AN EXTRAORDINARY climax to the Six Nations saw Scotland win in Paris for the first time in 22 years as Duhan van der Merwe claimed the winning try nearly five minutes into time added on. The visitors’ chance seemed to have gone when Finn Russell was sent off late in the game for leading with the elbow as he carried into a tackle, but they had the self-belief to fight to the end. 

Scotland still finish fourth in the final Championship table, just behind Ireland, while France are second behind Wales.

Going for their first title since 2010, France had needed to win by 21 points and score at least four tries in the process to top the pile ahead of Wales. Scotland had a lesser goal of finishing second in the Six Nations for the first time, but had a less difficult way of achieving it, the simplest route being a win by at least eight points while ensuring they secured more match points than their hosts. 

The heavy rain in which the contest began militated against the sort of open game that would be likeliest to yield the sort of high score that France sought, although they made their intentions clear by taking a quick lineout from very deep after Finn Russell had found an excellent touch. After being pinned back there, they were soon deep into Scottish territory, and were given a scrum five metres out after Duhan van der Merwe was forced to carry over. The scrum yielded a penalty, and Romain Ntamack opened the scoring.

Scotland soon had a simple chance to reply, but instead they kicked to touch - a decision they repeated after the French defence offended. George Turner carried the ball on from the maul, and after Hamish Watson had been repelled on the line, Van der Merwe forced his way over. Home captain Charles Ollivon was heard to complain that the winger was guilty of a double movement after going to ground, but referee Wayne Barnes ruled otherwise, and Finn Russell’s conversion made it 3-7.

The stand-off soon stretched the advantage to seven points after Brice Dulin was penalised for holding on, but if the first quarter was dominated by Scotland, the next 20 minutes were all about the home team as they regained the lead thanks largely to some heavy pressure from the pack. A second penalty from Ntamack reduced the deficit to 6-10, but when the next chance for a simple three points came, France opted for the scrum, where they sensed they had a distinct advantage.

Gregory Alldritt and Julien Marchand both threatened the line and were denied only by a series of offences, but four minutes before the break the try came. Antoine Dupont threw a hopeful pass out to the right wing, Damian Penaud eluded Van der Merwe all too easily, and his pass inside found Dulin with a simple run to the line. Ntamack’s conversion made it 13-10.

The referee had warned captain Stuart Hogg that another penalty would mean a yellow card, and minutes later it was the full-back himself who was shown it after he went off his feet in the tackle. The penalty was sent to touch for the last play of the game, but the lineout misfired and Van der Merwe cleared to touch to end the half.

A full score at that point would have taken the French roughly halfway to their winning target, but while they were frustrated there, they came out for the second half determined to make the most of their numerical advantage. The 14 men defended very well at first, with Harris in particular being outstanding as France squandered some promising situations. 

But eventually the pressure told, and after Dulin and Ntamack had started a rapid counter-attack, a fine offload from Virimi Vakatawa made an opening for Penaud. The winger kicked ahead and touched down, but Ntamack missed the conversion to leave the score at 18-10.

Russell was off target with an ambitious drop-goal attempt, but scored a more orthodox three points from a penalty after 52 minutes. The game opened up considerably after that as the French decided they had no option but to go on a points chase. 

A break by Sam Johnson came close to producing a second try for Scotland, then right on the hour mark substitute hooker Dave Cherry did cross after a lineout maul had broken down. Russell converted, and Scotland were back in the lead at 18-20. It did not last for long, as Swan Rebbadj crossed from close range following a lineout for an unconverted try. 

Scotland turned down a chance to equalise by sending a penalty to touch only for the lineout to be stolen, then chaos ensued as Russell was sent off for a fend to the throat of Dulin, then Baptiste Serin was sinbinned after just being on for a couple of minutes. 

Time looked to be running out for Scotland, but with 84 minutes, 41 seconds on the clock, Van der Merwe crossed in the corner for the winning score. Adam Hastings converted to round off a remarkable recovery.


Scorers: France: Tries: Dulin, Penaud, Rebbadj. Con: Ntamack. Pens: Ntamack 2.

Scotland: Tries: Van der Merwe 2, Cherry. Cons: Russell 2, Hastings. Pens: Russell 2. 

France: B Dulin; D Penaud, V Vakatawa (T Thomas 59), A Vincent, G Fickou; R Ntamack, A Dupont (B Serin 71); C Baille (J Gros 56), J Marchand (C Chat 56), M Haouas (U Atonio 61), B Le Roux (R Taofifenua 50), S Rebbadj, A Jelonch (D Cretin 63), G Alldritt, C Ollivon (captain). Unused substitute: A Bouthier.

Scotland: S Hogg (captain); D Graham (H Jones 67), C Harris, S Johnson (A Hastings 73), D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price; R Sutherland (O Kebble 49), G Turner (D Cherry 59), Z Fagerson (S Berghan 63, Z Fagerson 70), S Skinner (A Craig 75), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining (R Wilson 67). Unused substitute: S Steele.

Yellow cards: France: Serin 74. Scotland: Hogg 40.

Red card: Russell 71. 

Referee: W Barnes (England).