Guinness Six Nations
Scotland 28-17 France
Sean Maitland scored two tries as Scotland blew the 2020 Guinness Six Nations wide open and dashed France’s Grand Slam dreams at a raucous BT Murrayfield.
The winger crossed either side of half-time as the hosts took full advantage of a Mohamed Haouas red card to set up a thrilling finale to the 2020 Championship.
France prop Haouas saw red for a punching Jamie Ritchie just before half-time and minutes after Les Bleus had scored one of the tries of the Six Nations to take the lead, courtesy of Damian Penaud.
However, they struggled throughout and failed to reach the high standards that had seen them overwhelm England, outclass Italy and out-duel Wales.
Stuart McInally’s score 15 minutes from time killed off France, who did score a late try through captain Charles Ollivon, and stretched their winless run at BT Murrayfield to three Championship matches.
Scotland’s victory has invited England and Ireland right back into the title race, with France due to play Ireland in Paris next weekend.
Following their thrilling 27-23 win against Wales in Round 3, France fly-half Romain Ntamack described France as fearless.
But with two weeks to mull over their first shot at a Grand Slam in a decade, the question in Edinburgh was whether they could cope with the pressure.
The first 12 minutes were concerning. Ntamack pushed a penalty wide from a central position before Francois Cros was sent to the sin-bin for a clumsy tackle on Grant Gilchrist.
Ntamack then spilled a simple high ball and the tackle that followed hit him hard and forced him off the field. He did not return and with him went France’s swagger.
Scotland needed to capitalise and Adam Hastings delivered in the 12th minute with a routine penalty just beyond the 22.
The hosts, who secured their first win of the 2020 Championship against Italy in Round 3, subsequently grew in confidence and a second Hastings penalty, awarded for Ollivon’s sluggishness in rolling away at the ruck, extended the lead. France were unnerved.
However, it only takes one moment to change a game and France looked to have provided it spectacularly eight minutes from half-time.
Scrum-half Antoine Dupont, one of the stars of this France team, worked his men into the 22 and, with Scotland scrambling to stop winger Gael Fickou in one corner, Dupont switched the play and lofted a beauty of a cross-field kick for Damian Penaud, recalled after injury, to score in the corner.
Ntamack’s replacement, Matthieu Jalibert, slotted the conversion from tight on the touchline to put Les Bleus ahead and, in this Championship, that is something they had not surrendered. However, things quickly flipped again minutes later.
Scotland won possession straight from the kick-off and after a couple of penalties, a scuffle broke out under the posts and TV footage showed France prop Haouas punching Jamie Ritchie.
The tighthead was sent off and Hastings regained the lead for Scotland with a simple penalty. But there was more to come.
Back on the ball, Hastings’ dancing feet inside French territory had Les Bleus’ defenders grasping at thin air and, from the next phase, Hogg whipped a pass out to Sam Johnson, who then slipped in Maitland to score.
France started the second half like a side that had just been read the riot act by head coach Fabien Galthie.
Jalibert’s vision, Penaud’s athleticism and Gregory Alldritt’s power carried France to the five-metre line with their first attack, only for Scotland to win a penalty courtesy of Hamish Watson.
That woke the hosts up and Scotland worked the one-man advantage they had. Hogg made the break from inside his own half, Ali Price carried Scotland to the five-metre line and, in the next phase, the ball was worked to Maitland, who held off a tackler and stretched over in the corner.
Hastings’ expert conversion from the right extended the lead to 14 points.
Scotland upped the tempo and France matched them, reverting to a physical game based around Alldritt’s power.
Jalibert’s penalty cut the gap to 11 but France began to tire and Scotland’s replacement hooker Stuart McInally benefited from a kind bounce following an attacking lineout and strolled in unopposed for a try.
Ollivon muscled his way over for a late France try but it was McInally’s score that killed off France. However, it injected more life into a thrilling 2020 Championship.