EDINBURGH (Reuters) -France were at their flamboyant best as they scored six tries in thumping Scotland 36-17 at Murrayfield on Saturday to make it three wins out of three in the Six Nations this year.
Two tries in the opening 13 minutes served notice of their form and status as tournament favourites, as Paul Willemse and Yoram Moefana went over early.
There were four more tries from Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty and Damien Penaud (2) in a devastating performance, with Melvyn Jaminet adding three conversions.
Scotland offered resistance at stages but only went over the line twice through loose forward Rory Darge, making his first start for the home team, and Duhan van der Merwe. Finn Russell converted one of the tries and added a penalty while Stuart Hogg converted the other.
France’s early dominance caught Scotland cold as Willemse finished off a move set up by Antoine Dupont’s mazy, jinxing run from deep in his own half for the first score after eight minutes.
Some elaborate offloads and daring passes ended with Moefana crossing the line as well five minutes later, as the French continued to served early notice.
But their hosts fought their way back into the game and pulled the lead back to 12-10 near halftime after Darge’s try.
Just before the break Van der Merwe broke through the French lines to set off down the field, feeding Chris Harris who threw a long pass to Stuart Hogg that proved just out of the Scotland skipper’s reach with the tryline waiting in front of him.
The knock-on cost the hosts a certain try at a crucial juncture and proved a turning point in the contest.
Two minutes later Fickou ran from one end of the field to the other for a brilliant individual effort to take France into the break 19-10 ahead.
There followed another hammer blow for the hosts straight after the resumption as Danty’s power saw France add a bonus point fourth try as he successfully chased down a long kick and put the visitors further ahead.
A fifth try came on the hour mark as France stripped the ball from the beleaguered Scots and set Penaud racing away to score in the corner – and he got another 15 minutes later, at the end of Romain Ntamack’s clever cross-field kick.
There was a consolation try for Van der Merwe right at the end of the game but it was little consolation for a devastating defeat.
“It was a match we prepared for with great care,” said France coach Fabien Galthie.
“The players fought an extraordinary battle, there was a lot of intensity and commitment.”
France, who host next year’s World Cup, keep top place in the standings and remain the only side still capable of taking the Grand Slam — with Wales away on March 11 and England at home on March 19 left on their fixture list.
“I let one go and we could have changed the momentum of the match,” said Hogg about the missed opportunity near the end of the first half.
“That is something I’m devastated about.”
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christian Radnedge)