The Dalhousie Pipe Band were granted the freedom of Montmartre yesterday morning, the gendarmerie escorting the kilted troupe from the shadow of the Sacre Coeur and down Rue Lepic, past the bemused patrons sipping espresso outside the Café des Deux Moulins, in which Audrey Tatou did her waitressing in Amélie. It was different for the band of Scots on the pitch in the French national stadium on the north side of town last night.
Andy Robinson's men might have arrived with five wins out of six, including a November success against South Africa, but when it came to the Six Nations they were unable to make more than token headway. True, the Scots did cross the opposition whitewash on three occasions, but they were chasing the game from the fourth minute and were no match for the champions in substance or in style.
The French may have crumbled to a 59-16 defeat against Australia here three months ago but last night Marc Lièvremont's side were never in any serious danger. They had Scotland's heavy pack rolling backwards for most of the evening, forcing a penalty try, and they scored four tries, one of them conjured up with a magical party-piece from the Montpellier fly-half François Trinh-Duc.
"We need to have a ruthless edge and for France to score four tries from our turnovers was not good enough," Robinson said. "France dominated us at the scrum and their counterattacking was very fast and very skilful."
The first costly turnover came in the fourth minute, the inside-centre Nick De Luca losing possession on halfway and allowing Thierry Dusautoir to snaffle the ball and feed Aurélien Rougerie, whose kick into the left corner was an invitation for Maxime Médard. The Toulouse wing dotted down; Morgan Parra converted.
It hardly helped that the Scottish pack were sent scuttling backwards at the first scrum – or that Trinh-Duc landed a drop-goal in the 10th minute. Still, after Yoann Huget sparked a threatening attack up the right, Richie Gray came to his side's rescue with a vital tackle on Rougerie. In doing so, the 6ft 8in Glasgow lock succeededin turning the tide, temporarily.
The Scottish pack managed to get on a roll down the right and after Rory Lawson had been stopped just short Alastair Kellock barged over from a ruck. It was the Scotland captain's first try for his country. Dan Parks' conversion made it 10-7 but Scotland were soon back in trouble.
The ubiquitous Gray salvaged his team again, this time with a monster hit on Huget, but there was no holding the French scrum when they got rolling in the right corner. After four re-sets, Wayne Barnes had little option but to award a penalty try. Parra's conversion made it 17-7 with 29 minutes on the clock.
There the scores stayed until the 55th minute, when France uncorked their cracker of a third try. Trinh-Duc summoned it from the bottle with an outrageous pass through his legs to Imanol Harinordoquy. It was true Harlem Globetrotter stuff and it was followed by a long-range scoring run by the big Basque No 8.
Harinordoquy's reward was to make way for Sébastien Chabal, after Dimitri Yachvili – a replacement for Parra at scrum-half – had converted. With 25 minutes remaining it looked bleak for the Scots but on the hour they hit back. From a tapped penalty that took the French by surprise, the No 8, Kelly Brown, charged over on the right.
Again, the relief was temporary. With 10 minutes to go, Médard went on a jinking run on the left before combining with Yachvili and Clément Poitrenaud to send Damien Traille in under the posts. It was a rapier thrust and it left Scotland fighting for scraps of consolation. In the dying minutes, Sean Lamont took a feed from Joe Ansbro and took a scoring line from 20 metres out. It ended a four-year international try drought for the big Scarlets wing.
Sadly for Scotland, it is 12 years and counting since they last won in Paris. There was never any real chance last night that they would be partying like it was 1999.
France D Traille (Biarritz); Y Huget (Bayonne), A Rougerie (Clermont Auvergne), M Mermoz (Perpignan), M Médard (Toulouse); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), M Parra (Clermont); T Domingo (Clermont), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignan), J Pierre (Clermont), L Nallet (Racing Métro), T Dusautoir (capt; Toulouse), I Harinordquy (Biarritz), J Bonnaire (Clermont). Replacements C Poitrenaud (Toulouse) for Mermoz, 44; D Yachvili (Biarritz) for Parra, 52; L Ducalcon (Castres) for Mas, 52; G Guirado (Perpignan) for Servat, 57; J Thion (Biarritz) for Nallet, 62; Mas for Domingo, 69; V Clerc (Toulouse) for Médard, 73.
Scotland H Southwell (Stade Français); N Walker (Ospreys), J Ansbro (Northampton), N De Luca (Edinburgh), M Evans (Glasgow); D Parks (Cardiff Blues), R Lawson (Gloucester); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), E Murray (Newcastle), R Gray (Glasgow), A Kellock (capt; both Glasgow), N Hines (Leinster), K Brown (Saracens), J Barclay (Glasgow). Replacements M Blair (Edinburgh) for Lawson, 40; R Vernon (Glasgow) for Hines, 56; R Rennie (Edinburgh) for Barclay, 61; R Jackson (Glasgow) for Parks, 69; M Low (Edinburgh) for Murray, 70; D Hall (Glasgow) for Ford, 73
Referee W Barnes (England).
Tries: Médard, Penalty, Harinordoquy, Traille
Cons: Parra 2, Yachvili 2
Tries: Kellock, Brown, Lamont
Cons: Parks 2, Jackson