Scotland hit a mid championship high

Having shown what they are capable of, the challenge is now to sustain that standard

Scotland Calcutta Cup winners
Scotland captain John Barclay displays the Calcutta cup in front of his triumphant players. Image: David Gibson - www.fotosportuk.photoshelter.com

by ALAN LORIMER

RATHER like the effect of a double shot of caffeine, this Calcutta Cup weekend has produced an extraordinary, and if I’m being entirely honest, unexpected, high that has swept the nation in the way that the 1990 triumph did. But, unlike the Grand Slam win 28-years ago, victory against England this time round was not an end point and it leaves Scotland having to manage a mid-championship high. 

Under-20s show the way

The first shot of adrenaline hit home on the eve of the main event when Scotland’s Under-20s sent out the most positive of signals in delivering a characterful victory over an England side packed with the cream of the Premiership Academies.

Two weeks earlier, the young Scots leaked 69 points against France in their Six Nations match at Cumbernauld, so the turnaround last Friday was as welcome as it was unpredicted.  A fortnight, it seems, is a long time in Under-20 rugby.


U20 6N: Sensational Scots put England to the sword

6N: Scotland player ratings (versus England)

6N: Finn Russell: “Today the team was world-class, not just an individual”


Friday’s victory at Myreside was not the first time the young Scots have dented England’s hopes of a Grand Slam. Two years ago, at Cumbernauld, Scotland fielded a number of soon-to-be full time professionals and won by 24-6, only for England to put the record straight at the 2016 World Rugby Under-20 Championship in Manchester with a morale-puncturing 44-0 win over John Dalziel’s side on their way to the global title.

So what came together to help Scotland demolish England so convincingly on Saturday?

Whether the result of the Under-20 match had an effect on the collective sub-consciousness of the senior Scotland squad will never be known but it would be pleasing to think that the junior side became a source of inspiration for Gregor Townsend’s men.

What really mattered, of course, was how Scotland made the improvement in so many areas against an England side that came to BT Murrayfield with an impressive record under Eddie Jones, but which had looked less than super-human against Wales two weeks earlier at Twickenham.

Sir Dave Brailsford, the SKY cycling team boss, was fond of propounding the idea of small percentage gains adding up to more than the sum of their parts. And in a sense that was what Scotland achieved in the Calcutta Cup match. Every player seemed to contribute just that little bit extra – in the contact area, in defence, in sheer speed and in mental alertness – which made their attacking game possible.

The forwards in particular deserve huge plaudits for providing quality possession that reinstated Finn Russell’s reputation as the world class stand-off he truly is. Scotland benefitted too from a playing surface that simply demanded the game be orchestrated at pace, suiting the Scots’ lighter forwards and mitigating against England’s heavyweights.

The dry conditions also helped explain the absence of set scrums in the first quarter, with the first set-piece engagement occurring at the 23-minute mark. This certainly suited Scotland whose forwards might not have been able to play their high tempo game had they been forced to slug it out in a series of set scrums.

Not that the scrum was an area of weakness for Scotland, who squared up to the English juggernaut with commendable strength and technique. Equally successful was the line-out where the Stuart McInally-Ryan Wilson partnership produced a shoal of good touchline possession.

6N: Calcutta Cup success must be followed up with improvement in away form, says Townsend

Scotland were also impressive on England’s throw-in where they confused their opponents by varying their approach – sometimes challenging in the air and at other times remaining on terra firma. The tactic of not challenging at the line-out gave the Scotland forwards time to hit the subsequent driving maul with force and prevent England from gaining vital meters. Smart thinking.

Inspired substitutions

Much had been said before the match about England’s bench. But on the day, it was Scotland’s subs who proved to be the more effective. Nick Grigg and new cap Blair Kinghorn tackled ferociously as England sought to salvage a bonus point, WP Nel and Jamie Bhatti sorted out the new boys in the England front row, and Tim Swinson showed he was back and ready after a long injury enforced absence.

Add in the ball carrying ability of David Denton and the sharp service and pace over the ground of Ali Price then Scotland’s replacements looked more than okay. Poor Scott Lawson was left unused, but only because Stuart McInally has come of age as his country’s number one number two, dispelling worries that the absence of Fraser Brown and Ross Ford might create a crisis situation for Townsend.

So onwards to Dublin for round four of the championship and another very difficult match. Wet and windy … no thanks. Sunny and dry… yes please and more of the same. Scotland have seen off proud Eddie’s army. Now it’s time to have a go at Joe’s battalions.

About Alan Lorimer 360 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.