France's scrum-half Morgan Parra clears as the defending champs open their Six Nations account [AFP]

France opened the defence of their Six Nations rugby title with a confident 34-21 victory over Scotland at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Last year's Grand Slam winners made a forceful start early through a Maxime Medard try and always held the lead despite tries from Alastair Kellock, Kelly Brown and Sean Lamont for the valiant Scots.

In a stunning piece of skill, Trinh-Duc picked out Imanol Harinordoquy to allow the number eight to run in unchallenged.

France, who also managed a penalty try and a try from Damien Traille, will visit Ireland next Sunday in reasonably confident mood after they were thrashed by Australia in November.

In the day's other game, Ronan O'Gara struck a late drop goal to give Ireland a 13-11 win at Italy.

Flying start

Scotland have a poor record against France, with their last win coming in 2006, but the home side's confidence coming into the match was also brittle following the 59-16 mauling by Australia in their last match in Paris.

However, the home side made a flying start in the third minute with winger Medard scoring the first try thanks to Aurelien Rougerie's superb grubber kick after Scotland had lost the ball.

Morgan Parra completed a confident conversion and the scrumhalf then set up Trinh-Duc for a drop goal before Scotland fought their way back into the game.

The Scots, wearing their traditional dark blue while the hosts wore white, powered towards the line and a neat dummy from Kellock allowed him to wriggle over the line.

Flyhalf Dan Parks had made a shaky start but he popped over the conversion to re-energise the Scottish supporters.

Marc Lievremont's team always looked the more dangerous with several drives of expansive rugby which thrilled the crowd.

Dusautoir delighted

France skipper Thierry Dusautoir was delighted to get the championship off to a winning start.

"We are especially relieved to have won the first match of the Six Nations," he said.

"There were a lot of nerves before we went onto the pitch, but it was great to hear the applause from the fans."

A series of scrums held up near the line led to France getting a penalty try and Parra kicked the extra points again to send his side into the break 17-7 in front.

Early in the second half, Parra missed the posts in a game refreshingly free of penalty kicks before Harinordoquy's try.

The superb score and conversion prompted a rousing rendition of the Marseillaise from the crowd but they were soon silenced when Scotland number eight Brown muscled his way over the line.

Any French jitters were calmed when another flowing move sent Traille crashing over with the Scottish defence nowhere and Lamont's late try made no difference to the result.

"I'm pleased with the way we played, but frustrated and disappointed that they scored four tries when we had the ball," said Scotland coach Andy Robinson.

"We have to be ruthless in Test match rugby - that's the key area we have to improve."

Italy were on the verge of their first ever tournament victory over Ireland when Luke McLean scored in the corner with five minutes left. But Mirco Bergamasco missed the conversion, Italy turned over possession from the restart and O'Gara kicked from 25 yards out.

The wins put last season's top two level on two points with England, who opened on Friday with a 26-19 win at Wales. 

Source: Agencies