France edge Scotland in bruising affair
The Scots, who upset Ireland last week, must have thought they were set for another big win when the teams were tied 16-all going into the final 10 minutes.
However, the powerful French scrum created a platform for a few late penalties – with flyhalf Camille Lopez kicking two late penalties to seal the win for his team.
Scotland outscored France by two tries to one, but Lopez scored 17 points with the boot to guide France to victory.
It was a game that produced brutal collisions, silky handling, solid scrumming and a couple of fine tries.
In the end it was the power of the French forwards that made the difference.
Scotland weren't helped by losing four players to injury during the game, including captain and kicker Greig Laidlaw.
Yet still they twice led – after tries from Stuart Hogg and Tim Swinson, but a failure to convert either proved costly.
France put the first points on the board when Josh Strauss was penalised for not rolling away and Lopez kicked a seventh minute penalty.
But a mistake by Scott Spedding gave Scotland a line-out on France's 22-metre line and the visitors went through 15 phases before Hogg's dancing feet took him over in the corner on 17 minutes.
Laidlaw's conversion came back off the woodwork and moments later a second Lopez penalty put France back in front.
Scotland suffered a blow on 25 minutes as Laidlaw hobbled off.
Both sides were showing plenty of ambition but too often poor handling or an ill-advised offload brought a promising move to a shuddering halt.
Scotland had a let off when a relatively simple Lopez penalty came back off the upright.
But France soon rumbled up to the Scotland five-metre line and quick hands sent the ball right where Gael Fickou ducked under two tacklers to dive over in the corner on 31 minutes, Lopez nailing the conversion from wide right.
Just as France looked to be taking control, Scotland came storming back despite the loss of flanker John Barclay to injury as Finn Russell took over kicking duties and landed two penalties to send his team into the break trailing only 13-11.
The second half got off to a bad start for Scotland as Barclay's replacement John Hardie went off injured, meaning lock Swinson had to come on and play flanker.
And yet moments later, a brilliant offload from Russell sent Tommy Seymour scampering down the right wing. He gathered his own chip ahead and then fed Swinson to go over under the posts.
But remarkably, from right in front of the posts, Russell hit his conversion under the bar.
That let France level up at 16-16 on 47 minutes through another Lopez penalty.
Scotland's discipline was an issue and they were repeatedly penalised at the scrum, but Spedding failed to punish them with a long-range penalty from halfway that went wide.
Hogg tried his luck from even further out but likewise sent his kick past the uprights.
Scotland then saw centre Alex Dunbar go off for a head injury assessment, although he was able to return to the fray, but hooker Fraser Brown was next to take a knock to the head and be forced off.
France turned down two kickable penalties in a row, kicking the first to touch and opting for a scrum second time around but it came to nothing as Remi Lamerat lost control of the ball when trying to ground it one-handed.
It could have proved costly but Huw Jones was penalised for holding on after the tackle and this time Lopez dissected the posts, giving France the lead with eight minutes left.
And with his fifth penalty of the match three minutes from time, Lopez made the game safe.
Man of the match: You can look at the power of Scotland centre Huw Jones, the guile of flyhalf Finn Russell, the workrate of No.8 Josh Strauss and John Barclay. Scotland's nest player was fullback Stuart Hogg. For France there is fullback Scott Spedding, flyhalf Camille Lopez and his trusty boot, the entire French pack – including front row of Uini Atonio, Guilhem Guirado and Cyril Baille. However, our award goes to hard-working French No.8 Louis Picamoles.
Moment of the match: There were three tries that can be considered. You may want to look at the scrum penalty late in the second half, five metres from Scotland line, when France had clear dominance in the set pieces – but the referee riled that they did not push straight. The decisive moments was the turnover penalty won by replacement scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud that gifted Lopez a penalty shot at goal in the 72bd minute. That gave France the lead at a crucial stage.
Villain: Nobody, not even in a game of this brutality. Hard and in the true tradition of the game.
Pens: Lopez 5
Tries: Hogg, Swinson
Pens: Russell 2
France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 6 Loann Goujon, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 3 Uini Atonio, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Xavier Chiocci, 19 Julien Le Devedec, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Yoann Huget.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (captain), 8 Josh Strauss, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 John Hardie, 21 Ali Price, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Johnny Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (Ireland)
— Philippe (@philousports) February 12, 2017