France last in Six Nations despite win over Scots

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - France ended a miserable Six Nations campaign with a 23-16 home win over Scotland on Saturday which was not sufficient to avoid finishing bottom of the table for the first time since 1999.

Les Bleus, who needed to win by a 17-point margin or by 16 points with two tries to finish ahead of Ireland, were scoreless at halftime but tries to Wesley Fofana and Maxime Medard helped them end a seven-match winless streak in the championship.

Controversial flyhalf Frederic Michalak, who was replaced because of a shoulder injury 10 minutes from time to a standing ovation, kicked 11 points.

Winger Tim Visser scored a late try for Scotland, who finished third in the table behind champions Wales and runners-up England.

France, who defeated Australia, Argentina and Samoa last November, started with a shock 23-18 loss in Italy followed by a 16-6 home defeat to Wales.

They were comprehensively beaten 23-13 by England at Twickenham, finally showing improvement in a hard-fought second half against Ireland to snatch a 13-13 draw in Dublin last weekend so there were some grounds for optimism before Saturday's kickoff.

Both sides exchanged penalties early on in greasy conditions with Greig Laidlaw putting Scotland ahead with a 45-metre penalty.

The prospect of not winning a championship game for the first time since 1969 possibly got to the French nerves as Maxime Medard comically fluffed a clearance.

Laidlaw then made it two successful kicks out of two with another 40-metre penalty.

France racked up the phases in an eight-minute period of possession within 10 metres of the line, which ended with the hosts being penalised at the ruck.

Les Bleus came tantalisingly close again after a brilliant kick by Vincent Clerc brought them back within 15 metres but, yet again, they were penalised.

Maxime Machenaud started the second half at scrumhalf in place of Morgan Parra while Frederic Michalak, who scuffled with Stuart Hogg away from a ruck to add to the confusion in a messy match, stayed at flyhalf.

Michalak, put France on the scoreboard with a routine 25-metre penalty and slotted another close one in the 50th to level.

A third came shortly afterwards as France reaped the rewards of their total domination while Scotland started to fade, although Laidlaw did kick a third penalty.

Prop Vincent Debaty came off the bench for a couple of powerful 30-metre runs toward the line, only for the Belgian to be stopped within range of the line.

Centre Fofana then produced a trademark elusive run to score a try after great work by Mathieu Bastareaud and Yannick Nyanga.

Medard added the second from a clever Machenaud pass after Bastareaud had broken the line.

However, Visser effectively ended French hopes of leaving Ireland with the wooden spoon with a try on the break five minutes from time.

"We had the mental toughness to draw in Ireland and then win this game against Scotland after three defeats," France captain Thierry Dusautoir told a news conference."

Coach Philippe Saint-Andre added: "I'm proud of my players. In the first half we lacked patience, after the break we had more composure and scored two beautiful tries."

Saint-Andre said Michalak had dislocated his shoulder during the match while Parra had had checks on ankle and fibula injuries.

(Editing by John Mehaffey)