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Analysis: Scotland front up to leave France with plenty to ponder

Analysis: Scotland front up to leave France with plenty to ponder

Hamish Watson was man of the match on Saturday in Scotland';s warm-up win over France (Inpho)

The result, rather than the performance, mattered most for Gregor Townsend and Scotland.

After their defeat in Nice last week, Scotland’s World Cup warm-ups looked in danger of early derailment.

But on Saturday they claimed a first victory in five Tests, returned the winning feeling to BT Murrayfield and now can look forward to Japan with more of a spring in their step.

There are still issues to address, as Townsend himself admitted afterwards, not least the way they handed two tries on a plate to Damian Penaud in the first half.

SLUGGISH START

Notoriously slow starters, Scotland have now conceded the first try in each of their last six Tests, and this was no different as Pete Horne’s poor pass was picked off inside two minutes.

But unlike last week in Nice when Les Bleus ran away with it thereafter, Scotland rolled up their sleeves and fought back.

Their work at the breakdown, led by man of the match Hamish Watson, was much improved.

Indeed this was a different Scotland side in both personnel and performance, with only Stuart Hogg retained in the starting XV from the week before.

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Watson and Blade Thomson enjoyed plenty of success on the ground and with ball in hand until the latter was withdrawn early in the second half with a head injury.

That brought John Barclay into the equation and he too enjoyed himself.

After Jamie Ritchie’s blossoming in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, back row options are blooming for Townsend.

But it is Watson who holds the key, so impressive is the Edinburgh openside that Scotland look a different team altogether when he is in it.

Up front, Willem Nel and Gordon Reid also shored up a scrum that creaked last week in the south of France.

The lineout, one early Sam Skinner steal aside, was a cause for concern, as George Turner failed to link up with his jumpers one time too many.

But with Fraser Brown and Jonny Gray still to feature this summer, that area of the set-piece is sure to improve before Japan.

CASE FOR THE DEFENCE

The real area of upgrade however was in defence.

Overpowered in Nice, Scotland were too tough for France to crack in the second half.

Indeed, aside from the two gifts they handed Les Bleus in the first period, Scotland were impressive throughout with Watson leading by example.

And behind the scrum, the experience of Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw was clear to see.

Russell in particular kicked the leather off the ball, there cannot have been too many games before in his international career where he has put boot to ball that many times.

France’s back three were turned around time and again. Full-back Hogg was equally busy, and appears to be rounding back into his best form as his influence grew over the 80 minutes.

Chris Harris in midfield also got his second international try with a barging run from close range while Sean Maitland looked sharp on the wing.

But the injury to Tommy Seymour, along with Skinner and Thomson, is a concern for Townsend ahead of their next warm-up clash with Georgia.

But with Brown, Gray, Sam Johnson and Magnus Bradbury still yet to feature this summer, Scotland are building once more.

JACQUES FEELING BLEUS

Jacques Brunel’s France side meanwhile were left to lick their wounds.

A week on from a morale-boosting victory, familiar failings came back to haunt them.

Since the last World Cup, France have only won three times on the road – once in Argentina and twice in Rome in the Guinness Six Nations.

Scotland have now won three times in a row against them in Edinburgh, and after being handed a 14-3 headstart, this will be tough to take.

In Penaud they have one of the stand out attacking weapons in world rugby at this point in time.

The Clermont man looks razor sharp and after impressing last week but not getting on the scoresheet his two tries this weekend were just reward.

On the other wing however, Penaud’s Clermont teammate Alivereti Raka looks to still be adjusting to the rigours of international rugby.

Losing Camille Lopez to injury in the first half did not help their search for continuity, particularly after losing Wesley Fofana on the eve of the game.

But it did at least mean that Sofiane Guitoune could return in a blue jersey for the first time since the last World Cup and it was his searing outside break past Ryan Wilson that set up Penaud’s second score.

BACK ROW BALANCING ACT

But after dominating up front seven days ago in Nice, Brunel would have hoped for more of the same this week from his pack with big hitters like Guilhem Guirado, Felix Lambey and Arthur Iturria returning.

But while the rest of world rugby are looking to twin opensides in the back row, France here opted for none.

Charles Ollivon and Iturria on each flank are impressive operators who add much to the French lineout and carry with bristling intent, but when it comes to the bitty business of the breakdown, Scotland and Watson had the edge on Saturday.

No.8 Gregory Alldritt, so often the scourge of Scotland in his fledgling international career, was kept noticeably quiet.

And with only one warm-up game to come for France – against Italy next week – Brunel will have a few more questions that need answering.

The likes of Virimi Vakatawa, Vincent Rattez and Anthony Belleau should all get their chance while Demba Bamba, Yoann Huget and Maxime Machenaud are all fighting to prove their fitness in time.