Scotland were beaten in a manner that is all too familiar for fans yesterday as France ran out comfortable 18-9 victors at Murrayfield in their first game of the 2010 Six Nations campaign. Two easy Mathieu Bastareaud tries and the boot of Morgan Parra ensured that the tournament favourites clinched a vital away win.
Once again the home side failed to score a solitary try which takes their run to five out of their last six international matches finishing without them having crossed the whitewash. Chris Paterson duly supplied the Scots with all their points with three penalties, further increasing his record-breaking international points tally.
Going in to the match there was an air of reserved optimism surrounding Scotland’s chances in this championship, despite them having to travel away to Wales, Italy and Ireland. With head coach Andy Robinson at the helm for his first Six Nations and the team looking settled after a relatively successful Autumn Series, the nation’s expectations could justifiably be raised.
Unfortunately for the fans at Murrayfield the Scotland side that took the field epitomised the age-old errors that have plagued the Scottish game for so many years; a worryingly high amount of basic handling errors and the inability to get points despite having periods of dominance in terms of both territory and possession.
Whilst the defeat is a major blow to Scotland’s attempt to gain momentum the performances of certain individuals do give cause for some optimism. The back-row unit of Johnnie Beattie, John Barclay and Kelly Brown were an ever-present thorn in the French side, and put in the best physical showing from any Scottish back-row in years. Their hard work and endeavour gave the back line unusually quick ball, which allowed them to attack the French line with some force.
The Evans brothers at centre and wing, along with winger Sean Lamont always looked to attack with some considered style, and frequently broke the gain line, putting the visitors on the back foot. If the Scots are going to beat Wales at the Millennium Stadium next weekend, they will have to learn from their mistakes this weekend and provide support to the line breakers in order to maintain pressure on the opposition.
Finally Chris Cusiter turned in yet another tenacious performance from scrum-half and demonstrated that his appointment as captain was justified due to his consistent level of performance, and his ability to lead by example. After this limp defeat, it should be no surprise if we see Cusiter’s club half-back partner, Dan Parks, recalled to the side in an attempt to get them to replicate their club form on the international stage.
Despite Parks having previously been banished to the international wilderness, he is the undeniably the in-form Scottish number ten at the moment, and would provide continuity between Cusiter and Glasgow team-mate Graham Morrison at inside centre. With Phil Godman constantly choosing the wrong option against the French, it is time to give Parks the second chance he deserves in a Scotland jersey.
Head coach Andy Robinson saw the positives in the match; “I thought we did get our line-breaks and some of our counter-attacking was very good. But we've got to be able to attack off that and we weren't able to get continuity, which is disappointing.”
“They were very physical, they dominated the breakdown and put us under quite a bit of pressure. If we had been able to take a chance when we had the line-breaks, we could have asked some questions of them”, he added.
Scotland face a short six day turnaround before their encounter at the Millenium Stadium against a side that will be hurting after a large defeat away to England. If Scotland are to avoid the wooden spoon, Robinson must banish the basic error count from the Scots’ game or it could turn out to be a very long tournament.