A controversial finale saw Scotland denied a last minute try as France held on for a comeback victory at Scottish Gas Murrayfield 

A late try from wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey – a try scorer on his debut here last summer – turned the game in the hosts’ favour, but Scotland thought they had won the game with the clock into the red, only for the officials to decide the ball was held up after a lengthy discussion between referee Nic Berry and TMO Brian MacNeice. 

Scotland had led throughout thanks to Ben White’s early try, finished after a lovely move that involved the whole Scottish backline, and the boot of Finn Russell, but they were never able to shake Les Bleus, kept in the game by a first-half try from Gael Fickou and the boot of Thomas Ramos. 

Here’s five things we learned from a gripping encounter.  

1. Winning the breakdown battle key 

From Gregor Townsend’s team selection on Thursday, it was clear the breakdown would be an area of focus for Scotland. Their back-row triumvirate were shown up in the jackalling department by Tommy Reffell in Cardiff a week ago, but the return of Rory Darge ensured that feat would not be repeated here.  

France pose a different challenge, with Charles Ollivon less of a breakdown expert. Darge won Scotland an excellent early penalty, and when France attacked just inside the second quarter, Scotland put huge pressure on almost every ruck. Conversely, when Scotland failed to resource a ruck on their own ball, as was the case before Fickou’s try on the half-hour, France took full advantage.  

The loss of captain Gregory Alldritt early in the second half was a hammer blow to the visitors. He won two turnovers and made more carries (5) than any of his team-mates.  

2. Disruptive set-piece stopped France

Having started so well in Cardiff – with Richie Gray tormentor in chief of the Welsh lineout, his departure released some of the pressure on the hosts. With Gray’s championship now at an end, there was talk in some quarters that Scotland may struggle to impose themselves at the set-piece. Not the case.  

Grant Gilchrist and Scott Cummings put huge pressure on the French throw, with three stolen or disrupted. Such disruption helped prevent France building any momentum or getting into their attacking rhythm.  

Such was Scotland’s disruption, Fabien Galthie made changes early in the second half, introducing Julien Marchand at hooker for Peato Mauvaka. Wales had more success after a change of hooker, and the introduction of the experienced Toulouse man helped shore up the lineout and allowed France to close the game out.  

3. Back-row balance key but Jack Dempsey must play 

These are the games the Glasgow number eight is made for. Scotland have searched for a ready-made route one carrier in the pack and Gregor Townsend must now throw his lot in with Dempsey, who put in another abrasive performance.  

At the very top level, Matt Fagerson might be better suited to the blindside where he gets through so much work, but doesn’t quite have the power that Dempsey brings. Alongside returning co-captain Darge, the trio were excellent in the first half before Fagerson departed injured.  

Andy Christie added impact off the bench too – tipified by the turnover he won within a minute of his introduction.  

Scotland have an embarrassment of back-row riches – Magnus Bradbury and Hamish Watson can’t even get in the wider squad – but when Dempsey is at his best, he should be Scotland’s number eight.  

4. Scotland the brave – or foolhardy? 

On three occasions in the first half, Scotland turned down a straightforward three points in favour of two scrums and a tap penalty. The pressure they exerted on France in that period led to Uini Atonio gong to the sin-bin, but Scotland must make more of those opportunities. A three-point lead at the break could have been made more comfortable if they’d opted for the kicking tee on at least one of those occasions.  

It’s refreshing to see Scotland play with such ambition – there was a time not so long ago where kicking penalties felt like the only way Scotland would score points on big Six Nations days. That period is long gone, but some pragmatism should be advised on days like this.  

Credit where credit’s due: There was a notable shift when Scotland won a penalty in front of the posts on the hour and Russell extended the lead to six.  

However, it never felt like a big enough margin against a French side off their best, but capable of magic moments, and so it proved when Bielle-Biarrey burst down the left wing to score. From there, Scotland had no option but to chase the game.  

5. Gregor Townsend never shirks big calls 

When news of Kyle Steyn’s withdrawal filtered through at Murrayfield about 90 minutes before kick-off, there were some eyebrows raised that it was Edinburgh’s 22-year-old Harry Paterson who would replace the Glasgow skipper.  

Not only did it mean a reshuffle to the team, with Kyle Rowe moving to the wing, but it meant a debut for Paterson after just a handful of professional matches. It would doubtless have been easier for Townsend to turn to either Rory Hutchinson, the man who played at 15 during the summer tour to Argentina in 2022, or shift Huw Jones from the midfield and promote Cameron Redpath from the bench.  

But Townsend stuck to his guns and backed Paterson, but the young man repaid that faith with a terrific display. Paterson played an integral part in White’s try, was solid under the high ball and showed a confidence to counter-attack that belied his inexperience.