Scotland staged another stirring fightback against France before being edged out by a late penalty from Thomas Ramos on an intoxicating Saturday night in the Saint-Etienne heat.
Gregor Townsend’s side – who overturned a 21-3 deficit to beat Les Bleus at Murrayfield a week previously – trailed 27-10 going into the final quarter inside the raucous Stade Geoffroy-Guichard.
The Scots roared back to level the match at 27-27 and would have gone ahead if Finn Russell had managed to convert Kyle Steyn’s second try of the match in the 72nd minute.
However, their hopes of only a second victory on French soil this century were dashed when Ramos’s reliable boot made it 30-27 with just two minutes remaining.
Scotland made six changes to the side that started last weekend’s 25-21 win over France at Murrayfield, two of which were enforced with the suspended Zander Fagerson and the injured Ben White dropping out. Captain Jamie Ritchie returned after being troubled by a minor calf issue in recent weeks.
After fielding a shadow side in Edinburgh last weekend, Les Bleus made 13 changes, restoring big-hitters like captain Antoine Dupont, Romain Ntamack, Gael Fickou and Jonathan Danty.
In addition to facing the side ranked second in the world, the Scots also had to contend with 26 degree heat as they emerged from the tunnel to a buoyant home support clearly revelling in the prospect of hosting the World Cup, which gets under way in less than four weeks.
The Scots – who were 19-0 down after 20 minutes on their last trip to France in February – could easily have wilted in the cauldron but they set about taking the sting out of the atmosphere by getting themselves into French territory from kick-off.
Following a sustained period of pressure, the visitors took the lead after four minutes when the ball was worked from left to right and Steyn ran on to a perfectly-weighted pass from Blair Kinghorn before evading a challenge from Gabin Villiere and touching down. Russell executed the conversion impressively from wide on the right.
France got themselves off the mark in the eighth minute with a penalty from Ramos, but Russell restored the Scots’ seven-point lead with a penalty of his own three minutes later. Ramos reduced the hosts’ deficit once more with another penalty in the 22nd minute.
The French momentarily thought they had gone ahead in the 29th minute when Dupont raced clear to touch down behind the posts but the celebrations were cut short as play was pulled back with Ali Price having failed to retreat the necessary 10 yards when Les Bleus took a quick penalty. There was some consolation for the frustrated home support, however, as the Scotland scrum-half was sin-binned for his infringement.
France, who had been building up a head of steam, soon capitalised on their extra-man advantage as Ntamack cut through the Scottish defence to plant the ball down left of the posts, and Ramos was once again on point with his kick to edge them three ahead.
The visitors desperately needed a strong start to the second half but their hopes were dented when they conceded two tries – scored by Damien Penaud and Charles Ollivon – within four minutes of the restart. The unflappable Ramos converted both times.
However, the Scots managed to reduce their arrears in the 62nd minute when Duhan van der Merwe bounded over on the left after a breakthrough attempt from Huw Jones was thwarted just before the line. Russell was off target with his kick.
The visitors – having appeared well-beaten – suddenly had some impetus and they closed to within five points in the 68th minute when Rory Darge forced his way over from close range after a slick build-up, with Russell adding the extras.
Remarkably, Scotland drew level four minutes later when Steyn ran on to a kick-through from George Horne to touch down on the right. Russell – with the chance to edge his team in front – was just wide with his conversion attempt.
Ramos made no mistake when presented with the opportunity to win a pulsating match for the French in the 78th minute.