EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — France scratched out a 19-17 win at Murrayfield and left Scotland wondering how it blew a Six Nations match it dominated on Saturday.
France's third win in four matches kept it in title contention, but even if it beats front-runner Ireland in Paris next week France's points differential of plus three is the worst of the four contenders.
Coach Philippe Saint-Andre knows his side has to improve remarkably to stop Ireland, and hopes to crash Brian O'Driscoll's retirement party after the centre led Ireland to a big win over Italy in his last home match.
"I hope so," Saint-Andre said. "I hope his party was today in Dublin and not next week in Stade de France." Scotland should have eliminated France and earned its first win over the visitors in eight years, but it gave away a ruck penalty in front of its posts with two minutes to go and replacement scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain shrugged off booing to nail the goalkick for the win.
"I can't say it was our best game," Saint-Andre said. "We have to smile. At the same period last year we didn't have one win, so we have to stay positive." A month after being belittled for utter mediocrity, a Scotland buoyed by a last-minute win over Italy in Rome absorbed France's best shots and deserved a 14-9 lead at halftime.
Then Scotland slowly gave the game back to France, starting with an intercept try. It still should have put the result beyond reach from three successive penalty shots but could land only one to hold a one-point lead, and played safe to its cost.
"That is one of the most disappointing games I've had in a Scotland jersey," No. 8 David Denton said. "We gave everything and were unlucky at the end. "This is a France team that tried to beat us up in the set-pieces and it was an area of the game we dominated."
The Scots had the edge in ball and turf and won eight French lineouts and two tightheads, but wasted a lot of hard work by conceding 13 penalties. Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud converted the first two to reward France's early pressure with a 6-0 lead.
Then out of the blue, Machenaud was charged down, Scotland recovered, and fullback Stuart Hogg, at flyhalf, put up a bomb into the French in-goal. France backs Brice Dulin and Yoann Huget made a mess of the catch and Hogg slid in to touch down. Greig Laidlaw converted for the lead, but Machenaud took it back for France with a third penalty.
Scotland flanker Johnnie Beattie was carried off with an ankle injury and, soon after, his teammates notched a second try. Inside center Matt Scott fed an inside pass to Tommy Seymour, the right wing streaking into the left corner. But France should have sought a video review, as flyhalf Jules Plisson was blocked by Scotland center Alex Dunbar, creating the gap for Seymour.
Scotland was working up to a third try close to the break with another patient series of phases, but close to the France tryline the ball was turned over by centre Mathieu Bastareaud. Machenaud missed his first goalkick at the interval, and Scotland led 14-9.
Six minutes after the break, Scotland once again was setting up a try, working a move in the French 22. But flyhalf Duncan Weir's skip pass for Dunbar was intercepted by winger Huget, who ran 85 meters untouched to the other end. Machenaud's conversion put France two points in front.
Around the hour, Laidlaw was short on a long-range penalty attempt, but Weir had better luck from the left touchline to put Scotland ahead 17-16. He missed his next shot when the breeze blew it wide right with five minutes to go.
France, with seven changes after being humiliated in Wales, came back, preciously holding the ball until it received the almost inevitable penalty. Doussain, who replaced Machenaud four minutes earlier, completed France's first win away from home since Argentina in June 2012.