There was a minute's silence for Bill McLaren before the start of the action here in the west end of Edinburgh yesterday, scrupulously observed by 61,584 souls. You could not help but wonder what the late, great Voice of Rugby would have made of Mathieu Bastareaud, such an outhouse of an outside-centre that he outweighs the loose-head prop in the French team. At 17st 4lb, the Stade Français man is one big Bastareaud – like a rampaging bull at Borders mart, old Bill might have put it.
A cousin of the Arsenal defender William Gallas, he has also been a cause célèbre since sparking the diplomatic incident last summer that led to François Fillon, the Prime Minister of France, issuing a formal apology to John Key, his opposite number from New Zealand. After claiming he had been beaten up on a night out in Wellington, Bastareaud admitted he had suffered facial damage while falling over drunk in his hotel room. He was suspended for three months by the Fédération Française de Rugby and reportedly threw himself into the Seine in an apparent suicide attempt.
Recalled to the France team for their Six Nations opener against the Scots, the 21-year-old re-emerged in redemption mode, plundering the two first-half tries that set Marc Lièvremont's side on their way in the championship. Inglorious no more, Bastareaud could bask in his transformation from zero to national hero.
Not that France were a one-man show here. At half-back, Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc schemed in smooth tandem, while up front the No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy was outstanding with the ball and without it in a formidable French pack.
The only irritant for Lièvremont was the constant questioning about Bastareaud in the post-match press conference. "Look, the French team won, not Mathieu Bastareaud," France's head coach snapped. "He scored two tries and played very well. I was very happy with his performance but more than anything it was a team performance."
Whether it would have been much different with Euan Murray as the cornerstone of the home pack is open to debate, though Scotland will be happy to have their devoutly Christian prop, observing a Sabbath rest yesterday, back on tight-head duty against Wales in Cardiff next Saturday. "We conceded two soft tries and you can't afford to do that against France," Andy Robinson, Scotland's head coach, lamented.
Scotland got on the scoreboard first though, full-back Chris Paterson landing a 10th-minute penalty forced by home pressure after an interception and break by their outside centre Max Evans. Not that they enjoyed the lead for very long. A brilliant bit of holding up over the line by Evans' brother, Thom, stopped Vincent Clerc – a replacement for the injured Aurélien Rougerie – from scoring in the left corner but, with the home pack creaking, it was inevitable that Lièvremont's men would break through.
They did so on the quarter-hour, Trinh-Duc gaining possession from quick ruck ball and zipping out a long pass that made the overlap for Bastareaud to advance 10 yards and score his first try for his country. Scotland had their chances in the first-half though, and a Sean Lamont break led to a second Paterson penalty.
Parra, having missed his first conversion attempt, nailed a penalty, that left the Scots 8-6 down as half-time beckoned. But then France claimed the pivotal score. It came three minutes before the interval from Bastareaud. Taking a feed from Harinordoquy 30 metres out, he made a beeline for the home line, eluding three home players. Close-circuit television footage showed that he was untouched when he reached his hotel room at 5am in Wellington last June. It was the same on the pitch at around 3.40pm at Murrayfield yesterday.
Parra kicked the extras, and that was just about that. The second half was a formality, yielding only one penalty each. French minds were already on the Stade de France on Saturday and the visit of Ireland. It will be Brian O'Driscoll's job to stop France's No 13. He might need the luck of his country.
Scotland: Penalties:Paterson 3. France: Tries Bastareaud 2; Conversion Parra; Penalties Parra 2.
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); T Evans (Glasgow), M Evans (Glasgow), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); P Godman (Edinburgh), C Cusiter (capt, Glasgow); A Dickinson (Gloucester), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), N Hines (Leinster), A Kellock (Glasgow), K Brown (Glasgow), J Barclay (Glasgow), J Beattie (Glasgow). Replacements: H Southwell (Stade Français) for Godman, 53; A Jacobsen (Edinburgh) for Low, 57; S Lawson (Gloucester) for Ford, 66; R Gray (Glasgow) for Hines, 68; Low for Dickinson, 64.
France: C Poitrenaud (Toulouse); B Fall (Bayonne), M Bastareaud (Stade Français), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), A Rougerie (Clermont); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); T Domingo (Clermont), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Racing Metro), P Pape (Stade Français), T Dusautoir (capt, Toulouse), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), I Harinordoquy (Biarritz). Replacements: V Clerc (Toulouse) for Rougerie, 5; L Ducalcon (Castres) for Mas, 46; D Szarzewski (Stade) for Servat, 51, J Bonnaire (Clermont) for Dusautoir, 68; F Michalak (Toulouse) for Parra, 72; D Marty (Perpignan) for Bastareaud, 72.
Referee: N Owens (Wales).