France are on the verge of a first-ever Under 20 Six Nations Grand Slam after securing a hard-fought 18-13 victory over Scotland in the Borders on Friday.
They can now only be caught at the top of the table by defending champions England, who recorded a record-breaking 67-7 win over Wales in Newcastle the same evening.
Both sides face IRB Junior World Championship 2014 pool opponents in the final round, with France at home to third-placed Ireland and England taking on second-from-bottom Italy in Brescia.
That rout has given the English a significantly better point differential than France so if Les Bleuets slip to defeat against Ireland then a fourth successive title will be England's if they beat IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy 2013 winners Italy.
Like the senior side, France’s Under 20s came up against fierce Scottish resistance and they had to withstand a determined fightback to make it four wins from four.
After Scotland had gone in front through a Ben Chalmers penalty, Les Bleuets scored the first try of the evening when fly half Brandon Fajardo outpaced the cover defence to finish off a break by flanker Jean-Blaise Lespinasse.
Scotland come up short
Fajardo converted his own try and then added a penalty to hand the visitors a 10-3 interval lead.
With Fajardo substituted at half-time, replacement Antony Meric stepped up to take over the kicking duties and the scrum half was successful with his first shot at goal after Scotland had been penalised at the scrum.
Despite the Scots’ best defensive efforts in the face of a sustained onslaught from France they were unable to keep out prop Tommy Reynaud, who scored a close-range try that went unconverted.
Trailing 18-3, Scotland refused to let their heads drop and they got their just reward when, after a series of forward drives, outstanding second row Andy Cramond crossed the line to cut the deficit to 10 points.
Full back Damien Hoyland joined him on the scoresheet soon after to set up a grandstand finish, but Scotland were unable to bridge the gap and they now face the prospect of a Six Nations whitewash unless they can beat a wounded Wales side in Colwyn Bay.
Wales will no doubt still be hurting from their rout at the hands of England, Zach Kibirige’s wonderful solo effort in front of his home crowd undoubtedly being the pick of the 10 tries at Kingston Park.
Wales learn "some harsh lessons"
In a team display that England coach Nick Walshe described as “not far off perfect”, Wasps openside flanker Gus Jones led the scoring with four tries, hooker Harry Thacker contributed two while Kibirige, scrum half Henry Taylor, prop Alex Ludberg and captain Maro Itoje – with his fourth in as many matches – all scored one apiece.
Precious little of the form that pushed England so close in the JWC 2013 final was in evidence from Wales and some of their tackling on the night was woeful.
However captain Steffan Hughes is pleased his side have one more match to put the record straight.
“We have a game next week against Scotland which will be an opportunity for us to get some pride and respect back,” the Llanelli centre said. “We said after the game we have to be honest with each other and it’s a big week of training now leading into a big game.
“It’s very disappointing and I think we were dealt some harsh lessons in terms of how to play international rugby. We weren’t there at all and not taking anything away from England, I thought they played very well. At times, their play was something we couldn’t handle.”
For the second time in a row on the road Italy failed to score a single point, Ireland chalking up an 18-0 win at Dubarry Park.
Ireland’s tries came 15 minutes into each half from wings Cian Kelleher and Adam Byrne, with fly half Ross Byrne kicking the rest of their points.