The Scots – who beat Les Bleus from 21-3 behind at Murrayfield last weekend – roared back from 27-10 down in balmy Saint-Etienne on Saturday night to level the match at 27-27 before a 78th-minute penalty from Thomas Ramos secured a 30-27 victory for the World Cup hosts.
The visitors outscored the French by four tries to three and Townsend was buoyed by the way his team stood up to their formidable opponents in front of a partisan home crowd just four weeks before their opening match of the tournament against world champions South Africa in Marseille.
“It showed a lot for the character and the competitiveness of the group,” he said. “They wanted to win that one, they did all they could to win it. Obviously we’re a bit disappointed that we didn’t do that.
“Even a draw would have been something that we could have taken a lot more positives out of, because we’re here to win. But there’s so much more to come from this team.
“We showed in the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes that we can win ball, our set-piece can be strong, and also we can attack and score great tries. So our job is to put that together for more than 20-30 minutes when we’re playing at our best, but also to do that for much longer.”
The Scots made a strong start and led 10-6 at the half-hour mark, with Ali Price’s 29th-minute yellow card paving the way for the French to seize command in the game’s mid-section.
Townsend rued the concession of two tries in the first four minutes of the second half, but was encouraged by the way his players rallied in the final 20 minutes to give themselves a real chance of only a second away win over France this century.
“I’m really proud of the effort and also how we started the game,” he said. “We were ambitious, accurate and very physical in our contacts. We had to soak up a lot of pressure in that first half when we were a man down.
“But we just missed the first five minutes of the second half. A couple of uncharacteristic mistakes and France got opportunities. I was so proud of the togetherness, the effort, the skill that was on show, and we’re gutted we didn’t get anything out of that. Really disappointed.”
Townsend names his final 33-man World Cup squad on Wednesday, meaning four players will be cut from his current pool. Asked if anything from the gallant defeat at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard had changed his thinking with regard to selection, the head coach said: “No. I’ve not had much time to think about it. I was really proud of the 23 tonight and how they went about taking on a top side. Their focus was on winning the game, not on the World Cup.
“They put their bodies on the line. The effort that the players have put in over the last two months was transferred on to the field. We’re fit enough to have a real crack at this World Cup and we’ll have a lot of players that will be putting their hands up for selection over the next few days.”