SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) This time, France had a happy ending.
Flyhalf Camille Lopez’s two late penalties finished off Scotland 22-16 in a hard-fought Six Nations match on Sunday, a week after France succumbed to a demoralizing late try in a bitterly disappointing 19-16 loss in England.
France played much better against England, but this game was about resilience and finding enough grit to grind out a win.
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”Maybe it wasn’t as pretty but we won,” Lopez said. ”We just have to be satisfied with that and keep working.”
The French had also endured narrow and frustrating home losses to Australia and New Zealand in the November tests and, after the Scots clawed back a 13-5 deficit, it was 16-16 with 10 minutes left and tough to call.
Lopez held his nerve to offer a much-needed boost to coach Guy Noves, who is in his second season in charge and still rebuilding.
”We’re frustrated in terms of how we played but not with the result,” Noves said. ”Last time we lost because of a lack of character but this time the last quarter of an hour went in our favor.”
Scotland’s tries came from star fullback Stuart Hogg in the first half – his third of the tournament – and lock Tim Swinson’s effort after the break. Neither was converted, with flyhalf Finn Russell failing to kick the extras from in front of the posts after Swinson’s try.
Center Gael Fickou finished off a good move in the first half as France moved eight points ahead, but sloppy mistakes allowed the Scots back in.
However, following Lopez’s two penalties, a converted try in the last four minutes proved too much of a task for Scotland.
”It was a bit of a stop-start affair at times, we couldn’t get rhythm into our attack,” Scotland coach Vern Cotter said. ”Credit to the French, they came at us and created pressure. The rucks were fiercely contested.”
Cotter’s side picked up a defensive bonus point, moving it level on five points with France. France is in fourth place, Scotland is fifth. England is top after two wins.
Lopez slotted a penalty from nearly 40 meters out for an early French lead.
Scotland hit back through Hogg, who scored two tries in a 27-22 win over the Irish at Murrayfield last weekend, and expertly took his opportunity after a gritty opening 15 minutes.
Following a long spell of pressure, Hogg collected a short pass from center Huw Jones and then stood up scrumhalf Baptiste Serin for a try in the right corner. Scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw’s conversion attempt from the touchline hit the bar.
Soon after, Lopez’s penalty made it 6-5.
Then, Scotland’s chances were dealt a blow when Laidlaw went off with a knock to his ankle after 25 minutes and was replaced by Ali Price.
”(It’s difficult) when you lose your captain and playmaker,” Cotter said.
After Laidlaw hobbled off, France moved further ahead. The French drove forward relentlessly, stretching the Scottish line, and after several phases the ball was moved wide to Fickou, who darted into the right corner for a converted try.
Russell’s two penalties trimmed the deficit to 13-11 heading into the break and careless defending from France fullback Scott Spedding gifted Scotland the go-ahead try early into the second period.
Winger Tommy Seymour charged down the right and spotted Spedding too far forward. Seymour chipped an angled kick toward him, Spedding put both his hands out to gather the bouncing ball but completely misjudged as it went over his head. Seymour gathered the ball back and intelligently fed Swinson for a try under the posts. Then came Russell’s miss, drawing mocking roars from the French crowd at Stade de France.
After Lopez’s penalty restored parity, France center Remi Lamerat’s try was ruled out for a knock on following a replay as the French put the visitors under increasing pressure.
Scotland still has not won in France since 1999.
”It’s all about putting our hands up and saying what went wrong,” Scotland lock Jonny Gray said.