France escapes with comeback win over Scotland after disputed late TMO call in Six Nations

France stayed in the Six Nations title hunt when it benefited from a controversial call by the Television Match Official to deny Scotland a last-seconds try at Murrayfield on Saturday.

France won 20-16, taking the lead only in the 71st minute.

In the last minute, Scotland gathered French ball near the French tryline and hammered away. The clock passed 80 minutes when Sam Skinner drove over the line and was tackled by Yoram Moefana and Sebastien Taofifenua. Referee Nic Berry said Skinner was held up but wanted a video check.

The ball was seen to roll off a French boot under the pile of bodies, but after four minutes of replays, TMO Brian MacNeice said there was no conclusive proof Skinner scored.

“We were celebrating in the coaches box,” Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said. “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.’

“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 tryline.”

France celebrated rebounding from the humiliation at home inflicted by defending champion Ireland last weekend in the opening round.

Scotland, on the back of an historic first win in Cardiff in 22 years, had visions of a statement win over the French but wasted leads of 13-3 and 16-10.

The French stayed in the match despite 13 handling errors, 12 turnovers and tighthead prop Uini Atonio’s sin-binning, during which France didn’t concede a point.

Atonio’s yellow card drew a dramatic end to the first half, too.

The Scots had turned down two kickable penalties. Then Atonio was sin-binned for a no-arms tackle while defending the tryline. Scotland elected to scrum again, forcing France to send in reserve prop Dorian Aldegheri and take off wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey. But the French scrum came up trumps as Scotland’s collapsed, and Berry called halftime.

France easily handled the first eight minutes of the second half a man short, but as soon as Atonio returned they lost workhorse captain and No. 8 Gregory Alldritt, who badly twisted his left leg while jackalling.

Captain Finn Russell’s fourth goalkick — he’s 100% off the tee in the first two rounds — sent Scotland 16-10 up heading into the last quarter but the home side sat back in a period when nobody took charge.

Out of nowhere, France struck. From ruck ball, 21-year-old replacement scrumhalf Nolann Le Garrec’s fast, flat pass gave 20-year-old Bielle-Biarrey time to chip a crowd of Scots, burn past them, regather and score. Thomas Ramos converted for France’s first lead and added a 77th-minute penalty from a dominant maul for good measure.

Scotland had late chances. Winger Kyle Rowe reeled off a 50-meter break that was stopped by Le Garrec and then the siege of France’s tryline.

But Scotland couldn’t finish off a match it led almost until the end.

It was forced into a late change when wing Kyle Steyn was told to stay with his wife Ali, who was in labor. Former sevens player Harry Paterson, uncapped and with eight professional games, got the call four hours before the match.

France tested Paterson with the first high ball after 30 seconds and he was safe. So was his catching and passing when Scotland scored the opening try in the seventh minute.

Mathieu Jalibert dropped a bomb, Rory Darge recovered it, and Russell ignited the backline. Duhan Van der Merwe came off his wing to send Paterson tearing into a gap and White slid across in a double tackle to complete a 50-meter sweeping move.

Van der Merwe tracked back to drop Gael Fickou in front of the tryline and Scotland’s defense handled 10 French phases between two Russell penalties to lead 13-3. But then went to sleep.

At the restart, flanker Francois Cros turned over Scotland ruck ball, and France narrowed Scotland’s defense so an unmarked Fickou could angle into the right corner. Ramos converted from the sideline to have them trailing only 13-10 after 32 minutes.

Scotland should have scored again in a remarkable end to the half but France withstood sustained pressure with 14 men.

“Above all, we didn’t give up,” Alldritt said. “We managed to score after their opener, we resisted well at the end of the first half, we didn’t give up for 80 minutes. It was very hard but the ending was magnificent in terms of emotion.”

Scotland hosts England in two weeks. France has Italy.

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