DAVID BARNES @ Cardiff Arms Park
PLENTY to be encouraged by in this performance from a Scottish perspective, but a lack of composure and accuracy at key moments meant the young thistles were always chasing the match.
“They [England] are very clinical and they punished us when our discipline wasn’t there,” reflected beaten captain Ben Muncaster immediately after the match. “I’ll never question the boys’ passion and determination – it is always going to be up there, better than most teams – but we just weren’t clinical and our execution wasn’t there.
“It was a completely winnable match,” he added. “They were a man down [to a red card] and had a yellow-card, but the accuracy just wasn’t there. There’s going to be a lot to take on board from that match. We’ll take the positives and the negatives into training next week and work towards Italy [next Thursday].
Muncaster added that morale in the squad has not been damaged after back-to-back defeats in the opening two rounds of this Six Nations campaign. “Not at all, in fact it will probably fire us,” he insisted. “It will completely incentivise us to go out hard next week because, honestly, we are a bloody good team, and it [the Italy game] is extremely winnable.”
For the second game running, the young Scots fell behind to an early try, this time after a penalty was kicked to about 15 yards from the line, which provided the platform for England scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet to scamper home following Emeke Ilione‘s clean take at the tail. Stand-off Fin Smith – the grandson of Tom Elliot, a Scotland and Lions star in the 1950s – fired some the conversion.
As was the case against Ireland last Saturday, the team in blue responded positively and pulled themselves right back int the game when they kicked a penalty of their own to inside England’s 22, mounted a powerful drive which hooker Jamie Drummond burst off the back of like a bullet, and although his offload from the deck didn’t initially go to hand, Christian Townsend was on hand to scoop up the ball and bounce over the line.
Cammy Scott was unsuccessful with the tricky conversion attempt, and England then grabbed the game the scruff go the neck, overcoming some plucky defence to eventually stretch their lead to nine points when impressive hooker Sam Riley sent Smith in for a try, which the scorer converted himself.
England grabbed try number three with 21 minutes played when the Scots were caught narrow on first-phase line-out ball, which gave Deago Bailey far too much room on the right, and the winger had more than enough gas to sweep past a despairing tackle from Elliot Gourlay on his way to the line.
As the game creeped over the half hour mark, the Scots had a promising period on the front foot, forcing three penalties in quick succession which they opted to send to the corner, and an English yellow-card looked likely, but they then let their opponents off the hook with a careless offside, and it was still 19-5 at the break.
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England worked hard to press home their advantage at the start of the second half, but were continually rebuffed and frustrated by Scotland’s tenacity, with Ollie Leatherbarrow and Drummond – who was a real handful all over the park after being called into the side as a late replacement for Patrick Harrison – particularly effective at the breakdown.
With that in mind, the easy surrender of England’s fourth try to Riley, who palmed off Drummond with indecent ease in midfield before galloping home unchallenged from 25 yards out, was a real blow to the Scots.
Scotland responded well, with a good carry by Leatherbarrow and Townsend sending Smith through a gap with a well-timed miss-pass taking them into the strike zone. Riley was yellow-carded when Georgian referee Nika Amashukeli got sick of awarding penalties against England’s belligerent rearguard action, but the Scots couldn’t find a way through.
Then Scots lost replacement wing Ollie Melville suffered a head-on-head collision with Lucas Brooke, and the English flanker – son of New Zealand legend Zinzan – was sent-off for a dangerous tackle, meaning England were now down to 13 men for the next six minutes.
It looked like Leatherbarrow had finally burst the dam when he wrestled over from close range, but Harry Taylor managed to hold him up over the line. With replacement hooker John Stewart sent for an HIA, and Riley still in the sin-bin, the subsequent scrum under the posts was uncontested, which should have given Scotland a two man advantage in the back-line, but their handling was ponderous leaving Gourlay isolated and the ball was stolen.
It was very frustrating. Every time the Scots did something well to put themselves in a promising position, they let England off the hook with loose mistakes. They won a penalty and kicked to the corner, but then squandered the line-out. Alex Samuel charged down a clearance and then smothered Smith as he tried to tidy up, but the blue pack then coughed up a cheap ruck penalty.
Finally, however, the pressure told, and it was that man Leatherbarrow who burrowed over for a 68th minute close-range try, with Scott banging home the conversion.
A well-deserved score for the Scots, but it was almost immediately cancelled out with Smith’s inch-perfect cross-kick sending Arthur Relton home.
Rather appropriately, the match ended in frustration for Scotland when an injury-time try in the corner by Scott King – following some good build-up play featuring Adam Scott, Euan Cunningham (filling in as a scrum-half, Samuel and Max Williamson – was chalked off for a foot touch. That kind of summed up the match for Scotland: plenty of endeavour, no little courage, but not quite accurate enough when it counted.
England: O Bailey (C Atkinson 51, P Brantingham 64, T Mathews 71)); D Bailey (J Stewart 59), J Bates (P Cokanasiga 71), D Lancaster A Relton; F Smith, J van Poortvliet; P Brantingham (T Haffar 58), S Riley, H Beaton (L Green 58), E Richards, A Groves (A Clark 57), E Ilione (H Taylor 17), L Brooke, J Clement.
Scotland: E Gourlay; R McKnight (O Melville 52, A Scott 63), S King, C Scott, M Gray; C Townsend, M Redpath (E Cunningham 74); M Jones (R Banatvala 52), J Drummond (D Hood 71), G Breese (O Frostick 59), E Ferrie (A Samuel 59), M Williamson, R Jackson (R Tait 59), O Leatherbarrow, B Muncaster.
Referee: Nika Amashukeli (Georgia)
England: Tries: van Poortvliet, Smith, D Bailey, Riley, Relton; Con: Smith 3.
Scotland: Try: Townsend, Leatherbarrow, King; Con: Scott.
Scoring sequence (England first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 12-5; 14-5; 19-5; (h-t) 24-5; 24-10; 24-12; 29-12; 31-12.
Yellow cards –
England: S Riley (58mins)
Red cards –
England: L Brooke (64mins)