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France beats Scotland; earns Six Nations wooden spoon

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Associated Press
3/16/2013 6:54:07 PM
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PARIS -- Less than two years after coming close to winning the World Cup final, France finished last for the first time since the Six Nations was formed 13 years ago despite beating Scotland 23-16 on Saturday for its first victory this tournament.

France has lost several key players from the team that lost 8-7 to New Zealand in the 2011 final, and coach Philippe Saint-Andre's side showed its limitations in defeats to Italy, Wales and England before scraping a 13-13 draw against Ireland.

The team needed to overcome a 6-0 halftime deficit on Saturday to edge out Scotland thanks to second-half tries from centre Wesley Fofana and winger Maxime Medard.

Next up for France is a daunting three-test series away to the All Blacks in June, while Scotland needs to find a fulltime coach.

"These are matches of a lifetime," Saint-Andre said. "If one day you want to win a big competition you have to face the big teams."

France went off to jeers at halftime but a sustained spell of pressure after the break was enough to secure a much-needed victory, but Scotland winger Tim Visser's late try in the right corner ended all hopes of overtaking next-to-last Ireland, which had earlier lost to Italy.

"We're last in the Six Nations and we have to accept that and face up to it," Saint-Andre said. "The game was like our tournament: complicated. The second half was better and we started to get back into the game and scored two very good tries. But we missed two other good chances."

The French had started the tournament with high hopes after impressive test wins against Australia and Argentina late last year, only to end up coming last in European rugby's top tournament for the first time since 1999.

"This team is young, it has a soul and fights. But it lacks control, collectively and individually, and you need control and patience when you play rugby at the highest level," Saint-Andre said. "The objective is to be ready for the 2015 World Cup. I think we will learn enormously from this Six Nations."

Scotland finished in an encouraging third place after two wins.

"We were great in our resolve," interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson said. "I was really, really proud of their defence tonight. But we let ourselves down in our kick return stuff. There has been progress, but it doesn't always improve as quickly as you like.

When asked about becoming the fulltime coach, Johnson replied: "We'll sit and have a proper discussion, man to man."

Scotland scrumhalf Greig Laidlaw slotted coolly over from about 40 metres after the French were offside early on. Nerves were already starting to creep into the home side, with Medard sending a woeful attempt at a clearance straight into an opponent's arms.

Laidlaw added another penalty to punish lock Yoann Maestri for a lineout infringement. Ferocious Scottish defending repelled No. 8 Louis Picamoles and lock Sebastien Vahaamahina as both were desperately close to going over. France eventually moved the ball and flyhalf Frederic Michalak found some space, but his pass was fumbled by centre Mathieu Bastareaud and Fofana was then held up.

Stuart Hogg and Max Evans cut through the flaky French midfield with ease as Scotland came closest to scoring the game's first try late in the first half.

French tempers started to fray after the break, and Michalak hit Hogg in a cheap shot from behind as he chased a kick and then pinned the fullback to the ground. Michalak faces a ban if he is cited for the incident.

Michalak slotted over three penalties as intense pressure finally told, and Fofana drew some cheers when he got the ball just outside the 22, shook off a tackle from Hogg before touching under the posts for a converted score.

Soon after, scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud gave Medard an easy offload to go in under the posts for another converted try.

Michalak was hurt in the build-up and was taken to hospital with a dislocated shoulder, while scrumhalf Morgan Parra injured his ankle and shin and will need a scan, Saint-Andre said.

France, which needed only another score to avoid getting the wooden spoon, lacked a cutting edge throughout the campaign, scoring a measly six tries, with two each from Picamoles and Fofana.

The form of Picamoles, along with Fofana's superb individual try in the 23-13 loss to England, were rare highlights.

Before the tournament started, Saint-Andre lamented the lack of preparation time he had, and he still feels bitter about it.

While players from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales had the weekend off before the tournament's opening matches on Feb. 2, France's internationals were in action in the grueling domestic Top 14.

"What is important is to think about French rugby and the France team, not for the next two years of my tenure but for the next 15-20 years," Saint-Andre said. "I think the players deserve to prepare for the competition like the other nations."

Maxime Medard (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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