EDINBURGH, February 8 – Mathieu Bastareaud's rugby redemption was complete at Murrayfield on Sunday as Six Nations favourites France kicked off their campaign with an 18-9 win over Scotland.
Bastareaud was the difference between the two sides, his two first-half tries putting the French in control of an open contest and justifying coach Marc Lievremont’s decision to hand the giant centre the opportunity to resurrect a career he had done his best to destroy.
The 110-kg (242-pound) centre was starting his first Test since his ignominious involvement in last year’s tour of New Zealand, during which he falsely claimed to have been beaten up by All Black fans in order to cover up a drunken fall in his hotel bedroom.
The bizarre episode quickly spiralled out of control with diplomatic relations between France and New Zealand becoming strained and Bastareaud himself, a shy 21-year-old, was hospitalised after an apparent suicide attempt on his return to France.
Scotland, as so often in recent seasons, were let down by their failure to convert openings and phases of pressure into tries although, in Andy Robinson’s first Six Nations match in charge, they posed the French enough problems to suggest they could yet make an impact on this tournament.
The home side had started promisingly, Max Evans’s interception of a slack Yannick Jauzion pass launching an attack that culminated in the French conceding a tenth-minute penalty in front of their posts.
By that stage, France had already been forced into a change, Aurelien Rougerie having been left dazed after being clattered by Scots number eight Johnnie Beattie at the kick-off.
His replacement, Vincent Clerc, should have opened his side’s account after Morgan Parra’s grubber kick popped up kindly into his arms within sight of the line. Thom Evans’ last-ditch tackle prevented Clerc from grounding the ball but the Scots defence was unable to survive the sustained pressure that followed.
After a series of scrums inside the 20-metre line, Bastareaud went over in the right hand corner for his opening try.
Parra failed to maximise the advantage and Scots spurned an opportunity to reclaim the lead when Beattie charged through three French tackles and offloaded into the path of Cusiter, who knocked on as he attempted to gather the bouncing ball with the posts beckoning.
French flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc was equally wasteful at the other end, failing to finish off his own charge down, but Parra was able to extend France’s lead after the Scots were penalised for collapsing the scrum.
A barnstorming run from Sean Lamont put the French on the back foot and led to a Chris Paterson penalty which gave the home supporters hope that their side could make a fight of it.
But Bastareaud had other ideas and, with 33 minutes gone and with the French backs working the ball from right to left, the giant centre charged over from 40 yards out, helped by Alastair Kellock’s mistimed tackle.
Parra slotted over the tough conversion and the Clermont scrum-half was on target from out wide once more to extend France’s lead to 18-6 early in the second half.
Paterson kicked his third penalty of the afternoon to reduce the deficit and the Scots remained competitive to the end without ever seriously threatening to claim the try that would have tested the visitors’ nerve at the death.