Scotland limped into their Rugby World Cup campaign with a thorough thumping physically and on the scoreboard at the hands of France in the 24-degree heat in Nice.
France scored five tries and looked up to competition speed already at times in the first half, while Scotland managed only a lonely Adam Hastings penalty in the first half and barely threatened the French line for the last hour of their first warm-up game for Japan.
The Scots were given a complete going-over in the forwards from the outset, the pack managing to make just 22 metres combined in first half carries. The few fleeting moves of promise came from broken play or Stuart Hogg’s elusiveness.
The French just seemed far further on in their preparation than the Scots, who were under pressure in the scrums and rocked back in the contact area. There were very few bright spots – Duncan Taylor coming through uninjured and showing some superb scrambling defence, and the showing of new cap Rory Hutchinson when he replaced the Saracens centre for the last half-hour.
But while there is still time for the plenty of work still to be done to bring the Scots up to full readiness for the tournament next month, the complete mismatch in physical power between the two sides will have been carefully noted by Scotland’s pool opponents in Japan.
France looked purposeful and prepared while Scotland looked rusty, hesitant and a little overheated in the humidity of the French Riviera in the first half, the home side taking full advantage.
Scotland’s first lineout throw was disrupted and was snapped up by the French, and although Hogg made a key tackle to stop the French scoring immediately, they were patient enough to work the ball to the centre of the pitch and unleash an excellent set move.
Wesley Fofana cut inside on a short ball from Camille Lopez and Fiji-born wing Alivereti Raka came in on an angle to take the pass, break a tackle and score under the posts.
Lopez converted and added a penalty after a promising Scots moved ended in a Hastings knock-on and the visitors were twice penalised at the scrum.
France kept probing and Scotland were restricted to desperate measures, Hogg running out from under his own posts at one point and nearly breaking through.
However France had plenty up their sleeves and on their next attack Lopez drew the Scottish defence with a neat grubber recovered by Fickou, and before the men in their new sky blue change kit could regroup there was a three-man overlap for Maxime Medard to score an unconverted try in the corner.
An offside in midfield allowed Hastings to get the Scots some points with a long penalty, but the stand-off had a nightmare five minutes that followed, snared by Fofana behind the gainline, then kicking out on the full and finally seeing a yellow card for an intentional knock on after Taylor’s tackle stopped what seemed a certain French try.
It was only delayed for as long as the lineout that followed Hastings’ departure, Gregory Alldritt spinning off the maul to score, the try again going unconverted.
Scotland were barely hanging on at the break, giving up two penalties at five-metre scrums before Nigel Owens spotted French skulduggery and showed the Scots some mercy with a free-kick.
Scotland kept Jamie Bhatti indoors at the berak, putting Zander Fagerson on at loose-head and gave a first cap to Rory Hutchinson seven minutes into the second half, while some errors creeping into the French game gave them some encouragement.
But Scotland’s defence was breached again after 55 minutes when an aimless Hastings kick allowed the French to counter, a superb pop pass from Lopez sprung the big back-rower Sebastien Cros into a huge gap, and Dupont was the link for Medard to finish from 20 metres out.
And right on the hour Scotland’s defence was paper-thin again, Damien Penaud allowed to amble into midfield to beat two tackles before setting up Dupont for an easy run-in, Lopez converting one at last.
Scotland enjoyed a little territory as France started to slow down – with fatigue or more likely inclination – but a careless fumble at an attacking maul pretty much summed up their night in an attacking sense.
Instead French fumbles were all that stopped them scoring a sixth try in the dying minutes as both sides emptied their benches.
Fra: M Medard; D Penaud, G Fickou, W Fofana, A Raka; C Lopez, A Dupont; J Poirot, C Chat, R Slemani; P Gabrillagues, S Vahaamahina; F Cros, C Olivon, G Alldritt.
Scot: S Hogg; D Graham, H Jones, D Taylor, B McGuigan; A Hastings, A Price; J Bhatti, S McInally, S Berghan; G Gilchrist, B Toolis; J Barclay, J Ritchie, J Strauss.
Replacements: Z Fagerson for Bhatti 40, R Hutchinson for Taylor 48, M Fagerson for Barclay 52, G Reid for Berghan 53, S Cummings for Toolis 53, G Horne for Price 56, B Kinghorn for Hogg 56, G Turner for McInally 66.
Ref: N Owens (WRU)