France lost the plot at Murrayfield and Mohamed Haouas ‘Zidaned’ their Grand Slam hopes

Mohamed Haouas of France takes a swing at Scotland's Jamie Ritchie to land himself in deep trouble at BT Murrayfield. Picture: David Rogers/Getty ImagesMohamed Haouas of France takes a swing at Scotland's Jamie Ritchie to land himself in deep trouble at BT Murrayfield. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Mohamed Haouas of France takes a swing at Scotland's Jamie Ritchie to land himself in deep trouble at BT Murrayfield. Picture: David Rogers/Getty Images
Scotland went into this game with a new-found love of defence and the 
lowest number of missed tackles of any team in the Six Nations – but surely something different was going to be needed to stop rampant France.

How about “doing a Joe Marler”? Grabbing the swashbuckling half-back pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack by les testicules? The England prop had caught Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones like this the previous day, but what may be acceptable behaviour in London 
in front of Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn’t seem right or proper for an Edinburgh Sunday with the Princes Royal in attendance.

No, Scotland were going to have to devise another plan to ruin Les Bleus’ Grand Slam dream and – let’s face it – salvage their own season. For France, the whiff of the great prize must have teased and 
tantalised like great coffee or fine cheese (because we can’t really say Gauloises anymore).

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There were loud and lusty chants of “Allez les Bleus!” from the first whistle but it was far from a smooth start for the clean-sweep aspirants. First Francois Cros was sin-binned for planting Grant Gilchrist head-first into the Murrayfield turf. Then Ntamack, hurt fumbling a catch, had to call it a day though it didn’t seem as if there had been any goolie-grabbing. An Adam Hastings 
penalty rounded off a poor ten minutes for the 
visitors, but there was worse – much worse – to come for them.

If this game had been played two seasons ago it would have been fast, free-flowing Scotland against opponents who were as flaky as a croissant. The French could be wonderful but they might also be blunderful. No one knew which side would turn up, least of all the head coaches 
who came and went with great 
regularity. This France, though, kick more ball than any other team in the championship and are ferocious and suffocating in defence.

Scotland, meanwhile, have adopted their own kind of conservatism. There’s no Finn Russell – at least for the moment – and therefore no passes from 10 which could clear the Firth of Forth. They’ve conceded
fewest tries in the tournament, 
and that meanness was much in evidence with France unable to find any gaps in the dark blue rearguard, even if was kitted out in a faded turquoise this time.

In truth, the first half hadn’t been much of a spectacle. The pragmatics versus les pragmatiques produced next to no breaks, Stuart Hogg was well marked and Hastings kicked from hand every time. There were too many stoppages, too many 
lectures from the referee, scrums taking too long to set and a pressman was heard to remark: “It’s games like these when I’m glad I don’t have to pay for my seat.”

Fabien Galthie, the France head coach, hasn’t actually stated he wants less flamboyance from France – and when the man sports such groovy Thunderbirds-esque specs that would sound deeply unconvincing. But then we got some flamboyance: an artful punt into the corner from Dupont enabling Damian Penaud to dive for a try and the large French contingent in the stadium, who’d 
had to indulge in a Mexican Wave previously, burst back into song.

And then a generally stuffy affair exploded. An almighty argy-bargy, very nearly a 30-man rammy, halted play while the officials sought out major culprits. There were numerous replays on the big screens, EH12’s sense of outrage growing each time. Then at last: a clear view of France prop Mohamed Haouas slugging Jamie Ritchie with a right hook. The boos were deafening, the card was red, the boring bits were all forgotten.

Had Haouas Zidaned his 
country’s Slam, just as the great 
Zinedine’s headbutt left the football team a man short in the 2006 
World Cup final? It seemed that way when Hastings burst through the middle and Gilchrist, Hogg, and Sam Johnson swished the ball into the corner for Sean Maitland to score.

When the winger grabbed a second try shortly after the re-start you wondered if Haouas was thinking he should maybe find his own way home, rather than endure the glum silences on the team flight. 
Maitland’s follow-up came after a burst from Chris Harris. Ali Price was foiled but the New Zealand-born speedster wouldn’t be.

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The game was nearly over as a 
contest but Scotland still had to stand firm to foil some desperate raids by the handicapped French. The home side still weren’t missing
any tackles and a third try from 
Stuart McInally, who’d just come on, rubbed it in for the Scots and made Haouas’ haymaker seem all the more stupid.

This had been a hark back to old France – not the flairful version but old, mad, bad France which loses control. For them this had been 
le balls-up, completely overshadowing Joe Marler’s fruity gesture.