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France survive Scotland scare as Gatland eyes another Wales Grand Slam

Jones is tackled by Harinordoquy and Maestri at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.

EDINBURGH: World Cup finalists France overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Scotland 23-17 at Murrayfield here Sunday and keep their hopes of a Six Nations Grand Slam alive.

Victory made it two wins out of two for the French, whose previous match against Ireland was postponed because of a frozen pitch in Paris.

But the cold truth Sunday for an improved Scotland was they’d suffered a fifth straight defeat – and third in as many matches this Six Nations.

Tries from teenager Stuart Hogg and wing Lee Jones gave Scotland hope but these were cancelled out by scores from France centre Wesley Fofana and full-back Maxime Medard, while scrum-half Morgan Parra kicked 10 points.

France captain Thierry Dusautoir admitted his side had been caught cold by the Scots, who lost much needed impetus when Edinburgh halfback duo Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw went off injured either side of the interval.

“We were taken aback by by the rhythm and dynamism of the Scots in the opening 15 minutes,” said the flanker, who was outstanding when he captained France in an 8-7 World Cup final defeat by the All Blacks.

“We got back into it little by little and found our own rhythm and gradually asserted ourselves on the match against a really good Scottish side.”

Scotland’s Ross Rennie was named man-of-the-match after an impressive display but that was little consolation to the openside flanker.

“We put in another massive effort and to come away with nothing, everyone is pretty down. We made some good breaks and scored some good tries, but on turnover attack the French were awesome and we let them be good.

Scotland spent the first few minutes encamped in France’s 22 but it looked like being an all-too familiar story when, after several phases against resolute French defense, they knocked on.

In an earlier match Sunday, Warren Gatland was left contemplating the prospect of another Grand Slam after seeing his side edge England in a thrilling Six Nations Championship clash at Twickenham.

Wales won 19-12 to complete the Triple Crown – when one of the four Home Unions beats all others in a single season – and that left them looking forward to rounding up the tournament at home to Italy and France.

This was just Wales’s second win at Twickenham since 1988. The other success came four years ago when, in Gatland’s first game in charge, they triumphed 26-19 to spark what turned out to be a Grand Slam season.

And with Italy struggling and Wales desperate to avenge their World Cup semifinal loss to France, Gatland said another clean sweep was in sight.

“This is a young group with a little bit of experience who potentially could be outstanding,” said Gatland.

“We have a bit of depth throughout the side and it is a team to get excited about,” the New Zealander added.

“If we get a good win against Italy we can prepare with confidence for the game against France.”

Saturday’s clash was the first time World Cup semifinalists Wales had secured a Triple Crown at the home of old rivals England.

Heading into the final 10 minutes, the teams were locked at 12-12 after four penalties apiece from England’s Owen Farrell and Wales’s Leigh Halfpenny.

But Wales, with five minutes left, scored the only try of the match when replacement back Scott Williams stripped the ball from substitute England lock Courtney Lawes and, from nearly halfway, kicked ahead before chasing down and regathering, with Halfpenny then adding a conversion.

There was still time for England to launch one last attack and, with the final play of the match, wing David Strettle went over the Welsh line under challenge from Halfpenny, George North and Jonathan Davies.

There then followed several tense minutes before video referee Iain Ramage of Scotland ruled “no try.”

Wales were 12-6 down at one point and early in the second half they were reduced to 14 men when fly-half Rhys Priestland was sin-binned. But with skipper Sam Warburton outstanding on his return to the side, Wales rallied to claim a dramatic victory.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 27, 2012, on page 14.

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