SCOTLAND came agonisingly close to ending their 16-year search for victory in Paris last night when a 73rd-minute try snatched victory for the hosts at the Stade de France.
Vern Cotter’s men had put themselves in with a chance to win their final World Cup warm-up Test when wing Tommy Seymour scored a try in the 62nd minute that had them 16-12 up. They clung on bravely as the stunned French battered away at the Scottish line and wing Noa Nakaitaci finally squeezed over to snatch the game.
It was not always a high quality game but it was played at Test match intensity, especially in the final quarter, with both sides desperate for a win to take into the World Cup, which starts in a couple of weeks.
Scotland coach Vern Cotter will take satisfaction from a performance by his side which, for long spells, matched a team considered one of the tournament favourites on their own patch.
In front of a big and boisterous crowd on a cool, damp evening in the French capital, Scotland got off to a somewhat untidy start, with a wayward lineout and early penalty concessions allowing the hosts to ease themselves into the early stages. However, the Scots escaped going behind when Fredi Michalak scuffed his first attempt at goal short.
Moments later came an injury concern for the visitors when prop Al Dickinson left the field with a head knock and was replaced by Gordon Reid.
Scotland got their first scoring chance in the ninth minute and Laidlaw made no mistake from 40 yards out and forged his men 3-0 ahead against the run of play.
A brutal barnstorming charge down the left by Mathieu Bastareaud prompted the French crowd to rediscover their voice and when the scrambling Scots defence conceded the penalty Michalak made no mistake this time to square the match.
Errors continued to flow from both sides and it was the Scots who profited next when Laidlaw was offered another chance from a similar spot to his first penalty and the outcome was identical. Scotland ahead again.
A penalty conceded at a lineout just inside their own 22 gave the French the opportunity to level and Michalak duly knocked over his kick.
Wesley Fofana then looked to have scored the first try of the evening when he barged through in the left corner, but it was ruled out for a forward pass.
The Scottish scrum won yet another penalty but, close to the halfway line, Laidlaw opted for touch. The Scottish lineout just managed to take possession and more French indiscipline gifted the Scots the chance to end a poor quality first 40 on a high note as Laidlaw gobbled up the three points from 25 yards out for a 9-6 lead at the break.
The French team were out for the second half a good three or four minutes before the Scots re-emerged and the hosts hit the ground running, Michalak swiftly punishing more Scottish indiscipline with a straightforward penalty to swiftly wipe out the arrears.
The French began to lash out with waves of attack. The Scots contributed to their own pressure with more errors and, when centre Matt Scott coughed up possession inside his own half, it looked like Yoann Huget was in down the right, only for full-back Sean Maitland, playing his first game since January, to put in a brilliant last-ditch tackle.
When France won a penalty just inside their own half, the longer range of Scott Spedding was called for and the full-back made the 52 yards with a bit to spare to nudge the hosts ahead for the first time.
It was backs to the wall time for a spell but then, out of nowhere, the home crowd were stunned when Scotland struck from a turnover in their own 22. Laidlaw showed great awareness with a cross-field kick into acres of space on the right, which Spedding simply couldn’t cover. The fast advancing Seymour just beat the sprawling full-back to the ball and kicked through with his left foot to give himself a simple run in under the posts, Laidlaw converting.
The try hero was replaced by Sean Lamont, who took his caps tally to 97, as the French camped themselves on the Scottish line, opting for scrums rather than penalties. The Scottish defence dug deep but they couldn’t hold, left-wing Nakaitaci burst through and replacement Morgan Parra added the conversion.
Even then the Scots responded and Bennett came close to getting through but was just held as the French clung on.
Then, in the dying seconds, Scotland spurned a kick at goal that could have earned them a draw, opting instead to run a penalty, but to no avail.