Six Nations: Scotland 17-23 France
SCOTLAND (10) 17
- Hogg, Jones
- Laidlaw, Weir
FRANCE (10) 23
- Fofana, Medard
- Parra 2
- Parra 2
Another encouraging display from Scotland could not prevent them losing to France at Murrayfield and making it one win in eight Six Nations matches.
Scotland made a bright start, Glasgow teenager Stuart Hogg, making his first start, going over for a try before Wesley Fofana hit back for France with a try of his own.
The teams were locked at 10-10 at the break but when winger Lee Jones scored his first international try shortly after the restart, a first win of this Six Nations campaign looked a possibility.
However, Toulouse flyer Maxime Medard scampered over for a try midway through the second half before Lionel Beauxis broke Scottish resolve with a drop-goal.
Scotland next play Ireland in Dublin, meaning Andy Robinson's side face the possibility of an all-too-familiar Wooden Spoon battle with Italy in Rome on the final weekend of the Championship.
And while head coach Robinson will again talk of encouraging signs and things very nearly going to plan, the statistics of his reign are beginning to look damning.
Scotland have now lost their last five Tests, the first time that has happened since 2004. In addition, Robinson has won only two of his 13 Six Nations matches in charge.
France, who have now won their last six meetings with Scotland, remain unbeaten after two games but face the prospect of four consecutive match-day weekends.
In front of the first 67,000 sell-out of Murrayfield for this fixture since the redevelopment in 1994, and looking to win their first Six Nations game against France since 2006, Scotland charged into the fray with a heightened sense of purpose, taking it to the visitors from the kick-off.
Hulking Glasgow centre Graeme Morrison went on an early rumble and when France went off-side from the resulting ruck, Scotland were awarded a penalty, which Greig Laidlaw missed.
There followed a sustained period of pressure in the French 22, although with the visitors choosing not to compete at the breakdown and instead wait for Scotland to make a mistake, there did not appear to be a way through.
But Scotland kept probing, Laidlaw eventually mining space down the right flank and slipping the ball to 19-year-old full-back Hogg, who scored in the corner. Laidlaw added the extras from the touch-line to cap a very encouraging start from the hosts.
In contrast to Scotland, France looked dozy at the outset, one moment - when a pass to captain Thierry Dusautoir bounced off his knees - rather summing up their first 10 minutes.
Shortly after, scrum-half Mike Blair, making his first start of this Six Nations, took a quick tap and found Rory Lamont on the right flank, only for the Glasgow wing to be hauled down.
Philippe Saint-Andre's side entered Scotland's 22 for the first time after 16 minutes but were not there long, David Denton and Richie Gray to the fore as Scotland punched their way back into French territory.
This was the high-tempo game Robinson had been striving for, forwards and backs working in unison and always looking to keep the ball alive, and France were struggling to cope.
France had a sniff when Medard came haring out of his own 22, only for Vincent Clerc to run the wrong support line and allow Rory Lamont and Morrison to mop up behind their own try-line.
After 25 minutes, the effervescent Denton went on another burst, found skipper Ross Ford inside and Laidlaw slotted the resulting penalty when France were penalised for not releasing.
However, France gained a foothold in the game a few minutes later, fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc running over Laidlaw before Clerc slipped the ball to Fofana, who capitalised on a great support line to score his side's first try. Morgan Parra kicked the extras.
Rory Lamont was stretchered off after appearing to twist a knee competing for the ball at the restart and replaced by Nick de Luca, while Blair, suffering from a dead leg, made way for Chris Cusiter.
Hogg found a way through France's defence again courtesy of a cute dummy but it was France who finished the half on the front foot, Parra popping over a three-pointer two minutes before the break to level the score at 10-10.
Bang on half-time, the Clermont Auvergne scrum-half very nearly nicked an undeserved lead for his side from almost the identical spot, but scuffed his effort wide.
France started the second half looking far more focused, number eight Louis Picamoles weighing in with a number of carries and Parra knocking over a penalty to give the visitors the lead.
Scotland's tactical kicking was poor all afternoon and when Hogg wasted a turnover of Fofana, finding Julien Malzieu with an aimless punt, it was to the sound of groans from the Murrayfield faithful.
However, Scotland stole the ball again and this time they made the most of it, replacement number eight Richie Vernon galloping clear and finding Jones, who went over in the left corner for his first international try. Debutant Duncan Weir, on for Laidlaw, made no mistake with the conversion from the left touch-line.
But France hit back as Scotland switched off, Medard sprinting in for a try after the imposing Malzieu had shrugged off a weak tackle and slipped a pass inside. Parra was again on target to put the Tricolores 20-17 ahead.
Hogg capped a harem-scarem five minutes when he went on another coruscating burst, wrong-footing Dusautoir with a wicked step off his left foot. However, the Hawick man was unable to find any of his supporting runners.
With 12 minutes remaining Beauxis, on for the injured Medard with Trinh-Duc moving to full-back, extended France's lead to six points with a sweetly-struck drop-goal and Scotland were unable to find a way back into the match.
Scotland: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Rory Lamont, 13-Sean Lamont, 12-Graeme Morrison, 11-Lee Jones, 10-Greig Laidlaw, 9-Mike Blair; 1-Allan Jacobsen, 2-Ross Ford (captain), 3-Geoff Cross, 4-Richie Gray, 5-Jim Hamilton, 6-John Barclay, 7-Ross Rennie, 8-David Denton.
Replacements: 16-Scott Lawson (for Ford, 69), 17-Ed Kalman (for Cross, 62), 18-Alastair Kellock (for Hamilton, 69) 19-Richie Vernon (for Denton, 53), 20-Chris Cusiter (for Blair, 30), 21-Duncan Weir (for Laidlaw, 49), 22-Nick De Luca (for R Lamont, 30).
France: 15-Maxime Medard, 14-Vincent Clerc, 13-Aurelien Rougerie, 12-Wesley Fofana, 11-Julien Malzieu, 10-François Trinh-Duc, 9-Morgan Parra;1-Jean-Baptiste Poux, 2-Dimitri Szarzewski, 3-Nicolas Mas, 4-Pascal Pape, 5-Yoann Maestri, 6-Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 7-Imanol Harinordoquy, 8-Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: 16-William Servat (for Szarzewski, 51) 17-Vincent Debaty (for Poux, 51), 18-Lionel Nallet (for Maestri, 66), 19-Julien Bonnaire, 20-Julien Dupuy (for Parra, 75), 21-Lionel Beauxis (for Medard, 62) 22-Maxime Mermoz.
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Touch judges: Alain Rolland, Simon McDowell (Ireland)
TMO: Geoff Warren (England)