Ben White’s try gave Scotland a seventh-minute lead and they felt they should have been more than 16-10 in front by the time the French – who had prop Uini Atonio sin-binned just before half-time – turned Saturday’s game in their favour in the closing 10 minutes.
Les Bleus – whose tries came from Gael Fickou and Louis Bielle-Biarrey – held on for a 20-16 victory but only after an astonishing finale in which Scotland were convinced substitute Sam Skinner had scored a match-winning try in the game’s last action.
Referee Nic Berry’s initial call was “no try” and after several minutes of deliberating with TMO Brian MacNeice amid incredible tension, it looked like they were about to award the score before eventually deciding the images were inconclusive.
The Scots were livid but co-captain Russell conceded the game should never have boiled down to that last-gasp flashpoint.
“Personally I believe it was a try at the end, but it’s up to the referee to decide that,” said the stand-off.
“We can’t let the referee decide what happens in a game, it’s up to us to play better and make these matches a victory.”
Although disappointed, Russell believes it was a sign of Scotland’s resilience that they almost dug out victory despite relinquishing their long-held lead in the closing stages.
“It was a bit of magic from France (for Bielle-Biarrey’s 70th-minute try), but I think the way we got back into the game and the way I believe that we scored, it shows the character we’ve got,” he said.
“We didn’t lose belief when we fell four points down with three minutes left. I’m proud of the boys for the performance but we need to take our learnings from it going into the England game.”
The Scots host their old rivals a week on Saturday knowing they will need a Calcutta Cup victory to hoist themselves back into championship contention.
“We’ll take it easy next week,” said Russell. “Some of the boys have got to train, some haven’t. We just need some time away from rugby. It’s an intense competition.
“We’ll take some time away and then come back to get ready for that England game. A massive challenge awaits us and we’ll need to be ready.”
One man who may have played his way into contention for the England showdown is 22-year-old Edinburgh back Harry Paterson, who produced an impressive debut after being summoned to start at full-back on the morning of the match when Kyle Steyn’s wife went into labour.
“It’s one of the best debuts I’ve ever seen,” said head coach Gregor Townsend. “Going up against that French backline on a wet day at Murrayfield, he was excellent.
“I gave him a heads-up that he could be playing about 9am then confirmed it at 10am.
“To play like that was fantastic and gives us a lot of encouragement about where Harry can go over these next few years.
“He knew he’d have a lot of kicks to field due to the way France play and with the weather being wet, but he just got stronger and stronger as the game went on.
“But Kyle Rowe deserves a mention as well. That was only his second Test start and, like Harry, I thought he was excellent.
“We are building depth in the back three.”
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