The long wait for France and Scotland came to an end on Saturday in Nice as the two Guinness Six Nations rivals played their opening Rugby World Cup warm-up match.
Les Bleus prevailed 32-3 in the first part of a double-header between the two sides, producing a performance that showed plenty of promising signs for Jacques Brunel.
Maxime Medard crossed the whitewash twice after Alivereti Raka had opened the hosts’ try-scoring account within two minutes, while Gregory Alldritt and Antoine Dupont also dotted down.
It was a result that echoed France’s 27-10 triumph over Scotland in the 2019 Championship and marked Les Bleus out as potential World Cup contenders in Japan.
Meanwhile, Scotland only had a penalty from Adam Hastings to show for their efforts and will be hoping to bounce back quickly when they welcome France to Edinburgh next weekend.
From the very first whistle it was clear for all to see that France meant business at the Allianz Riviera as Brunel’s men enjoyed a dream start with a try within two minutes.
Debutant Raka demonstrated his explosive power as he saw off the challenge of John Barclay to put the hosts 5-0 ahead, with Camille Lopez adding the extras from the kicking tee.
And while Scotland responded with a brief period of pressure, France’s relentless intensity at the breakdown saw the home side repeatedly disrupt the rhythm of Townsend’s side.
Charles Ollivon and Alldritt repeatedly punctured the Scottish line with rampaging runs and Medard soon crossed for his side’s second try after having an earlier effort ruled out for a forward pass.
With Scotland struggling to slow down France’s ball, Les Bleus’ big boys continued to cause havoc and Alldritt capitalised from a lineout drive to compound the visitors’ problems.
The half-time break only provided a brief reprieve before Medard took advantage of an overlap to gallop over for his second try after Francois Cros produced a quick break on his debut.
Damien Penaud then capped off a display which saw him run 113 metres by setting up the final try for Dupont as France laid down a World Cup marker ahead of the rematch at BT Murrayfield.
After finishing the 2019 Championship in fifth, following a remarkable Calcutta Cup comeback against England, Scotland would have hoped to show signs of improvement in Nice.
But it was very much a case of déjà vu as France’s physicality and raw strength saw the visitors suffer a similar fate to their Guinness Six Nations defeat in Paris earlier this year.
There were certainly several areas for Townsend to work on with his side before the rematch next week after missed tackles, dropped passes and lost lineouts made life easier for France.
The tone was set inside the opening couple of minutes when skipper Stuart McInally’s overthrow at the lineout provided Les Bleus with an attacking platform from which Raka converted.
Scotland did show glimpses of what they can do when on the front foot, but their moves often broke down due to a lack of accuracy as they came up against the blue brick wall of France’s defence.
At the other end, gaps continued to appear in the Scottish line as Hastings was sent to the sin-bin and France began to turn the screw at the scrum to increase their advantage.
The hosts’ five tries was no more than they deserved and means Scotland have conceded an average of four tries as game across their last six matches – suggesting their defence needs attention.
While the night did not go to plan for the visitors, there were still some positives for Townsend to take from the defeat – most notably the return of Stuart Hogg in a Scotland shirt.
The 27-year-old missed most of the 2019 Championship after being forced off the field with a shoulder injury 17 minutes into his country’s match against Ireland in February.
But he was able to regain the No.15 jersey in Nice and take his place in the back-three once again after returning to full fitness, providing Scotland with some much-welcome X-factor.
He demonstrated his electrifying pace soon after France took the lead, cutting through the hosts’ defence with a trademark break, and he continued to cause the hosts problems.
And although he was unable to prevent France’s second try with his last-ditch effort, the full-back also produced some important tackles in addition to his 51 metres run.
Townsend will also take encouragement from giving Test debuts to Rory Hutchinson and Scott Cummings, with the former showing some nice touches after coming off the bench.
The return of Duncan Taylor after two injury-ravaged years was also a welcome sight for the Scots, with the centre coming through almost 50 minutes on his international comeback.