A superb solo score from winger Louis Bielle-Biarrey led France to a 20-16 Six Nations victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday, but there was controversy at the final whistle as the home side were ruled to have been held up over the tryline.
Scotland believed they had crossed for what would have been the match-winning try with the clock in the red, but Australian referee Nic Berry did not agree.
The Television Match Official (TMO) took several minutes to review the footage and could not find conclusive evidence to overturn that decision, even though it looked as though the ball may have touched the turf.
It was initially grounded onto the boot of a French player, but then appeared to slip down onto the grass.
“I think the images are quite clear and I don’t see how he (Berry) can make any other decision,” France captain Gregory Alldritt told reporters, before revealing the team works tirelessly with defence coach Shaun Edwards to hold teams up over the tryline.
“We’ve been working for over three years to get the ball carrier behind the line, exactly like it was done,” he said. “When we talk about details, that’s part of it. It’s nice to see it pay off.”
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend disagreed.
“We were celebrating in the coaches box [upon seeing the replay],” Townsend told BBC One. “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. We felt we won the game. We saw the ball on the tryline.”
The win will be a mighty relief for France coach Fabien Galthie, who has come under enormous pressure following their dismal opening 38-17 loss to Ireland in Marseille.
Trailing by six points with 11 minutes remaining, Bielle-Biarrey had three defenders around him but a clever chip and electric pace he gathered to dot down and fullback Thomas Ramos’ conversion gave the visitors the lead for the first time.
Ramos kicked a further penalty as La Marseillaise rang around the ground, with centre Gael Fickou scoring his team’s other try in the first half.
Scotland dominated much of the match and led 13-10 at halftime thanks to scrumhalf Ben White’s score, but could not turn pressure into points on several occasions, and were made to pay in a game they looked like winning for 69 minutes.
“From a coaching perspective, you have got to win the game and not put it in the hands of TMOs and referees, and that is what we will work on,” Townsend said.
“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.”
France struggled in the lineout and were sloppy with the ball in hand in slippery conditions, while the breakdown was a lottery and not controlled by the match officials.
White crossed for Scotland’s only try after a sweeping move down the right wing involving debutant Harry Paterson and centre Huw Jones. They made the yards before White was fed on the inside and the scrumhalf fought off two tacklers to dot down.
Scotland were down to 14 players while flanker Matt Fagerson received treatment and France were able to use the width of the field for Fickou to canter in for their first score.
The visitors were reduced to 14 players just before halftime when prop Uini Antonio produced a no-arms tackle and was sent to the sin-bin.
It was the first time France have trailed at halftime in back-to-back Six Nations matches since 2016.
The visitors were dealt a blow when their outstanding captain Alldritt left the field on a stretcher with a nasty gash on his leg on 50 minutes, but through Bielle-Biarrey and perhaps a little luck they will leave Edinburgh with a win he described as “one of their greatest.”
“I’m very good,” Alldritt said. “The muscle is not affected. It’s just the skin that is opened but with a few stitches, we’re going to let it heal.
“It’s perhaps a bit stupid what I’m going to say, but it’s one of my greatest victories with the France team.
“We had a complicated week. We have really become closer. We wanted to do it for us, and we did it.”