Scotland 6 France 27
New-look France got their RBS 6 Nations Championship campaign off to the perfect start with an impressive victory against lacklustre Scotland at Murrayfield.
Man of the match Vincent Clerc scored two tries, one in each half, to hand Marc Lievremont immediate success in his first match as coach of France.
Julien Malzieu, one of four debutants in the starting XV with a further two on the bench, also crossed for his maiden international try in the first half as the visitors proved too mobile and well organised for Frank Hadden’s side.
Scotland had gone into the game with high hopes that their settled side could get their Six Nations off to a successful start but could only muster six points from the boot of Dan Parks, who otherwise endured a miserable game.
Scotland’s more experienced side committed costly errors throughout whereas Lievremont’s youthful team, with only six players from the World Cup squad in the starting line-up, displayed admirable composure in carrying out their game-plan.
The mistakes arrived right from the beginning of the game when – having been selected ahead of the world’s most reliable goalkicker, Chris Paterson – the opening kick-off from Parks sailed straight out of play to give France a scrum in a promising position on halfway.
Scotland resisted their opponents’ first attack though and after they had regained possession the Glasgow man dropped a goal in the fourth minute to give his side a 3-0 lead.
France were clearly intent on running the ball from every position on the field but Scotland also displayed promising early signs, notably a terrific scything run from Nikki Walker – another who could be said to be in the side ahead of utility back Paterson – in the 10th minute.
Two minutes later France’s adventurous approach paid dividends when Cedric Haymans and Clerc twice combined beautifully down the right flank to send the Toulouse winger in for his 16th international try despite the hint of a double movement.
Jean-Baptiste Elissalde converted to give the visitors a 7-3 lead and Damien Traille increased that advantage five minutes later with a penalty from just inside Scotland’s half.
Just after the midway point in the half, Parks missed a straightforward opportunity to bring Scotland to within four points when he pulled a penalty attempt wide of the posts.
They were quickly made to pay when full-back Rory Lamont – playing in another position Paterson has filled with success – and Parks failed to deal with a long kick ahead into the Scotland 22 and Malzieu pounced for a debut try in the 23rd minute.
On the stroke of the half hour, Scotland’s Sydney-born stand-off kicked his second penalty from close range to bring the score to 17-6.
Elissalde – having pushed a penalty attempt wide a minute before – did the reverse in the 38th minute, pulling what was another very kickable penalty past the left-hand post to the relief of Hadden and his side as they headed into the changing rooms for half time.
France started the second half in the ascendancy and Hadden responded by introducing back-rower Kelly Brown in place of Dave Callam, who had been filling in for broken thumb victim Simon Taylor.
Lievremont made two changes in the front row at the same time and 12 minutes into the new half he also sent on Julien Bonnaire – one of France’s finest players at last year’s World Cup – in place of Elvis Vermeulen.
Referee Alain Rolland deemed Scotland had collapsed a scrum in the 55th minute, the latest in a lengthy list of decisions which the hosts felt were harsh, and Traille kicked the penalty to stretch his side’s lead to 20-6.
Hadden shuffled his pack further as Scott MacLeod came on for Jim Hamilton and Gavin Kerr for Euan Murray but the French, with David Skrela now on for another of the debutants Francois Trinh-Duc, remained on top.
Just after the hour mark Paterson was introduced in place of Parks to a great ovation from the Murrayfield crowd.
But the positive effect of the switch proved only limited as Clerc scored his second try in the 65th minute after collecting his own kick down the touchline. Skrela converted to push France further ahead at 27-6.
Hope of a late revival arrived in the 70th minute through a darting run to within inches of the line from Paterson after which fellow replacement Chris Cusiter knocked on as he sought to touch down – although he was under pressure from two French defenders.
Scotland, with a full roll call of replacements on the pitch, pressed for a consolation try but the French held firm to gain revenge for the surprise 20-16 defeat in Edinburgh on the opening weekend of the 2006 championship.