PARIS — Redemption for Wayne Pivac’s resurgent Wales, dejection for Fabien Galthie’s flamboyant yet flaky France.
While both coaches have rebuilt their sides very well, it was Pivac clinching the Six Nations trophy as France lost at home to Scotland 27-23 on Friday night to fall well short of what it needed in order to usurp the Welsh.
“We're over the moon,” said Pivac, who led Wales to the title in his second season, just months after his first season produced a heavily criticized fifth-place finish.
France had the match, not the title itself, in hand at 23-20 up in the 81st minute, but fullback Brice Dulin bizarrely decided not to kick the ball into touch with victory assured if he did.
The Scots exerted huge pressure over 22 phases and nearly three minutes, and left winger Duhan van der Merwe swept into the left corner in the 85th minute for his second try of the night and secured Scotland's first Paris triumph since 1999.
Eleven years after last winning the tournament, France needed a four-try bonus point win and a 21-point margin of victory in the tournament finale in an empty Stade de France. The odds weren't good.
The French did get three tries, but an average effort never looked like overwhelming the gritty Scots, and they ended up second in the championship, just like last year.
“Even if we couldn’t get the points gap and the number of tries we needed, we had several chances to win the game,” Galthie said. “We can regret this. That’s the truth.”
France stopped Wales from winning the Grand Slam last weekend with its own last-gasp winning try — ironically to Dulin — on the same field, but it couldn't stop Scotland. The Scots bookended the tournament beating England at Twickenham and France in Paris in the same championship for the first time since 1926, and could finish only fourth.
“Even though we finished fourth, it feels like one of our best ever seasons,” coach Gregor Townsend said.
What made it even more remarkable was Scotland wasn't at full strength. This match was postponed from Feb. 28 because of a coronavirus outbreak in the French camp and, because it dropped outside the international window, Scotland could summon only five of the eight English-based players it wanted.
“So proud of the team,” Townsend said. “They came here with a bit of adversity with not a full squad, with an injury to one of our starters on Wednesday (No. 8 Matt Fagerson), a yellow card, a red card ... they showed courage, effort, togetherness and skill to win.”
But the rain-soaked night felt more like Glasgow conditions, and Scotland flourished. They played great wet weather rugby for the first 25 minutes — aggressive with superb line-kicking — and France was flustered.
A couple of big pick-and-goes by George Turner set up powerhouse wing Van der Merwe to squirm over from a ruck in the 14th minute, converted by Russell. Flanker Jamie Ritchie bulled a penalty kick for Russell and Scotland led 10-3 after a first quarter in which France made five handling errors.
France turned the tide thanks to a scrum penalty after a Scotland put-in. Flyhalf Romain Ntamack nailed a 45-meter penalty, and from a scrum Les Tricolores scored a textbook try. Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont looped a slick pass over to the right wing where Damian Penaud showed soft hands to feed the ball inside to scorer Dulin.
Ntamack converted from wide right and France’s chances perked up further when Scotland captain Stuart Hogg was sin-binned on halftime after repeated infringing by his side under warning.
With Hogg’s sin-bin winding down, France exploited the man advantage when centre Virimi Vakatawa's brilliant backdoor offload released Penaud, who chipped ahead and touched down in the right corner for 18-10.
Hogg’s return calmed Scotland down, though, and they turned the heat back on France. A Russell penalty cut the gap to five points in the 53rd.
When Galthie sent Teddy Thomas onto the left wing and Gael Fickou moved into midfield with Vakatawa for the last 20 minutes, France was supposed to be galvanized, but instead a composed Scotland moved ahead with a converted try.
France flanker Swan Rebbadj ripped the ball from Scottish hands in a driving maul but lost control and replacement hooker David Cherry gleefully dived over. Russell converted for a 23-20 lead with a quarter to go.
Rebbadj compensated by sliding in minutes later. Ntamack missed the extras and France led only 23-20 with 15 to go.
Russell was red-carded for a forearm into the neck of Dulin but France's advantage was taken away moments later by Serin's yellow card for messing up a Scotland maul. The weight of positive expectation got to France, which reverted back to the sloppy mistakes of recent years.
Given hope, Scotland unleashed a grandstand finish, capped by Adam Hastings' high, miss-out pass to Van der Merwe for the winning try. After all the pre-match talk about France, Scotland stole the show.
“I was annoyed at (the hype on France), I’m a proud Scotsman,” Hogg said. “For the rest of the boys, this added fuel to the fire, and we enjoyed it.”
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Jerome Pugmire, The Associated Press