France held off Scotland for a scrappy 20-16 win at Murrayfield after a lengthy controversial TMO call not to award the home side a try with the last action of the game on Saturday.
Scotland thought they had snatched victory at the death but the video referee could not find conclusive proof to overturn referee Nic Berry’s on-field call of no try after adjudging the ball not to have been grounded over the line.
Les Bleus were far from their brilliant best but did enough to ease the pressure on coach Fabien Galthie after a 38-17 thrashing by Ireland on the opening weekend of the championship.
“The scenario for the match was difficult (after) a tough week,” said Galthie. “A win in Scotland is always hard-fought. We are going to bounce back further, we are still in it the title race.”
Scotland were left to reflect on letting another opportunity slip by as, on top of the late drama, they also failed to score a point when France were down to 14 men either side of half-time as Uini Antonio was sent to the sin bin.
“France came out the winning side tonight, but for me that was a try at the end,” said Scotland co-captain Finn Russell. “That’s not for me to decide, that’s up to the referee. That’s why he has the job.
“We can’t let the referee decide what happens in a game, that’s up to us to play better and make these matches a victory.”
France captain Gregory Alldritt said his side would be fuelled by the “car crash” of their display against Ireland, but this was another error-strewn performance by the side ranked fourth in the world.
Gregor Townsend was forced into a late change before kick-off as Kyle Steyn dropped out to attend the birth of his child, handing Harry Paterson his debut at full-back.
The Edinburgh man had a big part to play in the first try of the game as his pass inside was collected by Huw Jones, who popped it off to Ben White, who had just enough momentum to carry two French tacklers over the line.
Thomas Ramos slotted over a penalty in response.
Scotland’s ill-discipline was a major factor in a near collapse in Cardiff last weekend from a 27-0 lead to cling on 27-26 against Wales.
Scrappy kicking contest
However, it was Townsend’s team who were winning the penalty count as two kicks from Finn Russell in front of the posts extending the home side’s advantage to 13-3.
France, though, finally showed why they had only lost to Ireland in their previous 11 Six Nations matches as Cyril Baille’s precise pass picked out Fikou to charge over in the corner.
Ramos added the extras from out on the touchline to reduce France’s deficit to two.
It stayed that way at half-time despite incessant presure on the French line before the break.
Antonio was sent to the sin bin for a no-arms tackle, but even without his hulking 145 kilograms, the French scrum won a crucial penalty under their own posts in the last action of the first half.
Scotland still had seven minutes with the extra man at the start of the second period but again failed to make it count.
Russell slotted over the first points of the second half just short of the hour mark with a penalty to extend the Scotland advantage to 16-10, but a scrappy kicking contest from both sides drew boos from the 67,000 Murrayfield crowd.
And it was the one true moment of quality that won the game from France 10 minutes from time.
Louis Bielle-Biarrey showed his searing pace to collect his own kick and score France’s second try.
Ramos added the conversion to put France in the lead for the first time in the game and then kicked a penalty to stretch the advantage to four.
Scotland should still have snatched victory and many inside Murrayfield believed they had as numerous replays of the final act were shown on the big screen.
But the referee’s final decision was met with fury as France clung on.
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