RBS 6 Nations
France 22-16 Scotland
Two Camille Lopez penalties in the final 10 minutes proved the difference as Scotland failed to build on a lightning start to the second half of their RBS 6 Nations clash against France.
Lopez kicked 17 points in all to add to Gael Fickou’s try as France ran out 22-16 victors in Paris.
The Scots had moved ahead in the 43rd minute when substitute Tim Swinson added to Stuart Hogg’s first-half try, but Finn Russell somehow missed the easiest of conversions which would have put Scotland five points in front.
Instead, Lopez kicked France level and the hosts proved too strong in the final 20 minutes.
Scotland gave everything but a series of injuries – including a worrying one for captain Greig Laidlaw – appeared to tell as they failed to build on their opening victory over Ireland.
Both sides showed their attacking intent from kick-off, and space opened up for Sean Maitland on the left wing after Allan Dell’s interception but he was stopped as he came inside.
France opened the scoring in the seventh minute through Lopez after Josh Strauss paid the price for not releasing in the tackle.
The hosts began to dominate in the scrum and there were warning signs for Scotland when they lost their lineout near the halfway line, but a kick from Russell helped get France on the backfoot and the stand-off further opened things up with some clever footwork.
Huw Jones then set up Hogg and he burst over to mark his 50th cap with a 15th international try in the 16th minute. Laidlaw hit the bar with his kick.
Lopez soon kicked France back in front after Hamish Watson was penalised for obstruction and Scotland then saw their skipper limp off in the 25th minute.
Ali Price came on and his over-eagerness to take a penalty saw South African referee Jaco Peyper reverse his decision after the Glasgow scrum-half pushed Lopez as he held on to the ball.
The stand-off hit the post but France kept Scotland under sustained pressure and worked the ball from left to right before Fickou ran through Hogg’s attempted tackle and crossed. Lopez kicked inches inside the post to make it 13-5.
Scotland were immediately back on the attack though, with another Russell shimmy threatening to open things up again as the French defended deep, and the Glasgow stand-off kicked a penalty after the move broke down.
Russell reduced the deficit further with a disputed penalty, keeping his nerve amid whistling from the home crowd and a drum roll from one of Stade de France’s two brass bands.
The late riposte meant Scotland, with John Hardie on for the injured John Barclay, had given themselves a fighting chance against a side who had been outscored in the second half of eight of their previous 11 matches.
Scotland lost another man early in the second half when Hardie went off after a collision but his replacement, Swinson, went over in the 43rd minute as Tommy Seymour set him free after his own lob had put France full-back Scott Spedding in all types of bother.
The French supporters were lifted by their side’s decision to kick a penalty into touch and go for a second try rather than take what looked a good chance to take the lead.
But their gamble did not pay off as Scotland survived some extremely close shaves with some last-ditch tackling, by far the biggest let-off coming when Irish TMO Peter Fitzgibbon controversially ruled that Remi Lamerat had lost control of the ball before touching down.
The Scots by this point had lost Zander Fagerson and Fraser Brown to what looked like injuries but they won a penalty from the scrum to relieve the pressure.
However, France soon took another chance to kick themselves ahead in the 71st minute and Lopez made no mistake from 35 metres after Jones was punished for not releasing.
Still Scotland struggled to get out of their own half and Lopez doubled France’s lead with four minutes left following a maul offence.
The visitors needed a converted try but could not get into the home 22 as they saw their hopes of a first Paris triumph since 1999 disappear.