Reformed Bastareaud replaces lies with tries
FRANCE 'bad boy' Mathieu Bastareaud, who has spent the past six months in sackcloth as far as the French management are concerned, can finally stop apologising to all and sundry after he produced two first-half tries on his comeback yesterday.
Bastareaud, a young bull of a man on and off the field, caused a major diplomatic incident in New Zealand last summer when he blamed a broken eye socket -- incurred during late-night horseplay with team-mates -- on a fictitious nightclub incident in Wellington.
When the truth came out, Bastareaud was banned by the French federation and forced to write letters of apology to everybody concerned, not least the Wellington Police for wasting their time and his own French colleagues.
It was a chastening time but nobody has ever doubted his talent and potential and Bastareaud, a cousin of Arsenal and France defender William Gallas, returned to the fold with a mature and powerful performance against Scotland, especially in the first half of a game that declined badly after the break.
Until then the Scots, although very much on the back foot, had held true to their promise to attack whenever possible but after that they were engaged mainly in damage limitation.
France, with one eye on the potential championship-deciding clash with Ireland next Saturday, were not in the mood to cause further carnage, however, and cruised through a second half that tested the patience of both sets of supporters. Initially France had brought their A game to a grey Edinburgh afternoon which included a short but explosive appearance from their Clermont left wing Aurelien Rougerie, a class act much underused by France over the years.
Animated by yet another recall, he ripped into Scotland straight from the off with a shuddering tackle on Kelly Brown which caused more damage to himself than his opponent.
Rougerie then produced another massive hit moments later on Johnny Beattie and also dropped a try-scoring pass before departing groggily after just four action-packed minutes. It is a sign of France's strength in depth that Vincent Clerc was his replacement.
Although Scotland had the encouragement of a Chris Paterson penalty, it was soon all hands to the pumps, with Brown and Thom Evans performing a minor miracle to keep Clerc out. Relief was only temporary, however, and soon Bastareaud was strolling over after a series of powerful French scrums on the Scotland line had done all the damage.
Morgan Parra missed the conversion but another awesome French scrum forced Scotland to offend and Parra obliged this time around. To see the Scotland scrum struggling was not a pretty sight, one made more painful by the presence of powerhouse prop Euan Murray in the stands. Murray will not play on Sundays because of his religious convictions and Scotland can only hope they are spared matches on the Sabbath in future.
Paterson briefly raised Scottish hopes with a second penalty but Bastareaud struck again, this time ploughing over from 40 yards with just the hint of a dummy to boot. Brown, who enjoyed a good game in adversity along with Beattie, gave valiant chase but to no avail.
Parra nailed the conversion and in truth France were probably worth another score before half-time but determined Scottish defence just about kept them out. And then it all went downhill, a penalty apiece being the sum total of the action.
"They are a very good scrummaging side, our young lads would have learnt a lot," conceded Scotland coach Andy Robinson.
"France took their two chances in the first half beautifully and when we had our chances we didn't hold onto the ball well enough. Their defence, and in particular Harinordoquy, was very good."
France meanwhile have eyes only for the showdown against Ireland on Saturday.
"We are happy with the win but we must remain focused now because we have a short week to prepare for the game against Ireland when we must raise our levels again," said coach Marc Lievremont.
"As for Mathieu, he took his tries well and I am pleased for him but they were team tries and that was what pleased me most." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Scotland -- C Paterson; T Evans ,M Evans, G Morrison, S Lamont; P Godman (H Southwell 53), C Cusiter (capt,); A Dickinson (M Low 64), R Ford (S Lawson 66), M Low (A Jacobsen 57); N Hines (R Gray 68), A Kellock; K Brown, J Barclay, J Beattie.
France -- C Poitrenaud; B Fall, M Bastareaud (D Marty 72), Y Jauzion, A Rougerie (V Clerc 5); F Trinh-Duc, M Parra (F Michalak 72); T Domingo, W Servat (D Szarzewski 51), N Mas (L Ducalcon 46); L Nallet, P Pape; T Dusautoir (capt, J Bonnaire 68), F Ouedraogo, I Harinordoquy.
Ref -- N Owens (Wales).