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France bring Scotland back down to earth

By Peter Thompson
France centre Gael Fickou

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France inflicted more Paris misery on Scotland with a pulsating 22-16 Six Nations victory despite yet another try from the in-form Stuart Hogg in his 50th international.

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Scotland had high hopes of ending an 18-year wait for a win in the French capital on Sunday after beating Ireland on the opening weekend of the tournament, but they were brought back down to earth at Stade de France.

France could consider themselves unfortunate to suffer defeat against England at Twickenham last weekend, but Camille Lopez scored 17 points with the boot as Guy Noves’ powerful side got up and running with a first win.

Hogg celebrated becoming the youngest Scot to win a half-century of caps at the age of 24 by scoring in his fourth successive Six Nations match in the first half and there was a first Test try for Tim Swinson just after the break.

Les Bleus controlled much of a compelling game, though, with Gael Fickou scoring their only try in the second half and fly-half Lopez converting two of his five penalties in the last 10 minutes to seal the victory.

Remi Lamerat also had a try somewhat controversially ruled out, but Scotland were unable to claim their first win in Paris since 1999 and also lost captain Greig Laidlaw, John Barclay, John Hardie and Fraser Brown to injury as they came away with a losing bonus point.

Les Bleus started with great energy and intensity with the backing of a vociferous crowd and Lopez put them in front from the tee, but they were soon behind when Hogg had another moment to savour.

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The fleet-footed full-back took an offload from Huw Jones and Baptiste Serin was unable to prevent him from going over in the corner following a sustained spell of pressure 16 minutes in.

Laidlaw’s conversion attempt struck the crossbar and Les Bleus were back in front courtesy of a second Lopez penalty.

Injured captain Laidlaw was replaced by Ali Price, whose first contribution was to shove Lopez when he refused to release the ball and the new scrum-half breathed a sigh of relief as the France number 10 missed from the tee after referee Jaco Peyper reversed the penalty.

France were getting plenty of quick ball and it came as no surprise when Fickou burst through wide on the right to dot down and Lopez added the extras, but two Finn Russell penalties reduced the deficit to two points at the break.

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Scotland lost stand-in skipper Barclay to a head injury and his replacement Hardie also limped off just after the break, but Swinson made the most of his chance by surging under the posts with his first touch after Tommy Seymour benefited from a lucky bounce and fed the rampaging lock.

Russell inexplicably scuffed his conversion under the posts and France were level at 16-16 when Lopez made no mistake with another three-pointer.

Scott Spedding and Hogg were off target with long-range penalties before the TMO ruled that Lamerat lost control of the ball and knocked on when he attempted to touch down for a second France try 12 minutes from time.

But Lopez had the final say, slotting over two penalties to give France a deserved win.

Key Opta stats:

– France remain undefeated in nine home fixtures against Scotland in the Six Nations, though only two of their last seven such wins have come by double digits.
–    France’s last four home wins in the Six Nations have all come by a margin of seven points or fewer.
–    Scotland have still never won their opening two games of a Six Nations campaign; they last achieved the feat in the Five Nations in 1996 when they opened with victory against Ireland before beating France.
–    France won 9/9 scrums in the game, the fifth game in a row they have won 100 per cent of their scrums [32/32 in those matches].

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