PARIS (Reuters) - France were highly fancied to claim their first Six Nations title since 2010 before the championship started yet they ended it physically and mentally drained following a 27-23 loss to Scotland on Friday.
Les Bleus, who have been playing some exciting rugby since Fabien Galthie took over last year, lost the plot in the dying minutes which allowed Scotland to record their first win in Paris since 1999.
Six days after a thrilling 32-30 stoppage-time win against Wales, they needed to win by 21 points and a bonus point to deny Wayne Pivac's side the title.
They failed to get anywhere near that target after playing their third test in 14 days, the Scotland clash having been rescheduled after a COVID-19 outbreak within their camp.
"It was an intense last three weeks," said Galthie after France finished second behind Wales on 16 points, one ahead of Ireland and Scotland.
"All of our games, apart the one against Italy, were decided on the last play or the last five minutes."
France beat Ireland 15-13 in Dublin, lost 23-20 to England after a last-gasp Maro Itoje try before beating Wales in stoppage time and losing to Scotland when the clock was way past the 80-minute mark.
"There were moments when we were in control and others not," said Galthie.
"It was very tough physically, and emotionally. It was like a never-ending boxing match, it dried up our resources."
France failed to finish with clear heads.
Brice Dulin, who scored the winning try last Saturday, recorded another one against Scotland. But after France won the ball in stoppage time, he opted to go for a pointless fourth-try bonus from inside his own 22 metres - a move that ended up with a penalty for Scotland, who sent Duhan van der Merwe over for the victory.
"I haven't spoken to the players yet so I'm not sure what happened," said captain Charles Ollivon.
"We gained back possession and we overthought it. It's hard to talk about this now. It's the kind of mistake that will help us grow and come back stronger."
France have now lost three of their last four tests against Scotland and their last two in the Six Nations.
"We wanted more than a win and in the end we got nothing," said Gregory Alldritt.
"We've improved but now we need to do what it takes to avoid finishing second again," said Dylan Cretin.
France also finished last year's Six Nations in second place.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)