DAVID BARNES @ Twickenham
SCOTLAND’S 38-year wait for victory at Twickenham is over. Gregor Townsend’s side played with intelligence, purpose and no little courage to dominate their opponents in almost every area of the match, and the scoreline flattered the home team.
It was a well deserved victory which will live long in the memory of any Scot who witnessed it. What a shame it is that the stands were empty apart from a very light sprinkling of support staff and media. This was an occasion which deserved a full house for the victorious side.
England were poor. Unfocussed and ill-disciplined. But you can only beat what is put in front of you, and Scotland will march into next week’s round two clash against Wales with a spring in their step.
Captain Stuart Hogg led by example with a man-of-the-match performance. His kicking from hand was sensational.
Debutant Cameron Redpath justified the faith Gregor Townsend had shown when throwing him at the deep-end with an accomplished all-round performance, the highlight being a crucial turnover towards the end which halted England’s momentum as they looked to salvage a match which they would have had no right to win.
Ali Price dodged a bullet early on when his box-kick was charge down my Maro Itoje, only for Jonny Hill to be penalised for sealing off as he tried to manufacture quick possession five yards from Scotland’s try line.
That was the first of four penalties conceded by England in quick succession, allowing Scotland to march the length of the pitch and earn an opportunity for three easy points from directly in front of the posts, which Finn Russell had no problem clipping over with six minutes played.
Price was charged down again by Itoje a few minutes later, and this time the ball rebounded harmlessly into touch, but the scrum-half was clearly rattled by the attention he was getting from the big second-row.
Redpath had a couple of impressive early involvements both sides of the ball. He looked composed and resisted the temptation to spin the ball wide when England fumbled on Scotland’s 22, directing a 40-yard clearance downfield instead.
England just couldn’t settle. Jonny May appeared spooked by the onrushing Sean Maitland and dropped a high ball, and it got better still for Scotland when they squeezed a penalty out of Ellis Genge at the resulting scrum.
Russell was clearly determined to make full use of his box of tricks. He prodded a grubber through to Maitland on the right touchline and it might have been try time if the winger’s overhead offload back inside to the onrushing Russell had gone to hand.
An excellent diagonal by Owen Farrell put Scotland under pressure and Itoje harangued Price into slicing his clearance into touch inside his own 22, but Matt Fagerson saved the bacon by getting up to steal the ball at the tail.
England’s indiscipline continued and Billy Vunipola saw yellow for a high tackle on Russell as Scotland played advantage on the ninth penalty they had been awarded inside the first 23 minutes.
Scotland continued to turn the screw and Hamish Watson was held up over the line. A series of scrums had England under pressure on their own line, but they avoided a penalty try, and when Russell tried a change of tact, he put a touch too much on his cross-field kick which bounced just beyond Duhan van der Merwe’s reach in the in-goal area.
England kicked their 22-restart long and Hogg ran it back. A few minutes later, Scotland finally got reward for their dominant first half hour when a sweeping passage of play culminated in van der Merwe stepping inside his man and shrugging off three more defenders as he somehow found a way to the line.
Having worked so hard to open up clear daylight between themselves and their hosts, Scotland will have been frustrated that they almost immediately gave away a penalty when Rory Sutherland got caught on the wrong side of a tackle, and Farrell fired home the points from 40-yards.
One of Scotland’s big problems in recent years has been their habit of compounding errors with more errors, and they did it again here. First Chris Harris – having been given the ball under pressure – kicked it out on the full from just outside his own 22, handing England an attacking line-out. Then Russell got himself yellow-carded for sticking a leg out to trip Ben Youngs after being caught wrong-footed, with Farrell kicking his second penalty to make it a two-point game at the break.
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You wouldn’t have known that Scotland were down to 14 men during the first eight minutes of the second half. They spent most of that period camped on England’s line after Hogg had fired a wonderful penalty 50 yards into the corner with pinpoint precision, and Russell’ s first task after returning to the fray was to fire over an offside penalty to make it 11-6 to the visitors.
During the next 10 minutes Scotland played like they were used to coming down to London and winning matches. We had Hogg dancing past tacklers from deep, Russell pulling England’s backfield from pillar to post with his kicking repertoire, and not to be outdone, Hogg got back in on the act with an inch-perfect 70-yard spiral which pinned England right back on their own line again.
Scotland should have edged further ahead when a frustrated Itoje was called for taking out Scott Cummings at a line-out, but Russell was off target with his shot at goal from wide on the left.
England continued to offend, and referee Andrew Brace warned Farrell that another yellow-card was becoming increasingly likely.
It was all looking so promising for Townsend’s boys, but then England managed to isolate Price and snaffle a turnover on their own line to relieve the pressure, and Scotland wobbled.
There was a knock-on when Russell tried to tip a rash pass from Price back inside, their once dominant scrum started to creak, and the hosts sensed that it was now or never.
Then Redpath halted that momentum when he got over the ball and hung on like a limpet to win a long-range penalty. Hogg pushed his effort to the right of the posts, but the Scots had received a vital energy injection with 10 minutes to go.
England continued to come at them hard – but without much variation – and the blue wall soaked it up.
Replacement scrum-half Scott Steele and Jonny Gray managed to wrap May up in a tackle, winning another important turnover inside their own half, and the clock ticked past the 75 minutes mark.
Poor May then fumbled another of Hogg’s howitzer clearances, which handed Scotland the chance to see out the game inside England’s 22, although there was one hairy moment when Russell went for the drop-goal and ended up being charged down.
It all sounds so easy, but this was a mighty achievement.
Scotland: S Hogg©; S Maitland (H Jones 72), C Harris, C Redpath, D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (S Steele 69); R Sutherland (O Kebble 64), G Turner (D Cherry 67), Z Fagerson (W Nel 64), S Cummings, J Gray, J Ritchie (R Gray 66), H Watson, M Fagerson (G Graham 64).
England: E Daly; A Watson, H Slade, O Lawrence (G Ford 69), J May; O Farrell©, B Youngs (D Robson 56); E Genge (B Obano 72), J George (L Cowan-Dickie 56), W Stuart (H Williams 63), M Itoje, J Hill, M Wilson (C Lawes 53), T Curry, W Vunipola (B Earl 67).
Referee: Andrew Brace
England: Pen: Farrell 2
Scotland: Tries: Van der Merwe; Pen: Russell 2.
Scoring sequence (England first): 0-3; 0-8; 3-8; 6-8 (h-t) 6-11
Yellow cards –