Scotland’s Rugby World Cup warm-up series got off to a woeful start as they were put to the sword by a rampant France in Nice last night.
The French ran in five tries to none against the outclassed Scots who failed to rise to the stunning setting at the state-of-the-art Allianz Rivieria stadium.
Gregor Townsend’s side simply didn’t turn up and the coach will be keen to see things put right swiftly when they host the French at BT Murrayfield on Saturday.
The return of centre Duncan Taylor was the only real bright spot less than a month before the squad, which will be cut to 31 on the 3 September, heads for Japan.
A number of players didn’t do their hopes of making the plane many favours in a performance which rivals the hiding dished out by Wales at the start of last year’s Six Nations as the worst of Townsend’s tenure.
The match got off to a frenetic start as the Scots, playing in a light-blue change strip, were pinned back and broken within the first few minutes when Aliverete Raka, the Fiji-born wing who was making his France debut, carved through to go in under the posts.
It was a dream start for the hotly-tipped 24-year-old Clermont Auvergne wing and he would go on to constitute a constantly menacing threat in attack for the rest of the half.
Scotland settled a bit and began to build some phases without really posing much danger for the hosts.
The French were the better side by a fair margin as the game unfolded and stand-off Camille Lopez added a penalty to his earlier conversion of Raka’s try.
The warning bells were really starting to ring in the 23rd minute when full-back Maxime Medard got past the defensive efforts of Hawick pair Stuart Hogg and Darcy Graham to crash over in the left corner.
Lopez couldn’t convert from out wide this time. Even so, at 15-0 up the French had established a very useful cushion, which the Scots needed to put a dent in and quickly.
They did finally get off the mark after 26 minutes when stand-off Adam Hastings slotted a cleanly-struck penalty.
The young Glasgow playmaker then made a good break down the right to boost the spirits of a healthy Scottish travelling support, who were playing their part in making for an electric atmosphere on a balmy night by the Mediterranean.
It was much better from the Scots as Hogg began to get more into the game, but a classic piece of French attacking flair had the visitors scrambling again just past the half-hour mark.
And that was just about as good as it got from the away team, as France stretched their lead in what remained of the half to all but put the game out of Scotland’s reach. The crucial blow was landed in the 33rd minute when No 8 Gregory Allidritt, whose two late tries in the Six Nations clash between the two countries in Paris earlier in the year had helped Les Bleus to a 27-10 victory, crashed over from a short maul drive off a lineout close to the Scots’ line.
Lopez missed the conversion, but all the same, at 20-3 against them, the match was obviously all but out of reach for Townsend’s side – especially as their one real bright spell in attack had not come too close to registering a try.
The home No 8 departed soon after and was replaced by the giant Louis Picamoles as Jacques Brunel’s team finished the half as they had started it – on the front foot. The half-time whistle would have come as a relief to the wobbling Scots.
If the start to the first half was explosive then the second 40 minutes got off to a much tamer opening.
The scoreboard wasn’t troubled for 15 minutes but when it was it was effectively game over for the Scots as Medard got on the end of a slick midfield passing move to beat Hogg and get in the left corner for his second score.
Townsend had already made changes by bringing on tighthead Zander Fagerson at the break, with Simon Berghan moving across to replace Jamie Bhatti at loosehead. The coach then handed Northampton centre Rory Hutchinson a first cap as he replaced Taylor following the latter’s welcome and solid return to action after almost a year out with a knee injury.
Lock Scott Cummings and scrum-half George Horne also entered the fray but the pattern of the game continued in a similar vein as the French continued to maraud forward.
A poor evening quickly descended into a thumping as the French No 9 Antoine Dupont scampered over and Lopez added the extras to make it 32-3 with almost 20 minutes still to play.
The wheels were coming off fast now and any hopes that the kind of fightback which lit up Twickenham in Scotland’s last Test were highly forlorn ones.
Hutchinson almost created a consolation score but just couldn’t prevent his offload on the French line from going forward and that was to be the last time the Scots offered any threat.
The French picked up the pace again and continued to run the visitors ragged but didn’t manage to add anything more to their emphatic lead.
Scotland now welcome France next weekend before travelling to face Georgia in a historic Test in Tbilisi. Townsend will then name his squad before the east Europeans come to Edinburgh.
Key players such as playmaker Finn Russell will come in down the line, but Townsend has much to ponder this week as he faces the task of raising the spirits of his troops after what was a bruising and humbling experience in the south of France.