A week after being obliterated in Nice, Scotland turned the tables on France to end a run of five Tests without a win and bolster their World Cup preparations with a comeback victory at Murrayfield.
Down 14-3 after 27 minutes after two tries from France wing Damian Penaud, converted scores from Sean Maitland and Chris Harris either side of the interval put Gregor Townsend’s side into a lead they held onto tenaciously in a scoreless final quarter.
The warm glow of a raucously-received victory was offset, however, by injury concerns over the lock Sam Skinner, No 8 Blade Thomson and winger Tommy Seymour.
Skinner, whose ability to also play at blindside flanker made him a probable member of the final 31-man party, was helped off before the hour with a serious-looking hamstring injury. The Exeter forward was due to undergo a scan on Saturday evening, but his prospects of making it to Japan now appear forlorn.
Seymour, forced off in the 17th minute, and Thomson, who departed early in the second half on his Test debut, will both be subject to head injury protocols after failing their assessments. Particular care will be exercised with Thomson, who only returned for the Scarlets at the end of last season after a concussion sustained in November kept him out for five months.
Townsend, set to name his final squad on 3 September, confirmed that all three players are likely to miss this week’s trip to Tbilisi, where Scotland will become the first tier-one nation to play in Georgia next Saturday, before facing the same opponents at Murrayfield in their final warm-up Test.
While the head coach took heart from an improved defensive display, as in Nice they conceded a try inside two minutes. Peter Horne, with the French defence up fast, threw a terrible pass that was picked off by Penaud, who raced home from halfway untouched.
Thomas Ramos converted for an early 7-0 lead, but Greig Laidlaw, returning to the side as captain, got Scotland on the board with a penalty in the fifth minute.
Thomson’s first major contribution was a thumping hit on halfway that led to a turnover, only for Scotland to waste Maitland’s break down the left when Ryan Wilson was penalised for going off his feet.
That aside, Wilson surely laid claim to one of the likely five back-row spots in the World Cup squad with a combative display, Hamish Watson’s return at openside also galvanising the Scots. Of the other World Cup hopefuls, Skinner showed up well until his untimely injury, and second-row partner Scott Cummings grafted hard on his first Test start. In midfield, Horne recovered well from his early lapse and Harris capped a solid outing with a well-taken try. Whether it is enough to edge him ahead of Huw Jones remains to be seen.
The second French try was again soft from a Scottish perspective. Centre Sofiane Guitoune motored through a yawning gap before feeding Penaud on the right flank for an easy run-in.
Props Willem Nel and Gordon Reid brought stability to the scrum though and Scotland got they fillip they needed just before half-time. Blair Kinghorn, on as a replacement for Seymour, snaffled a long pass intended for Penaud in the French 22. Harris kept it alive, and swift recycling saw Finn Russell put Maitland over in the left corner.
Laidlaw added a majestic touchline conversion to give the half-time score a far healthier sheen from a home perspective.
The hosts butchered a chance to take the lead on the resumption when Russell’s cross-kick found Kinghorn on the right flank but Stuart Hogg could not take his inside pass.
Scotland were ahead in the 58th minute, Wilson and Watson taking them to within a metre of the French line before Harris barrelled onto Laidlaw’s short pass to dive over at the posts.
Laidlaw’s conversion took Scotland 17-14 clear, and they might have had further tries, Hogg claiming his own kick ahead in a thrilling break before a knock-on killed the move.
“It was not a perfect performance clearly,” said Townsend. “But I was satisfied to see how the players found a way to win against a team that beat them comfortably a week ago.”