Scotland have won successive matches in the 6 Nations for the first time in since 2013 with a hard-fought but ultimately well-deserved 29-18 victory over France at BT Murrayfield.
The Scots followed up their win in Rome two weeks ago with the complete performance, tries from Stuart Hogg, Duncan Taylor and Tim Visser and some defensive heroics in the second half, particularly at the maul, a Scottish weakness and French strength for many years.
Hogg was given man of the match but it might have gone to any of the forward pack for a gargantuan effort in defence and attack in beating France for the first time in 10 years.
Once again scrum dominance was the foundation, with a series of penalties creating pressure and relieving tough situations, and skipper Greig Laidlaw, in his 50th cap and 25th as captain, kicked 14 points.
But the Scots were also clinical, despite losing playmaker Finn Russell inside the first five minutes after he took a head knock in a tackle. Peter Horne was forced on but had a bright and effective game, setting up Hogg’s try, Scotland’s first.
Taylor’s try was an outrageous solo score reminiscent of Gavin Hastings’ famous touchline gallop against France more than 20 years ago, while Visser poached the third which clinched the game.
Scotland actually began in disappointingly flat fashion, suddenly sparked for 18 points to take command, only to surrender a score with the clock expired as half-time to leave France with a lifeline.
The visitors played more rugby in the first 10 minutes than they had in all of their previous three games, and opened Scotland up within four minutes on their first attack. They caught the home defence undermanned on the right touchline, Vakatawa and Fofana combining with good offloads to put skipper Guilem Guirado in for an easy score.
Francois Trinh-Duc’s conversion was well wide, however, as was his easy penalty chance after 10 minutes. But even if Finn Russell was forced off dazed with a head knock after just six minutes’ play, Scotland quickly seized on their good fortune at only being 5-0 down.
Good phase possessions – without really threatening to break through – and scrum dominance brought two simple penalties for Laidlaw and the lead as the Scots started to own the ball and France spilled the ball whenever they got it.
Twice Scotland carelessly didn’t pay attention at quick taps by French scrum-half Maxime Machenaud, but managed to get off the hook both times and then took the lead with a super try on the half hour.
Russell’s replacement Horne made it with a quick dart between tackles into the 22, Richie Gray and Taylor carried close, before the ball was swung wide for Hogg to dodge over for the score, although Laidlaw missed the conversion.
Seven minutes later France were pressing with a rare possession but were turned over at a ruck and penalised, and it was Taylor who caught the French sleeping this time.
The centre tapped quickly, shrugged off an ineffectual tackle and then sprinted down the right touchline untouched for 60 yards for a thrilling solo score, Laidlaw squeezing the conversion over for an 18-5 lead.
However a penalty against Visser after he made a thumping tackle gave France some late territory, and although their maul was stalled they retained possession as the clock went red.
France stayed patient and eventually Gael Fickou spotted a gap and stretched through for the try, Machenaud taking over kicking duties and converting from the touchline.
Scotland didn’t have the ball in the French 22 for the first 25 minutes of the second half, but the defence proved equal to the intense French pressure.
The bonus was a monster penalty from his own half by Hogg after another scrum infringement, and it was needed as France’s powerful pack exerted territory for two Machenaud penalties.
However the French did opt to kick one easy chance to touch, and the Scots not only repelled the maul but turned the ball over to clear their lines.
It was a huge moment, as the Scots got a penalty at a lineout when Barclay was taken out to force possession inside the French 22, where they promptly killed the contest.
First Dunbar and then Richie Gray carried with intent to the line, and with a penalty coming Laidlaw chanced the looping pass with Taylor flicked on to Visser to score in the corner.
Laidlaw missed the conversion but banged over a penalty from another scrum infringement by France after they knocked on trying to break out from their 22.
Fickou went over in the dying minutes but was called back for a forward pass, and Scotland were able to close out without further damage for their second win of the championship.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, D Taylor, A Dunbar, T Visser; F Russell (P Horne 6), G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson, R Ford (S McInally 68), WP Nel (M Low 73); R Gray (T Swinson 78), J Gray; J Barclay, J Hardie, J Strauss (R Wilson 62).
France: S Spedding; W Fofana, G Fickou, M Mermoz (M Medard 69), V Vakatawa; F Trinh-Duc (L Plisson 69), M Machenaud (S Bezy 75); J Poirot (U Antonio 62), G Guirado (capt, C Chat 70), R Slimani (V Pelo 62); Y Maestri, A Flanquart (S Vahaamhina 52); W Lauret, Y Camara (L Goujon 65), D Chouly.
Ref: G Jackson (NZRU)