STUART BATHGATE @ Murrayfield
SOMETIMES a weather report explains the outcome of a match as well as any more detailed analysis. It rained a lot, the wind was strong but trickily variable, and those two factors were influential in any number of aspects of play in this Calcutta Cup encounter.
Scotland played most of the rugby – even if there was not a lot of that, especially in a first half where kicking predominated – and they also tried hardest to adapt to the conditions. But while Owen Farrell was profligate with the boot, England had more chances to score, and took more too.
A Farrell penalty was the only score of the first half and was cancelled out by one from Adam Hastings five minutes into the second period. We had to wait nearly half an hour after that for the next score, and when it came it was decisive, with Ellis Genge getting a try from close range and Farrell converting to make it two from five with the boot.
Scotland had begun well against Ireland and were intent on doing the same thing; England had hardly got into their stride in the whole of the first half and against France and were determined to avoid a repeat. It was no surprise, then, that both teams tore into each other right from the off.
Sam Johnson’s kick-chase from the kick-off was timed perfectly, and the inside centre felled Jonny May with an excellent tackle. England recycled efficiently, however, and were soon deep inside home territory, albeit after regathering a high free-kick which was blown back towards them. The wind had been strengthening and the rain getting heavier for some time before kick-off, and although Scotland had the elements at their backs in the first half, they found it hard to exert control.
Farrell was short with a penalty attempt from wide on the left after Scott Cummings had offended, but the England centre then made no mistake with a far easier effort minutes later. That score after ten minutes was the only one of the first quarter, which ended with Scotland on top but unable to establish the solid platform they needed to mount a serious assault on their opponents’ line.
A counter-attack by Blair Kinghorn briefly promised to establish one as the second quarter began, but England won possession at the breakdown and the chance was gone. The visitors’ recycling was noticeably slicker when they were on the attack, but the same could not be said of Farrell’s kicking: when Scotland were penalised on the deck after 25 minutes, the No 12 again misjudged the wind from the edge of the 22 and sent his penalty curling wide of the far post.
Five minutes from half-time Stuart Hogg opted to kick for touch rather than go for goal when Scotland were awarded a penalty some 35 metres out, but his low kick was kept in by the England defence.
That looked like being the last chance of a score in the first 40, but then Adam Hastings kicked out on the full to give England the opportunity to attack from a lineout just outside the Scots 22. They eventually set up a decent position, but George Ford’s drop-goal attempt went wide.
After both sides had toiled for 40 minutes for almost no reward, we nearly witnessed a score out of almost nothing at the start of the second half, when an attempted Scots clearance was charged down only for the ball to go dead. Then Rory Sutherland set of on barging run through midfield, providing a useful reminder to the backs on both sides that despite the conditions it was still possible to play running rugby.
Scotland stayed on the attack after the loosehead’s intervention, and were eventually awarded a penalty, given against England openside Sam Underhill. Hastings chipped it over to make it 3-3 after 45 minutes.
That meant there would at least be no repeat of the 1933 match – the last to be won 3-0 by either side – and encouraged us to believe that there would be further scores provided the teams played sensibly with ball in hand rather than merely booting the ball into the air and encouraging their opponents to make a mistake. It also encouraged Scotland to have that little bit more belief in themselves, and a Hogg counter-attack from deep gained some 60 metres and gave renewed voice to the crowd.
As the final quarter began, the home team had clearly started to deal with the conditions better than England, whose backs had kicked out on the full three or four times in the 10-minute spell that preceded the hour mark. Both sides had begun to make substitutions by then, with the 6-2 forwards-backs split on the England bench being a clear indication of where Eddie Jones thought the game could be won: up front, in close-quarters combat, where brawn could prevail over brain.
After 65 minutes, a wheeled scrum gave Farrell the chance to put England back into the lead with a penalty from nearly 40 metres out. He struck it low and straight, but it was wide of the near post this time, so 3-3 it remained.
Well, for a few minutes anyway. When Ford chipped through, Hogg made a guddle of trying to chase it down as it bobbled towards the goal line, and eventually tried to touch it down as it went over the line close to a post. It was uncertain whether he had applied downward pressure, and Farrell dived on it to touch down, but the TMO ruled in favour of the full-back, who hardly needed another glaring error after his failure to score a try last week in Dublin.
That was only a brief reprieve, however, as England got good ball from the five-metre scrum, and a few phases late substitute prop Ellis Genge forced his way over. Farrell converted to make it 10-3, and added another penalty a few minutes from time. That put Scotland outside losing-bonus territory, but Hastings stepped up with two minutes to play to knock over a penalty and ensure that solitary match point. It was the least that Scotland deserved.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, H Jones, S Johnson, B Kinghorn; A Hastings, A Price; R Sutherland, F Brown, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, J Gray, J Ritchie, H Watson, M Bradbury. Substitutes: S McInally, A Dell, S Berghan, B Toolis, N Haining, G Horne, R Hutchinson, C Harris.
England: G Furbank; J May, J Joseph, O Farrell, E Daly; G Ford, W Heinz; M Viunipola, J George, K Sinckler, M Itoje, G Kruis, L Ludlam, S Underhill, T Curry. Substitutes: T Dunn, E Genge, W Stuart, J Launchbury, C Lawes, B Earl, B Youngs, O Devoto.
Referee: P Gauzere (France).
Scorers: Scotland: Pens: Hastings 2.
England: Try: Genge. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 2.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3, half-time, 3-3, 3-8, 3-10, 3-13, 6-13.