort at the end.

The most maddening part was that Scotland were so much better than France in so many areas. If the fundamentals of rugby are to have some forwards who can win ball and some backs who can do something with it, then they covered the basics pretty well. But when Weir gave France the ball, he gave them hope as well, and France will always be dangerous when they have that.

"We are paid professionals and have to acknowledge where we let ourselves down," said Johnson. "What disappointed me was the second last penalty [when Ryan Wilson turned over possession] not so much the last. We had the ball and control of the game with four minutes to go. We could have milked it out. We didn't do that and that disappointed us.

"It is easy to go to the ending, what caused the ending. It is where you go. We will look at where we need to improve. There will always be honesty. All our boys are big boys but there was great character in this side. Once we fix a few things up we will have a pretty good team here."

It is certainly a far better team than the one that played so miserably against England a month ago. The much trumpeted midfield partnership of Dunbar and Matt Scott is now purring along nicely, and the outside backs used the ball cleverly. Stuart Hogg might have been a little lucky to grab his try after punting into the in-goal area, but at least he backed himself to do it. Tommy Seymour's touchdown was sweetly engineered as well, the most critical component being a superb offload by Scott.

By that point, France should have been dead in the water, but Scotland threw them their lifebelts.

Geoff Cross, a resounding success on his return at tighthead, is a famously eloquent fellow, but he was happy to rely on the old cliché as he delivered his assessment at the end. "We successfully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory," he sighed. "We let them off the hook."

And the mood in the dressing room afterwards? "Desolate," said Cross. "Just desolate."

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