Townsend: Scotland played their ‘best rugby of the tournament’ in France defeat

Gregor Townsend feels Scotland delivered their best performance of the Championship in their narrow 32-21 defeat against France.

Gregor Townsend feels Scotland delivered their best performance of the Championship in their narrow 32-21 defeat against France.

Having beaten England and Wales in the opening two rounds, Scotland travelled to Stade de France hoping to take another step towards a first Grand Slam since 1999.

Grant Gilchrist’s early red card put them on the back foot and though France’s Mohamed Haouas was also dismissed early on, Les Bleus raced into a 19-0 lead with just 18 minutes played.

Scotland fought back courageously and trailed by just four points as the clock entered the red but Gael Fickou’s overtime try robbed them of a bonus point, the least they deserved for their part in an epic encounter.

“I was very proud of the team because we probably produced our best rugby of the tournament and didn’t win,” said Townsend.

“It’s weird saying that when you’ve had two victories but a lot of our play was outstanding. There was effort, high skill and then there was resilience to go a man and points down and come back into the game.

“But really, we are disappointed. We were over the line on two occasions and didn’t score.”

Townsend’s side were hampered by the early dismissal of Gilchrist, who was shown a red card by referee Nika Amashukeli after just six minutes for a shoulder-to-head collision with Anthony Jelonch.

That forced them into a reshuffle, with the returning Hamish Watson sacrificed for Jonny Gray to mitigate a potential disadvantage at the set-piece.

If anything, the greater space across the park played into the hands of Finn Russell and Huw Jones, who dovetailed brilliantly.

Neither started Scotland’s first two Autumn Nations Series fixtures but both are now considered a key part of Townsend’s attack, and were responsible for all three of Scotland’s tries in Paris.

“Finn Russell did really well, bounced back from that mistake to play so accurately, brought Huw Jones into the game who was outstanding,” said Townsend.

“Of course, losing Hamish Watson is a blow and even when the opposition go to 14, when you’ve got 14, you are without Hamish, who plays at speed.

“It was very tough to take him off but we needed another second-row to match the lineout and front-five power. Jonny Gray did really well.”

Centre Jones has now crossed on three occasions during the Championship and is enjoying his finest spell in a Scotland shirt.

The Glasgow Warriors star feels his side should have done better after working so hard to get themselves back into the game.

“We felt like we could win that. After a really tough start, we got back into it, had ascendancy in the second half. We couldn’t get over the line in the last 10 minutes,” said Jones.

“You’ve got to put the first 10 minutes behind you, both teams had to adjust to going a man down.

“We wanted to play, I felt like we had a lot of attack in their half and just weren’t converting chances.”