France shook off their rustiness after a three-week absence to stay unbeaten in the Six Nations following a 23-17 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.
Playing only their second game after their Feb. 11 clash with Ireland in Paris was postponed because of a frozen pitch, France recovered from a slow start to get on top in an entertaining encounter.
Both sides scored two tries apiece, with France fullback Maxime Medard crossing for the decisive score just before the hour as the visitors went ahead for good.
Scotland, now set to battle it out with Italy to avoid the Wooden Spoon after a third successive defeat, began with a bang as teenage fullback Stuart Hogg touched down inside 10 minutes on his first start, but France recovered to go in level at 10-10 at the break after center Wesley Fofana bulldozed over.
A second Scotland try from wing Lee Jones gave the hosts a scent of victory, before Medard quickly replied. Morgan Parra kicked 10 points for France and a Lionel Beauxis drop-goal gave them breathing space as they comfortably held on in the final minutes.
“They put a lot of rhythm into the game, we knew they were a very dynamic team,” France captain Thierry Dusautoir told French TV channel France 2. “During the first 15 minutes we suffered a lot. Then we came back into the game thanks to our pack. We made a lot of mistakes that prevented us playing our usual game against a very offensive team, but I’m happy with the win.”
Wales top the standings with three wins from three and the Wales-France showdown in Cardiff on March 17 in the final round of fixtures looms as a probable title decider.
France were sluggish for much of the first half at Murrayfield, trailing 10-0 before the powerful Fofana proved unstoppable from 10m out on 29 minutes to add to his first international try scored in the win over Italy.
Scotland then suffered a double injury blow when wing Rory Lamont was taken off the pitch on a cart with what appeared to be a serious leg injury and scrumhalf Mike Blair hobbled off with a dead leg.
Parra nosed France ahead for the first time with an early second-half penalty, before Scotland took full advantage of a turnover, quickly catching France’s defense napping with the ball flung wide for Jones to touch down.
Duncan Weir’s conversion put Scotland 17-13 ahead, but, as in their two previous defeats in the championship, Andy Robinson’s team paid the price for losing concentration as Julien Malzieu’s burst allowed Medard to sprint clear.
Parra added the extras and Beaxis’ drop-goal with 12 minutes remaining extended the lead.