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The sting of away defeat all-too-familiar for Scotland

Their Six Nations hopes are gone for another year but dark blues must continue to grow.

Dejection: The beaten Scotland players at Stade de France
Dejection: The beaten Scotland players at Stade de France SNS Group

For a team built on the totem of playing fast and unpredictable rugby, there was something all-too inevitable about Scotland's inability to get close to a big away win in France.

The team's form away from Murrayfield has been a constant theme since the stabilisation under Vern Cotter and then the development being undertaken by Gregor Townsend.

France are not in a good place with their national team just now and a first victory in Paris for 20 years was - if not expected - certainly hoped for with a little more confidence than usual by the fans who traveled.

But once again it was the sights, sounds and tastes of the Republic's capital that will be the only memories they want to take back home with them.

It is impossible to miss the swish of kilts around central Paris on Scotland matchday.

Parisians stop to take photographs and local children gape at the colourful Scots congregating around the streets.

Avenue du Stade de France, St-Denis, Paris
STV News

Trains carry the majority of the fans from the city out to Saint-Denis where the national stadium is situated. From the main station the crowds funnel along the broad Avenue du Stade de France.

Flags and scarves are bought and exchanged between rivals fans. Benches along the pedestrianized boulevard become makeshift picnic tables for thousands who flock early to the area.

The stadium itself is an 80,000 capacity work of art. No picture or video can do justice to the aura created by its suspended elliptical roof, which alone cost around £40m to construct.

Inside the booming address system is in full swing from over an hour before kick off. A tricolor flag sits on every seat as a troupe fires T-shirts into the stands for the early birds along to soak up the big game atmosphere.

It has the reputation as one of the most passionate national anthems in world sport and the lusty, aggressive Les Marseillais does not disappoint on this day.

Thousands of seats were empty for France's opening match of the Six Nations but this afternoon it is packed with fans expecting a reaction from a team under pressure.

Stade de France, February 2019
STV News

They got their reaction as Les Bleus drew on the emotion to fly out the traps and pin Scotland to the floor. Often literally.

France had fire in their bellies and seemed tireless - particularly in the close-fought, gritty aspects of the sport.

The huge forward pack - plus the hulking centre Mathieu Bastareaud - gave Scotland nightmares when competing to turnover the ball after tackles.

The graft that forced Scotland into, shifting these massive bodies just to hold on to their own ball, was immense. That can in part explain the many errors committed by Gregor Townsend's team.

The men in dark blue knocked the ball on, allowed themselves to be turned over, missed tackles and missed opportunities.

Each time the mistake relieved the pressure on their hosts. Each time it sapped a little bit of their belief.

Scotland's injury list is a legitimate plea in mitigation to the paucity of their performance. They were without their two superstars - Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell.

Bordeaux Pipe Band, Paris, February 2019
STV News

Also unavailable were WP Nel, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Blade Thomson, Ryan Wilson, Duncan Taylor and Huw Jones.

These are all players who could be starters, and all will have well-founded belief that they can go to the World Cup as Scotland players this autumn.

But why it matters that Scotland could not find a performance that troubled a France team which, after a run of stinging defeat themselves, is not in a good place, is that all these players and perhaps more could all be missing at any time.

Test match rugby is a brutal, unforgiving arena. Injuries are not just a matter of bad luck - they are an expected part of this game.

Scotland have so far not showed that they have the depth to cope.

Jamie Borthwick, STV News, Stade de France, February 2019
STV News

To be successful - a contender to win trophies - requires a scale of talent, experience and leadership to shrug off the loss of key personnel and still get results.

England, Wales and Ireland all have it. New Zealand and South Africa too.

So what has to happen next is that the men getting their chance to wear the Thistle show that they are growing.

Blair Kinghorn, Adam Hastings, Sam Johnson, Nick Grigg, Jamie Ritchie, Magnus Bradbury, Gary Graham - they too could all go to the showpiece tournament in Japan this September because each has the latent talent to be a test match regular.

In two weeks these players will face a Wales team fresh from knocking off England and scenting a Grand Slam for their legendary departing boss Warren Gatland.

Paris was painful but, in front of a home crowd, they can find a new level within themselves and restore the hope that has been building in Scottish rugby for the past four years.

https://stv.tv/sport/rugby/1435768-france-v-scotland-match-report/ | default

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