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|Scotland: (13) 16
|Tries: White Cons: Russell Pens: Russell 3
|France: (10) 20
|Tries: Fickou, Bielle-Biarrey Cons: Ramos 2 Pens: Ramos 2
Scotland were denied by an inconclusive last-gasp try review as France held on to win a tense Six Nations encounter at Murrayfield.
Replays suggested the ball was grounded in a huge heap of writhing bodies, but referee Nic Berry had called no-try and the TV pictures could not concretely prove otherwise.
Louis Bielle-Biarrey produced the decisive score in a cagey second half after Ben White and Gael Fickou traded tries in a first half the hosts had much the better of.
“Personally, I believe it was a try,” said Scotland captain Finn Russell immediately after the game. “But it’s up to the referee.”
Exasperated head coach Gregor Townsend added: “We were celebrating in the coaches box. We could hear the TMO’s conversation with the referee, saying ‘the ball was on foot, then the ball was down’ and then he changes his mind and says ‘stick with the on-field decision’. I don’t know what you can say.”
Both teams sit on one win after Scotland’s nervous success in Wales as France recovered from a record home defeat to Ireland.
France have now won 10 of their last 12 Six Nations matches, only coming up short against the defending champions in that run.
Scotland, who had been aiming for a fifth successive home victory, may feel they were robbed by a cruel decision but really should have been further ahead by the break.
At 10:00 in the morning Harry Paterson was told he was making his Scotland debut, with Kyle Steyn’s wife going into labour. Ten minutes into the game, the 22-year-old was instrumental in the opening score.
With just eight appearances for Edinburgh under his belt, the full-back played a key role in an impressive surge that ended with White slithering over the line.
Fickou looked certain to respond following a searing line break, only to be grappled by Duhan van der Merwe just short of the line, with the Scotland winger quickly back on his feet to snatch a loose pass.
Just as Scotland nudged 10 points clear with Russell’s second penalty, a lapse from the restart was to prove costly, with Fickou presented with a clear run to the corner.
Scotland ended the first half camped on the French line and amid the pressure Uini Antonio was sent to cool off for a no arms tackle, but the hosts failed to take advantage, losing out in a scrum under the posts, and trotted off just 13-10 in front.
There was further frustration for the Scots after the resumption of play as France held firm without much fuss for the rest of Antonio’s absence and more groans from home supporters as Maxime Lucu just beat the grasping fingers of White to a bobbling ball in the scoring zone.
Just shy of the hour mark, Russell knocked over another penalty to nudge the scoreboard back into life.
Kicks continued to ping back and forth in rather drab fashion, before a flash of inspiration from Bielle-Biarrey moved France within a point.
Gathering a hard, flat pass on the touchline, the 20-year-old chipped over the top and gathered for his fifth international try.
Thomas Ramos added the extras to give the visitors the lead for the first time, then added a penalty.
Scotland did not have long to find a way back and the cause looked lost when Kyle Rowe set off on a lung-bursting run only to lose the ball forward deep in France territory.
But the Scots did summon one last attack and were convinced Sam Skinner had got the ball down before a prolonged and anxious wait ended with a torrent of boos aimed at the officials.
‘We felt we won the game’ – reaction
Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend: “You’ve got to win the game and not put it in the hands of TMOs and referees and that is what we will work on.
“We were in control of the game and in control most of the way in tough conditions. We had to play a different way and I’m really disappointed we didn’t win the game. We felt we won the game – we saw the ball on the try line.
“There is a lot to be proud of but disappointing not to get the win. Harry Paterson was great, one of the best debuts I’ve seen. To perform like that when you’ve got four hours preparations, maybe less, shows the quality of player he is. He was on it and it shows he’s a real talent.
“The players are doing well, leading for 75 minutes today and 80 minutes last week. England (at home next) is our biggest game of the season.”
Scotland: Paterson; Rowe, Jones, Tuipulotu, Van der Merwe; Russell (co-capt), White; Schoeman, Turner, Z Fagerson, Gilchrist, Cummings, M Fagerson, Darge (co-capt), Dempsey.
Replacements: Ashman, Hepburn, Millar-Mills, Skinner, Christie, Horne, Healy, Redpath.
France: Ramos, Penaud, Fickou, Danty, Bielle-Biarrey; Jalibert, Lucu; Baille, Mauvaka, Atonio, Woki, Gabrillagues, Cros, Ollivon, Alldritt (capt).
Replacements: Marchand, S Taofifenua, Aldegheri, Tuilagi, Roumat, Boudehent, Le Garrec, Moefana.