PERHAPS the Women’s Six Nations is not such a two-tier affair after all. Having lost narrowly to Ireland, then heavily to England at the start of the year, Scotland were expected to suffer another defeat at the hands of France, who had put 50 points on Wales and have dominated the Championship along with the English for some time.

That expectation seemed reasonable for much of this remarkable game as the French, ranked fourth in the world to their hosts’ 11th, dominated the first half, then increased their lead to 13-3 with the first score of the second.

But Scotland have worked assiduously on their defence under new head coach Bryan Easson, and rather than succumbing to further scores, first held firm and then fought back furiously.

Stand-off Helen Nelson made it 13-6 with a second penalty to add to the one she had scored in the first half, and then winger Rachel Shankland celebrated her debut with a confidently-taken try.

Nelson, who not long before had fallen just short with another, longer penalty attempt, converted from the touchline to tie the scores and stun a France side that appeared to have thought they had done enough to win the game in the first hour.

That presumption perhaps explained the decision by Annick Hayraud to use all her substitutes before the final quarter had begun – a decision that came back to bite the coach after one of the replacements, Lenaig Corson, was injured.

That meant the French had to see out the game with just 14 players, and, while they went on to enjoy some opportunities in attack, their numerical disadvantage was exploited in the move down the line which produced Shankland’s try.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” Easson said. “I thought they were outstanding today. At 8-3 down at half-time we weren’t worried at all, we were putting France under pressure with some excellent ball carries. Our patience showed in the second half, and it was an outstanding try at the end from Rachel Shankland.”

There had been little sign of the drama that was to follow in the first half, which saw France take an early lead through Safi N’Diaye. Two penalties were sent to touch in quick succession, and although the first line-out was stopped illegally, the second was well executed, ending in the lock crossing for an unconverted try.

A confident recovery by the home team culminated in Nelson’s first penalty, but full-back Jessy Tremouliere increased the French lead to 8-3 with a penalty midway through the half.

Scotland gave as good as they got for the rest of the half, but it did not take long after the restart for France to extend their advantage, with a line-out again being the route to the try line. A clean catch and a well-timed drive proved an unstoppable combination, with Agathe Sochat getting the unconverted try.

Did they think it was all over? Scotland didn’t, and went on to prove themselves correct. Next stop Wales on Sunday, and a chance, surely, to go one better and claim a long-awaited win.

Scorers, Scotland – Try: Shankland. Con: Nelson. Pens: Nelson 2.

France – Tries: N’Diaye, Sochat. Pen: Tremouliere.

Scotland: C Rollie; R Shankland, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney; H Nelson, M McDonald; L Bartlett, L Skeldon (M Wright 52), M Kennedy (C Belisle 52), E Wassell, S Bonar, R Malcolm (captain) (S Cattigan 72), R McLachlan (L McMillan 53), J Konkel. Unused substitutes: K Dougan, R Law, A Evans, A Sergeant.

France: J Tremouliere; C Banet, E Pignot, M Peyronnet (C Boudaud 29, C Boujard 52), M Menager; A Abadie, P Bourdon (Y Rivoalen 56); L Arricastre (D Traore 47), A Sochat (L Touye 47), R Bernadou ( C Joyeux 56), C Diallo (L Corson 47), S N’Diaye, A Berthoumieu, G Hermet (captain) (M Mayans 47), E Gros.

Referee: S Cox (England).