Scotland 9 France 18
Andy Robinson failed to inspire Scotland to an opening RBS 6 Nations victory as monster France centre Mathieu Bastareaud completed a fairytale comeback at Murrayfield.
Making his first Test start since disgracing himself by falsely claiming he had been assaulted during his country’s tour of New Zealand last summer, the 21-year-old responded with his first two international tries.
Morgan Parra kicked France’s other points as try-saving tackles from Thom Evans and Sean Lamont prevented them adding to their tally, while Chris Paterson landed three penalties for the toothless hosts.
Today’s match was Robinson’s first championship game since taking charge, while opposite number Marc Lievremont was returning to the scene of his debut as Les Bleus’ head coach two years ago.
Pre-tournament favourites France arrived in Edinburgh with a long injury list, giving perennial strugglers Scotland hope of winning a Six Nations opener for the first time since they triumphed in this fixture back in 2006.
Victories over Fiji and especially Australia in Robinson’s first two games in charge had also raised expectations of an upset.
France lost Aurelien Rougerie five minutes in after the wing – playing his first Test for almost two years – injured himself in two heavy early collisions.
Vincent Clerc came on with the visitors very much the dominant force, but when Max Evans intercepted a Yannick Jauzion pass, Scotland repeatedly went close to a try against the run of play.
France eventually infringed near their line and Paterson marked his 99th cap by kicking the hosts in front after 10 minutes.
Clerc looked to have scored in the corner for France a minute later after Scotland conceded a turnover but a Kelly Brown ankle tap and heroic defence from Thom Evans prevented the substitute grounding the ball.
A five-metre scrum followed and the visitors eventually worked the ball wide to Bastareaud, who dived over unchallenged. Parra made a complete hash of the touchline conversion.
Scotland almost replied in the 17th minute when Johnnie Beattie burst onto a Phil Godman pass but Chris Cusiter was unable to gather the ball after it was spilt backwards.
Scotland were looking to run the ball but when Godman unwisely tried a grubber, his kick was charged down by opposite number Francois Trinh-Duc, who would have scored but for another last-ditch tackle, this time from Lamont.
Both sides were making a succession of handling errors but it was collapsing the scrum that cost the hosts their next points in the 28th minute, Parra slotting the penalty from just under 40 metres.
Lamont, who had scored three tries in his last two games against France, was proving their nemesis again.
His burst down the left eventually led to a penalty Paterson kicked to cut the deficit to two points after 31 minutes.
But Bastareaud was looking unstoppable on his recall and when the visitors worked the ball left two minutes later, the centre burst through the Scottish defence to power over.
Parra made no mistake with the toughest of touchline conversions.
France began the second half as they had ended the first and their scrum-half put them further ahead in the fifth minute with his second successful 40-metre penalty.
The visitors then replaced prop Nicolas Mas with new cap Luc Ducalcon as Scotland continued to struggle to get out of their own 22.
France eventually relieved the pressure themselves when Trinh-Duc failed with a speculative drop-goal attempt.
Hooker William Servat was then withdrawn for Dimitri Szarzewski before a suicidal pass from Godman went unpunished when the visitors infringed.
That was the fly-half’s last act as Hugo Southwell and Allan Jacobsen entered the fray, the latter for Moray Low.
Paterson, who moved to fly-half, converted the outstanding penalty to give Scotland a sliver of hope.
But their forwards were being overrun and Parra should have made them pay with yet another 40-metre penalty which drifted wide.
Scotland finally got into the France half with 15 minutes remaining, before a raft of substitutions, including a debut for young lock Richie Gray.
Low also returned to the field for Alasdair Dickinson amid another spurt of late changes.
Lamont – Scotland’s best player by a considerable distance – broke through with six minutes left but the move broke down like so many before.