England win Six Nations for first time in five years as France fall to Scotland at Murrayfield
England won the Six Nations for the first time in five years when France lost to Scotland 29-18 for the first time in 10 years on Sunday.
France had to win at Murrayfield to keep the championship alive going into the last round, when they host England next weekend. But all France can do now is hope to ruin England’s grand slam bid.
Scotland led 18-12 at the break, and only 21-18 when France looked like they were getting on top physically. That’s when full back Stuart Hogg thrilled the home fans with a brilliant piece of opportunism as he jumped up to meet a pass and flicked it over his head to left winger Tim Visser to score their third, nail-in-the-coffin try.
Scrum half Greig Laidlaw couldn’t convert, but slotted his third penalty for 29-18 to put the lacklustre French out of sight with five minutes left.
France midfielder Gael Fickou thought he had his second try moments later, but it was ruled out for a forward pass from replacement scrum half Sebastien Bezy.
“We’re delighted to finally get that win against France, it’s 10 years that we’ve been waiting for,” Hogg said. “Credit to France, they came over with a massive pack, but it comes down to taking your opportunities.”
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France hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado started and finished the opening try, as wingers Virimi Vakatawa and Wesley Fofana combined to work the ball to the right flank, where Guirado showed some decent running skills to power over.
“We might have started the game too well, perhaps we all wanted to congratulate each other rather than staying focused,” France coach Guy Noves said. “But we made far too many mistakes and, when you do that, little by little, your opponent gets back in the game.”
Recalled fly half Francois Trinh-Duc missed the conversion and fluffed a penalty from 35 metres.
France were made to pay for those five wasted points as Laidlaw slotted over two penalties in quick succession to put the Scots ahead, and Hogg showed his pace and skill to finish off a phase of Scottish pressure.
Flanker Pete Horne and lock Richie Gray broke through tackles, the ball was recycled to Hogg, and he sidestepped inside Fickou before stretching his right hand just over the line. Laidlaw’s conversion drifted wide.
Scotland’s second try came three minutes later. Vakatawa missed a routine tackle as centre Duncan Taylor wriggled through, and lock Alexandre Flanquart failed to pull him down as he sprinted down the right.
Laidlaw nailed the conversion from wide right, even if it was much more difficult, making it 18-5, and moving Scotland closer to ending a run of seven home losses in the Six Nations.
But Fickou gave the French hope on the stroke of half-time following a line-out drive. Scrum half Maxime Machenaud moved the ball quickly to the left, and Fickou spotted a gap and surged through. France changed kickers and Machenaud made the conversion.
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Hogg, the tournament’s leading runner, showed he can goalkick as well when he booted over a penalty from 55 metres seven minutes into the second half, although Machenaud’s effort cancelled that out.
With Scotland leading 21-15 10 minutes into the second half, France cranked up the pressure.
Guirado appeared to go against team orders when he chose an attacking line-out instead of a kickable penalty. The same initiative led to the winning try against Ireland, but failed this time.
France got another penalty straight away, and Machenaud landed it to pull France within three points as the Scots began to tire.
The French, however, struggled to turn their possession into anything other than minimal territorial gains, and Hogg finished them off with an instinctive piece of magic.
Scotland moved above France and into third place, and end their Six Nations at Ireland next weekend.