France: (14) 28
Tries: Fages, Escare 2, Marion Goals: Escare 6
Scotland: (4) 10
Tries: Dixon, Robertson Goals: Brierley
France picked up their first European Championship title since 2005 with a 28-10 triumph at the Albert Domec Stadium, Carcassonne, to go through the 2018 tournament unbeaten – but they were made to fight all the way as Scotland put in their best performance.
Wigan full back Morgan Escare, with two tries and a perfect six goals, led the way for the hosts, who were never allowed to settle, the Bravehearts living up to their name.
“I’m very happy with that,” said France coach Aurelien Cologni. “It’s a young team and we faced sides with a lot of passion, qualified for the World Cup and now pick up a trophy, the players want to win more.”
Cologni added: “We have a big group of about 30 we can call on and now we need to look forward and improve the level further.”
Despite the Scots calling on four debutants, including student stalwarts Matt Hogg – who was calm and composed throughout – and Dan Turland, they were combative from the off, led by skipper Oliver Wilkes on his 500th career appearance.
France gave away early penalties, Nick Glohe and James Bell to the fore for the visitors without breaking the home line; Paul Marcon recalled for a forward pass in response and the hosts missed touch with a penalty into a strong, swirling wind, Stan Robin prominent and Theo Fages forcing Davey Dixon to concede a drop out.
From it, blonde-haired Romain Navarette was smashed by Bell, France paying Scotland the greatest compliment by going for goal from a penalty in the 15th minute, Escare obliging.
Les Bleus gained immediate further reward, Alrix da Costa keeping the ball alive and Fages with two great sidesteps and a show of strength forcing his way over.
Frankie Mariano’s run elicited another penalty, Ryan Brierley and Oscar Thomas with long passes, and Dixon showing great acrobatic skill to get in at the corner.
Brierley’s conversion attempt from out wide hit the post but Glohe – otherwise superb – lost the ball from the restart, Mariano compounded the error, and Escare skipped and jinked to the line to establish a ten point lead at the break.
At the start of an increasingly fractious second half, Marcon broke clear and linked with Gavin Marguerite over 80 metres, Thomas with a fine tackle, but the Scotland full back spilled Lucas Albert’s high kick, David Scott collecting in an offside position and Escare again taking the two points on offer.
Bell gave away a penalty after a fine tackle on Navarette, Wilkes went high, and da Costa, Albert and Fages created space for Escare to nip across out wide, judging the wind to perfection with his conversion.
Marcon was held up on a blindside move by Brierley, Robin denied by Glohe, but the pressure told, Anthony Marion nipping over from acting half back.
Continuing to fight a spirited rearguard action, Joe McClean and Brierley denied Rhys Curran and the Scots finished on the front foot.
Glohe and Bell continued to drive in tirelessly, Brierley’s kick fashioned a repeat set and Thomas and Hogg swept the ball wide for Craig Robertson to power his way into the clear and make the whitewash.
Brierley goaled and his chip over and a Bell offload set up Robertson for his second, but the Edinburgh Eagle was ruled to have run behind his man and the try chalked off for obstruction.
Scotland joint head coach Chris Chester, whose side now face a final World Cup qualifier in 2019, was immensely proud that his fledgling charges had handled the occasion so well.
They’ll learn from that experience, we’ve got to try and keep as many of these guys together as we can and make sure our preparation is right next year. We should have a bit more quality available because it’s really important we get to the World Cup.
Morgan Escare, Paul Marcon, Bastien Ader, Hakim Miloudi, Gavin Marguerite, Sebastien Robin, Theo Fages, Romain Navarette, Alrix da Costa, Lambert Belmas, Rhys Curran, Benjamin Jullien, Mickael Goudemand
Substitutes: Anthony Marion, Bastien Canet, Valentin Yesa, Lucas Albert
Oscar Thomas, Davey Dixon, David Scott, Craig Robertson, Niall Sidney, Matt Hogg, Ryan Brierley, Joe McClean, Kane Bentley, Oliver Wilkes, Nick Glohe, Frankie Mariano, James Bell
Substitutes: Lewis Clarke, Dan Turland, Hamish Bentley, Kieran Moran