An outrageous pass through his legs by French flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc set up the key try for the defending Six Nations champions in a 34-21 win over Scotland on Saturday.
Last year’s Grand Slam winners touched down early through Maxime Medard and were always ahead despite tries from Alastair Kellock, Kelly Brown and Sean Lamont for the Scots.
The piece de resistance for France came when Trinh-Duc picked out Imanol Harinordoquy with a stunning bit of skill to allow the No. 8 to run in unchallenged.
France, who also managed a penalty try and a try from Damien Traille, will visit Ireland on Sunday in a reasonably confident mood after they were thrashed by Australia in November.
Scotland have a terrible record against France, with their last win coming in 2006, but the home side’s confidence coming into the match was also brittle following the 59-16 mauling by Australia in their last match in Paris.
However, France made a flying start in the third minute with winger Medard scoring the first try thanks to Aurelien Rougerie’s superb grubber kick after Scotland had lost the ball.
Morgan Parra completed a confident conversion and the scrumhalf then set up Trinh-Duc for a drop goal before Scotland fought their way back into the game.
The Scots powered toward the line and a neat dummy from Kellock allowed him to wriggle over the line. Flyhalf Dan Parks popped over the conversion.
Marc Lievremont’s team always looked the more dangerous with several drives of expansive rugby.
A series of scrums held up near the line led to France getting a penalty try and Parra kicked the extra points again to send his side into the break 17-7 in front. Early in the second half, Parra missed the posts in a game refreshingly free of penalty kicks before Harinordoquy’s try.
The superb score and conversion prompted a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise from the crowd, but they were soon silenced when Brown muscled over the line.
Any French jitters were calmed when Traille crashed over and Lamont’s late try made no difference to the result.
“There was a lot of rhythm and intensity. It wasn’t easy,” Lievremont told a news conference. “People said there was a lot to fear from this Scotland side and they were right. I’m very happy with the performance of the backs. It was far from the perfect match, but I like the solidarity shown during the game. That was pleasing.”
Scotland coach Andy Robinson said he was delighted with his team’s attitude.
“We will have to rethink about the way we played after France scored four tries from our turnovers,” he said.
“If we can show composure on the ball and still play with the same attitude, I think we can be a good side,” Robinson said.
? Italy v Ireland
Ireland coach Declan Kidney said he hopes to start getting some of his injured stars back ahead of this weekend’s Six Nations clash with France.
Ireland were missing 12 players usually involved in the first team picture for their last gasp 13-11 victory in Rome on Saturday, but British Lions forwards Jamie Heaslip and Stephen Ferris are two of those closing in on a return.
“The good news is that I don’t think we lost anyone [on Saturday]. Jamie wasn’t looking too bad,” Kidney said.
“Andrew Trimble is seeing a specialist and Steve [Ferris] will have another run on Monday. But these guys [who played] now have a game under their belt,” he said. “The first 60 minutes we were a far from perfect outfit, we have a lot of work to do to be a lot more clinical.”
“But that last five minutes, you can’t coach that and as a coach you’re blessed to find yourself with a group of men like that. They’ll get stronger now they have a game under their belt,” Kidney said.
Italy looked set to record their first ever Six Nations victory against Ireland when Australian-born full-back Luke McLean dived over in the corner five minutes from time to give them an 11-10 lead.
However, Quintin Geldenhuys knocked on from the resulting kick-off and Ireland went through the phases before setting up Ronan O’Gara to knock over the winning drop goal two minutes from time.
“It was a good team drop goal, I thought everybody knew what they were doing at the end Ronan fulfilled his part of it,” Kidney said. “He’s done it before, that’s why you need experience on the pitch, we’re blessed with two good fly-halves, but that’s not different to a number of countries.”
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