With France leading by 24 points as the game entered the final five minutes, Scotland endeared themselves to Irish fans worldwide after prop Euan Murray scampered home in the corner to finish off a neat move.

Needing a try to restore their favourable points difference over the Irish, 51-24 victors over Italy earlier in the day, France pressed forward as the clock ticked down.

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Having being held by the resolute Scottish rearguard just one metre out, the French pack finally found the gap and substitute Vermeulen grounded the ball for the try.

Referee Craig Joubert of South Africa was well placed, but checked with the video referee who, a tense minute later, gave the green light despite the inconclusive views of the replay. An honourable decision, given that he was Irish.

The whole of the Stade de France erupted into raucous joy, and Laporte, in charge of the Blues for his final game, ran down to celebrate with his players.

"It was a great day for rugby," said Laporte. "It was definitely our best match in the tournament and certainly our best match in quite some time," added the coach, who had long since departed the Stade de France by the team his players were awarded their medals in front of a handful of officials.

It was a dramatic end to a thrilling game in which the defending champions were tested from the outset by a bullish Scottish team.

The visitors drew first blood just seven minutes into the match when Nikki Walker made the most of a nervous fumble by French fullback Clement Poitrenaud to score in the corner on his six nations debut.

Dan Parks had kicked the ball wide after a period of intense pressure from Scotland and Poitrenaud judged it terribly, letting the ball slide through his hands, ricochet off his head and land in Walkers clutches over the try line.

Chris Paterson, who had uncharacteristically missed a routine third minute penalty, his first miss in 21 attempts, added the conversion before France fought back with successive tries from Imanol Harinordoquy and Yannick Jauzion.

France, playing with more and more authority, were then caught napping at the back when Sean Lamont broke clear, won a penalty, took it quickly and then scored with ease under the posts.

As the whistle blew for half time the score was 20-14 and France had it all to do. Laporte's half time talk must have been inspiring because his side played some astonishing rugby after the break.

First David Marty scored on the left wing in the 52 minute after the ball was swung wide following a wave of attacks from the French pack.

French rookie fly-half Lionel Beauxis, in for the injured David Skrela, added the conversion before Cedric Heymans rounded off a neat move involving both Marty and Jauzion to score in the same corner just minutes later.

Another try from Olivier Milloud in the 62 minute saw France coast into a 39-14 lead, and within touching distance to retaining their overall crown.

But Scotland never gave up hope of saving honour, and when Murray latched onto Paterson's exemplary long pass, it looked like Scotland had delivered the spoils to Ireland on St Patrick's Day.

France held their nerve, however, and their last minute try meant that World Cup 2007 hosts will start the blue riband competition later this year as the champions of Europe - providing England do not beat Wales by 57 points at the Millennium Stadium.

"It's hard to take, but that's sport. We could wallow in self-pity now, but I don't think that would be the right thing to do," Ireland coach Eddie O'Sullivan told reporters.

"We've won four out of five matches, played some great rugby and scored some great tries. We have to kick on from here."

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