France defeat Scotland but claim Wooden Spoon
Updated: Saturday, 16 Mar 2013 22:10
France finally collected their first win of the RBS 6 Nations campaign as two quickfire tries proved decisive in a 23-16 victory over Scotland.
The visitors to Paris had shown guts and determination to hold off continued French assaults in the opening 40 minutes but the pressure finally took its toll as Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard crossed for converted scores within four second-half minutes of one another.
Scotland had led early from the boot of Greig Laidlaw and were tied at 9-9 as the Edinburgh scrum-half and French playmaker Frederic Michalak exchanged penalties before the home tries arrived.
A late Tim Visser touchdown gave the scoreline a more respectable look than was perhaps deserved but last year's Wooden Spoon winners can at least console themselves with a third-place finish in the championships - their best result since 2006.
For France, however, their failure to win the clash by 16 points meant that they claimed their first Wooden Spoon since 1999.
The visitors' Stuart Hogg showed the first sign of nerves in the wind and rain after two minutes when he knocked on a long punt into the Scots' 22, putting his side under immediate pressure.
Winger Sean Maitland saved any blushes with a brave tackle on Frederic Michalak and with that let-off, the Dark Blues pushed forward, gaining their just rewards after four determined drives into French territory when Laidlaw knocked over the opening penalty of the afternoon following a misdemeanour by the home side at the breakdown - and repeated the feat to make it 6-0.
France pushed themselves to within inches of the tryline after 23 minutes, only for Jim Hamilton's last-ditch heroics to halt a powerful heave from the hosts.
Winger Vincent Clerc was then brought down as he looked poised to cross while yet more scrambling was required from the away side to prevent Mathieu Bastareaud battering in for the try.
It was exhausting stuff for Scotland but it was France who ran out of patience and let their under-pressure opponents off the hook with an infringement at their umpteenth tryline ruck.
A dust-up between Hogg and Michalak saw both escape punishment from Welsh referee Nigel Owens, before Michalak kicked the home side's first points from a penalty following a collapsed Scots scrum.
Michalak's guile at fly-half was becoming ever more apparent as he teased the visitors one way and the other.
Again the Scots were forced into desperate defence and stepped over the line at the breakdown, handing the French number 10 the chance to slot a second kick over the posts to tie the scores.
The pressure was beginning to build on the Dark Blues and a third penalty was despatched by the Toulon playmaker to put the French ahead for the first time.
In Laidlaw, though, Scotland have their own Mr Reliable and the Edinburgh scrum-half soon levelled the scores with his third penalty.
And yet French hunger for the opening try was not diminished. Neither, though, was the tenacity of Hogg as he stood brave to block the way of Clerc as he burst through, holding up the galloping winger single handedly just yards from disaster.
However, he could not repeat the trick as another overload on the right flank proved fateful.
Fofana broke through before brushing off Hogg's despairing lunge before running in to score under the posts with 14 minutes left. Michalak added the extra two points to rub salt into freshly-opened Scottish wounds.
Having defended for their lives for most of the match, the tank was now empty and France added a second touchdown with 10 minutes remaining. Quick ball had been a rarity for them for most of the game thanks to the sheer awkwardness of the visitors but there was little resistance as Medard collected from a ruck and skipped in between the sticks.
With Michalak ruled immobile after dislocating his shoulder, substitute Maxime Machenaud took over kicking responsibilities with a successful conversion to extend the team's lead to 14 points.
That lead was trimmed back to seven, however, as Hogg darted forward before playing in Tim Visser for an easy try, with substitute Ruaridh Jackson converting.
There was little to worry about for France though and they counted down the five minutes that remained with little difficulty to finally collect a long-awaited Six Nations win in the final match of the 2013 tournament.
However, along with that win, came France's first Wooden Spoon since 1999.