Scotland 28-17 France: Sean Maitland's double dashes Grand Slam hopes as Mohamed Haouas sent off
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 09/03/20 6:29am
A double from Sean Maitland set Scotland on course for a 28-17 victory which left France's Six Nations Grand Slam dreams in tatters at Murrayfield on Sunday afternoon.
Adam Hastings put the hosts in front with two early penalties, but a moment of great vision from Antoine Dupont led to the returning Damian Penaud scoring a converted try edge an out-of-sorts France side ahead on 33 minutes.
But the game was turned on its head when Mohamed Haouas was dismissed for punching Jamie Ritchie, followed by another penalty from Hastings and an unconverted try from Maitland which put the hosts in the driving seat with a 14-7 lead at the break.
Maitland's second soon after the restart and an opportunist score from replacement hooker Stuart McInally put the seal on an impressive win at Murrayfield over a French side which looked a shadow of the one seen in their previous three matches in 2020.
France, seeking a victory to stay on course for their first Grand Slam since they last won the title in 2010, were dealt two setbacks early on. The first came when Francois Cros was sin-binned for a tip tackle on Grant Gilchrist with just five minutes gone and the second saw inspirational fly-half Romain Ntamack forced off due to a head injury.
It did not help that Ntamack missed an early long-range penalty attempt and a bit of indiscipline crept in at the scrums and in general play for the away side as the half went on as well, but in contrast Scotland kept their cool and took the lead in the 11th minute.
Hastings slotted over that penalty from around 25 metres out following a scrum infringement and then sent over another from long range midway through the half. However, France sparked into life to edge ahead 13 minutes later.
A break from replacement fly-half Matthieu Jalibert set the ball rolling and an impressive piece of vision from his half-back partner Antoine Dupont saw him kick wide to the right under pressure for winger Penaud to dot down wide, followed by Jalibert nailing the conversion.
However, a melee involving several players from both teams led to prop Hauouas being sent off by referee Paul Williams after the replay showed him punching Ritchie, with Scotland making the most of their numerical advantage.
The first try came on the stroke of half-time when Hastings made a break, and the ball was recycled for Hogg to find centre Sam Johnson, who fed the winger to dive over in the corner for an unconverted score.
A devastating counter-attack led to Maitland's second try, with Hogg sending Chris Harris darting his way through the defence followed by Ali Price continuing the charge. Then the ball was worked wide to the right for the Saracens wide man to finish again. Hastings was able to convert this time too.
Despite being a man down, France showed character to keep plugging away and Jalibert reduced the deficit in the 62nd minute with a penalty. However, the result was put beyond doubt by McInally with a quarter of an hour to go.
France captain Charles Ollivon had done well to come up with a steal from the Scotland hooker at a line-out in the away side's 22, but failed to keep hold of the ball and McInally showed great alertness to scoop up the ball and out-pace the defence for a try which Hastings converted.
The away side rallied and did manage another consolation score from Ollivon, but nothing could deny Scotland from making it back-to-back wins over France in internationals since 1964.
Even before France were reduced to 14 men, Scotland had been building nicely and much of that had been down to the work of their forwards.
They showed exactly why they had recorded the most turnovers of any team so far in this year's Six Nations heading into the clash at Murrayfield and continued that with some particularly excellent work at the breakdown.
Ritchie, the victim of that punch from Haouas, was named man of the match, but fellow back-row partner Hamish Watson produced some notable moments too which stopped the French in their tracks.
That in turn allowed the backs to flourish and the tries scored by Maitland were reminiscent of the attacking verve Scotland became noted for during the early part of head coach Gregor Townsend's reign.
Having won so many plaudits for their displays in both attack and defence during their first three matches of this year's Six Nations, France seemed to revert to the team which was more recognisable from the old clichés about them.
There were flashes of brilliance, such as the move which led to Penaud's try, but these were few and far between. Indeed, the signs of this were there early on when a couple of handling errors ended attacks in promising position.
Then there was their creeping indiscipline, which was summed up when Haouas decided to take matters into his own hands during a confrontation which amounted to little more than pushing and shoving between players from both teams up to that point.
To make matters worse for Fabien Galthie's men, the margin of the defeat saw France drop to second in the table on points difference from England and means they no longer have the opportunity to clinch the title in Paris next week when they face Ireland.