Scotland decisively ended France’s Grand Slam dream by stifling the previously unbeaten championship leaders with a pressure game and scoring three tries to clinch their second Guinness Six Nations win in succession.
It wasn’t the perfect performance by any means, but the Scots showed some guile and flair at last, allied to their solid defence and their aggression at close quarters which forced a succession of French fumbles and turnovers.
Sean Maitland finished off the first two tries and Stuart McInally the third, but the turning point was the sending off of French prop Mohammed Haouas for landing a punch on man of the match Jamie Ritchie just before half-time.
That old French failing of indiscipline was seized on by the Scots for eight key points just before half-time through Maitland’s first try and a Hastings penalty, and the wing’s second score just after the break gave the Scots all the advantage they needed to go and win the game.
Ritchie and Hamish Watson were immense against France’s much-heralded back-row, while Adam Hastings had his best game of the four so far since called on to replace the absent Finn Russell.
The Scots have shown strong form at home before only to falter away, but with under-pressure head coach Gregor Townsend now probably secure with this win, they can throw everything at Wales in the final game next week.
Scotland ended a first half punctuated by long breaks for TMO consultations and scrum debates with a handy lead thanks to chancing their arm and scoring those eight precious points as the clock neared 40 minutes.
France suffered an early double blow, losing flanker Francois Cros to a yellow card when he was adjudged to have upended Grant Gilchrist in a tip-tackle, although Paul Willemse looked to be the guilty party.
Then star stand-off Romain N’Tamack, having missed a long penalty shot at goal, spilled a routine catch in midfield, and got Sam Johnson’s hip to his head for his troubles as he tried to recover, not returning after the concussion.
Hastings kicked a penalty after the French didn’t roll away at the tackle but that was the only score of the first 10 minutes with France a man down.
Scotland’s defence held solid against some neat play by replacement stand-off Matthieu Jalibert, but France kept fumbling under pressure in promising situations, and a good kick chase from Maitland put pressure on the visitors again, they infringed and Hastings landed the 42 metre penalty.
The championship leaders were offering little in attack but from a lineout just inside Scotland’s half they showed exactly what they were capable of.
Swift movement from ruck ball saw Jalibert and Arthur Vincent put Gael Fickou away, and although Maitland made a superb cover tackle, France worked it back from Antoine Dupont to spot Damien Penaud all alone on the right and find him with a pinpoint cross kick for the try.
Jalibert converted handsomely, but the Scots hammered right back by forcing a turnover and a penalty they opted to kick to the corner.
That move initially floundered on aggressive French defence, but it was another kind of aggression that cost the visitors as Haining was felled and a fight broke out.
After the teams were separated the TMO showed Mohammed Haouas landing a haymaker on Jamie Ritchie and ref Paul Williams had no option but to show the tight head prop the red card.
Hastings kicked the penalty to restore Scotland’s lead with three minutes to play in the half, but the Scots weren’t settling for just that.
Adam Hastings took a tough pass one-handed on the run but he recovered to dummy and dance past tacklers into the 22, and Gilchrist, Hogg and Johnson spun it sweetly wide for Maitland to score in the corner.
France opened the second half with real purpose against a slightly tentative home side and worked their way within three metres of the Scottish line only for Watson to force the tenacious turnover penalty.
That woke up the Scots after their half-time tea-break and a poor French kick was returned by Hogg at pace, releasing Chris Harris on a cutting run and Ali Price taking it into the 22 in support.
France scrambled back to stop the scrum-half, but the Scots got there to retain possession for Hastings and Johnson to put Maitland in for his second try, this time converted by the stand-off.
The visitors were now frenzied in their attempts to get back in the game rather than the controlled risk-free play of their first three games, but all they could get from a strong 10 minute spell with the majority of ball was a Jalibert penalty just after the hour.
A rainbow appeared above Murrayfield just in time for Scotland’s third try, after a fine Hogg kick had put France on the defensive.
Bernard le Roux got his hand in to the Scottish lineout throw, but the ball bounced away from Dupont and the alert Stuart McInally, just on for Fraser Brown, scooped up the ball and had the easiest run of 10 metres for the score, converted by Hastings.
France kept going, and Tomas Ramos, their replacement full-back, launched a superb counterattack that finally had the Scots running out of turnovers and willing tacklers, skipper Charles Ollivon scoring at close range, converted by Jalibert, with four minutes remaining.
The Scots went seeking a bonus point but although they couldn’t quite get there, this win will suffice quite nicely.
Scotland team: S Hogg (capt); S Maitland, C Harris, S Johnson, B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price; R Sutherland, F Brown, Z Fagerson; S Cummings, G Gilchrist; J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining.
Replacements: S McInally for Brown 59, A Dell for Sutherland 59, WP Nel for Fagerson 66, S Skinner for Cummings 71, M Bradbury for Haining 59, G Horne for Price 60, D Weir for Johnson 79, K Steyn for Maitland 66.
France: A Bouthier; D Penaud, V Vakatawa, A Vincent, G Fickou; R N’Tamack, A Dupont; J Poirot, J Marchand, M Haouas; B Le Roux, P Willemse; F Cros, C Ollivon (capt), G Alldritt.
Replacements: P Mauvaka for Marchand 64, J-B Gros for Poirot 50, D Bamba for Willemse 49, R Taofifenua for Cros 49, D Cretin for Penaud 59, B Serin for Dupont 76, M Jalibert for N’Tamack 8, T Ramos for Bouthier 71.
Ref: P Williams (NZ)