GREGOR TOWNSEND has identified three players in particular who have demonstrated that they truly are international animals after stepping up to the plate during yesterday’s Calcutta Cup clash at Twickenham, helping Scotland mount a sensational fightback from 31-0 down to take a seven-point lead with four minutes to go.
The visitors couldn’t hold on for a first win at that venue since 1983, but the head coach – who has been criticised in recent weeks for being too positive in defeat – was justified on this occasion when talking about the pride he felt at the team’s resilience.
“I think I learned a lot about a few individuals today,” he said. “There are a number of individuals that we now know what they can do when they are tested because there is no tougher environment than Twickenham. That mind-set and that ability should mean that they have a big career with Scotland.
“Magnus Bradbury was outstanding at No 8 in a game when the opposition kicked a lot of ball to him. He showed courage to play 80 minutes, to tackle hard, and to carry hard after missing four months of the season.
“Sam Johnson, and how he responded to a couple of errors defensively, which were down to his enthusiasm early in the game. He played some excellent rugby, good low tackles on their big men and then he scored a world class try, one of the best tries Scotland have ever scored.
“Darcy Graham in his second start for Scotland scored two tries and was outstanding in defence as well.”
Kicking smart is key
Scotland stand-off Finn Russell revealed in a television interview after the game that he and Townsend had an ‘argument’ about how Scotland needed to play tactically. “He was telling us to kick and I said every time we kick they run it back at us and cut it open,” said the playmaker.
It appears that, in the end, Townsend was able to convince Russell that the kicking option was not intrinsically wrong but needed to be better executed – and with everyone on the same wavelength, Scotland were able to dictate the game for most of the second half.
“In the first 15 minutes, we were conceding tries and our natural response is to try and play and score tries and win back the scoreboard,” explained the coach. “But England’s defence was so strong that if we tried to play in our half it could have meant that we were further behind on the scoreboard, so we had to talk through that process.
“We had to put them under pressure. We had to be better with our kick-chase if we were kicking, and make sure we weren’t drawing their back three into open space, which is what happened in the first half. There was much more balance to our game in the second half. Credit goes to Finn, I thought his decision making was excellent, he put pressure on England with his kicking game. He attacked very well with ball in hand and had some big moments in defence, too.
Found a penny but lost a pound?
Meanwhile, Scotland captain Stuart McInally couldn’t work-out whether to laugh or cry after this brain-scrambling encounter.
“It’s a strange one, we were within a minute and a half, so you dare to dream that we may have done it, and then they scored a try,” he reflected. “But we are really proud of that second half as we are disappointed with the first. It’s great to retain the Calcutta Cup and I won’t lie, it’s a good feeling even though it was a draw. It was a game we could have won at the end, but the overriding emotion is that we are pleased.
“We gave England a lot of what they wanted in the first half,” he added. “A lot of the kicking was part of our game-plan but our chase wasn’t as good. It allowed them to get their dangerous runners into the game with space to run. They were carving us up a bit and we were chasing our tails.
“We spoke [at half-time] about our kick-chase and slowing down that first breakdown. We then scored some great tries in that second half which was really pleasing. We spoke about just winning the second half, did we think at that time that we could score thirty odd points? Probably not, given the way we had played in the first half. But we scored a try and then another and started to believe and scored some great tries, some of them were brilliant… Sam Johnson’s which put us into the lead was fantastic.”
Seduced by the scoreboard
England head coach Eddie Jones was a magnanimous about the outcome as he could manage.
“We let our foot off of the gas and couldn’t get control of the game back,” he said. “We should have been ahead a lot more but we got out of jail at the end. We were seduced by the scoreboard, but it was a lesson and we are all disappointed. The hardest lessons are the best lessons and we’ll need to make Scotland came back really well, they have plenty of heart and plenty of pace so a lot of credit goes to them.