Scotland got their World Cup preparations back on track with a hard-fought and much-needed win against France seven days after a 32-3 stuffing in Nice which had led to a week of edge and anxious concern.
The Scots’ solid home form held as tries by Sean Maitland and Chris Harris, with two conversions and a penalty by returning skipper Greig Laidlaw, got the job done after another shaky start.
It may not have been the sultry Mediterranian heat of Nice the previous weekend but a beautiful August Saturday greeted this second World Cup warm-up Test and, despite the Riviera rout, the mood around the ground ahead of kick-off was crackling in a city already full of Festival flavour.
The stage was set, but Scotland’s habit of leaking early tries continued to strike a bum note as a misplaced Pete Horne pass inside two miniutes allowed French wing Damian Penaud to scorch over under the posts for a score converted by full-back Thomas Ramos. Laidlaw clawed three points back a few minutes later as the Scots sought a new platform into the game.
Wing Tommy Seymour had clearly been struggling after a couple of heavy collisions and departed in the 17th minute, replaced by Edinburgh’s Blair Kinghorn.
The game entered a stage of attrition, with the opposing stand-offs Finn Russell and Camille Lopez seeking to mix things up with inventive use of the boot but the stalemate continued until France carved Scotland up with more worrying ease in the 27th minute.
A Russell spill led to a French turnover and a simple fling through the hands of the backline allowed Penaud to scamper over for his second, Ramos converting to put the already under-pressure Scots under the pump at 14-3 down approaching the interval.
More fleet-footedness by Russell, attempting to unleash Maitland down the left, looked promising but came to nought as the half seemed to be fizzling out, with French stand-off Lopez limping off injured and replaced by Toulouse’s Romain Ntamack.
As the sell-out crowd were considering their half-time beers, Chardonnays and venison burgers, Scotland suddenly fizzed into life, pouncing on a French fumble to press hard.
Centre Harris made the initial surge before being held up short. The Scots kept patient and Russell slung it left until Maitland was finally put in the clear.
The reliable boot of Laidlaw from the left touchline converted superbly and it was a four-point game at the turnaround.
The second half got off to a disappointing start as debutant Blade Thomson departed for a head injury assessment. The Scarlets back-row forward missed most of last season with a concussion injury.
France freshened up their pack with the introduction of hooker Camille Chat for returning skipper Guilhem Guirado, Cyril Baille in the front row and Romain Taofifenauin the second row.
With all the heat produced in the aftermath of Nice, it is easy to forget sometimes that these are, essentially, pre-season friendlies and the second half opened in a very placid manner.
Things sparked into life in the 56th minute when some eager chasing by Kinghorn presented attacking lineout and scrum opportunities. The Scots worked the phases before the wily Laidlaw picked out a beautiful angle from outside centre Harris to surge over.
The scrum-half pinged over the conversion and, suddenly, Scotland were 17-14 in front. On the hour mark Exeter Chiefs lock Sam Skinner was helped off and Grant Stewart came on to become the newest Scotland internationalist, No 1,106, slotting in at hooker as George Turner moved to the back row and John Barclay, who had replaced Thomson, filling in at lock.
Despite the re-jig it was much better stuff by Scotland, the passes were sticking and momentum was building despite the occasional flurry by the French.
Rory Hutchinson came on for his second cap at centre, replacing Horne inside tryscorer Harris.
Some Hogg kick-and-chase magic had the crowd on their feet and in full roar but scrambling French defence forced a penalty.
The Scots were soon back on the offensive as the home full-back drove a penalty to within ten metres of the visiting line but, frustratingly, the lineout was botched as debutant Stewart took on the throwing role.
His next was more accurate as George Horne, on for Laidlaw, attempted to drive things on with eight minutes remaining. France were reeling, but holding firm. Scotland were in control in the closing few minutes but couldn’t rest on such a slender lead.
The award of a scrum in their own half by referee Wayne Barnes as the clock ticked red sealed the deal and Hogg did the necessary, booting the ball into the East Stand to rapturous acclaim.