14-man France loses Grand Slam bid after defeat in Scotland

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              Scotland's Adam Hastings, left, runs with the ball next to France's Gregory Alldritt during the Six Nations rugby union international match between Scotland and France at the Murrayfield stadium in Edinburgh, Scotland, Sunday, March 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Scott Heppell)
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EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — Another red card could cost France another major rugby trophy after its 14-man team lost its unbeaten run in the Six Nations against Scotland at Murrayfield on Sunday.

France was beaten 28-17, ending its Grand Slam hopes.

Its first defeat in four rounds also dropped France to second in the standings, below England on points difference. That means England’s and Ireland’s matches against Italy, both postponed by the new coronavirus outbreak, could yet have a bearing on who is crowned champion, sometime this year.

This match turned when tighthead prop Mohamed Haouas was sent off in the 37th minute for punching Scotland flanker Jamie Ritchie in the face.

France led 7-6, but lost the lead from the resulting penalty kick and never had it again.

Tries to winger Sean Maitland just before and just after halftime set up the scrappy Scots for a fourth straight win over France at Murrayfield, and consecutive wins against France in the championship for the first time since 1964.

With a second straight win, Scotland was up to third, and the pressure was off coach Gregor Townsend.

“We could’ve done better in the last 10-15 minutes, but I was very proud of how we started the game,” Townsend said. “We were very physical in the tackle, sharp when we had opportunities to move the ball.”

The red card was deja vu for France which, only last October, was leading Wales in their Rugby World Cup quarterfinal in Japan until Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for punching. France lost and went home with nothing.

That’s on the cards again.

France has to beat Ireland in Paris next Saturday to keep alive its first championship chance in 10 years, then see how England replies.

“I don’t think the Grand Slam weighed heavily on the team,” France manager Raphael Ibanez said. “It’s down to Scotland, they played with a lot of intensity. And on our side, things went totally the opposite to how we wanted. That’s rugby, we are still a young team, and we have got to learn from that.”

The Haouas red card was symptomatic of a France side that was decidedly off even before kickoff. In the warmup, reserve hooker Camille Chat limped off and had to be replaced.

Romain Ntamack missed a long-range penalty, then dropped a punt and walked off in the eighth minute with a head knock.

Meanwhile, flanker Francois Cros was sin-binned for a tip tackle, while on his knees, of lock Grant Gilchrist, though it appeared teammate Paul Willemse was more at fault.

Scotland could add only three points while Clos was off, but France was struggling for the snappy cohesion that marked its wins over England, Italy, and Wales.

Passes, even from star scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, were sloppy, and the scrum was also a liability against a pack coach by former France international Pieter de Villiers. Haouas had trouble holding up his tighthead side against Rory Sutherland.

Out of nowhere, France scored a great try. Gael Fickou flew down the left touchline, and Dupont spotted right wing Damian Penaud alone and cross-kicked for a catch and try in the right corner.

Then Scotland laid siege to the France tryline, which France was repelling. But a melee erupted, Ritchie ran in from a long way, and Haouas punched him in the nose, leaving referee Paul Williams no choice but to send him off.

“It’s really disappointing,” Ibanez said of Haouas. “He wants to do his best for the team but he has to learn a few lessons.”

Hastings, giving his best performance in the absence of the exiled Finn Russell, kicked the penalty to give Scotland back the lead at 9-7 and, after the restart, he made a 30-meter break into the French 22. Stuart Hogg and Sam Johnson engineered a try for Maitland and a 14-7 lead into halftime.

Maitland had his second try soon after the break. Hogg counterattacked from halfway, scrumhalf Ali Price was stopped in front of the posts, and Hastings put Maitland into the right corner again.

They finish next week against Wales in Cardiff, where Scotland hasn’t won in 18 years. Asked if they can, Ritchie said, “Why not?”

After a sunny start at Murrayfield, the rain returned and gave France’s ambitions another obstacle. Luck wasn’t on its side either.

A throw-in by Scotland replacement hooker Stuart McInally was stolen at the front, but the tap down bounced away from Dupont, and McInally regathered from 20 meters out and scored.

Scotland tried hard for the bonus-point fourth try, but France had the last say. Thomas Ramos launched a counterattack from deep and captain Charles Ollivon bagged his fourth try of the championship.

“A lot of frustration,” No. 8 Gregory Alldritt said. “Even with 14 on the field we had to carry on and we made too many mistakes to win.”