A second-half try by man of the match Virimi Vakatawa was the difference between the sides and it dashed hopes of a record-equalling sixth successive victory for Gregor Townsend’s side who at least picked up a bonus point.
France will now take on Italy in the final Group B match before a likely final against England at Twickenham. For the Scots, it’s likely to be a trip to Dublin for a third-place play-off against Ireland.
The game ebbed and flowed but France always seemed to be able to get their noses in front.
Duncan Weir kicked five from five penalties for Scotland, three from long range, but Thomas Ramos also had his eye in. The full-back kicked four penalties and a conversion and Matthieu Jalibert dropped a goal as France took revenge for the defeat at Murrayfield in March which ultimately cost them the Six Nations title.
The visitors started brightly, quickly setting up camp inside the Scottish 22 and a dart from scrum-half Antoine Dupont signalled their attacking intent. Scotland were penalised at a subsequent ruck and Ramos gratefully accepted the early gift. Assuming kicking duties in the absence of Romain Ntamack, the full-back easily dispatched the penalty to give France an early 3-0 lead.
Scotland had started sluggishly against Italy in their Nations Cup opener and they were second best again here in the early exchanges. A delicate little kick through from Gael Fickou had Blair Kinghorn scurrying back and the big Edinburgh wing just got a hand to the ball before the onrushing France dangerman Vakatawa to prevent the try. It was by no means clearcut but a quick check with the TMO confirmed Kinghorn had won the race. That was the good news. The bad news was that Scotland had been punished for an earlier infringement and Ramos was able to double France’s advantage with his second penalty.
This seemed to galvanise the Scots who were finally able to make some headway into French territory. They pressed the visitors into a couple of mistakes which were rewarded with a penalty which Weir knocked over to reduce the arrears.
If that was simple enough, the stand-off’s next offering was altogether more impressive. France’s Gregory Alldritt was penalised at a ruck 10 yards inside his own half and Weir decided to have a pot at goal. He produced a prodigious effort that sailed through the posts and drew Scotland level at the halfway point of the first half.
Parity did not last long, and a smart drop goal from fly-half Jalibert edged France 9-6 ahead. But Weir had his eye in and slotted over his third penalty soon after.
Referee Wayne Barnes was stamping his authority on proceedings and France were awarded another kickable penalty when Matt Fagerson was hauled up for not releasing. The big No 8 looked slightly bewildered by the award but Ramos gratefully accepted the opportunity to put the French 12-9 ahead.
Things were becoming a little ragged and moments of promise were being thwarted by careless mistakes. It was edgy stuff but Scotland got back on terms when Weir kicked his fourth penalty of the game, and his third from long range.
With the first half nearing an end, France prop Camille Chat ran with ball in hand at Jonny Gray and straight-armed the Scotland lock in the face. Barnes took a long time viewing the incident on the big screen before deciding… to do nothing.
France took heart and produced a mighty shove at the subsequent scrum. Scotland were under intense pressure not to concede a try just before the break and rose to the challenge with a huge defensive effort to hold up the visitors on the line, much to the dismay of Vakatawa who felt France had scored. It was just the lift the Scots needed going in at half-time.
But the respite was brief and France came flying out the traps at the start of the second half to score a wonderful try through Vakatawa.
It all began with a scrum. No 8 Alldritt picked up from the base and when Vincent Rattez came inside to take the ball from Fickou Scotland were caught on the hop. The winger galloped towards the Scotland line before offloading to the Racing 92 centre who crashed over despite the best efforts of Hogg. Ramos converted.
Scotland took immediate action and won a penalty for French offside which Weir slotted over.
But France were starting to stretch the home side, bringing their gifted backline into the game as the Scots began to tire. Fickou went close and then Rattez looked set to score in the corner only to be denied by a last-ditch tackle from Hogg, with assistance from Kinghorn. The Scots prevented the try but were pulled back for an earlier infringement and Ramos kicked the penalty to put France 22-15 ahead going into the final quarter.
Time was running out for Scotland and chances were few and far between. Ramos tried to put the game out of sight with a penalty from his own half but the effort fell short.
The home side did get one final opportunity but butchered it. With the clocking showing 80 minutes, the Scots were awarded a penalty after a scrum. Hogg kicked to the corner, the surefire tactic that has served Scotland so well this autumn. But it was horribly misjudged and went out past the tryline, handing France victory in the most depressing of fashions.
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