DAVID BARNES @ Murrayfield
BRAVE and disciplined Scotland emerged from a Murrayfield monsoon clutching the Calcutta Cup, the third time they have come out on top in the oldest fixture in international rugby during the last five years, having also managed that crazy draw at Twickenham in 2019. It was as close as the score-line suggests, but there can be no real complaints about the ultimate outcome
Gregor Townsend‘s side will travel to Cardiff next weekend high on confidence. But we saw this movie last year, when the seemingly easier second hurdle tripped Scotland up at Murrayfield following their famous opening weekend win at Twickenham. We will find out in seven days’ time whether that mauling Wales suffered in Dublin earlier this [Saturday] afternoon makes them more or less dangerous.
That’s a concern for another day, however, and all Scotland – the players and coaching stand in particular – can enjoy this moment, having shouldered the weight of expectation and delivered the tough, no-thrills victory they set out to achieve.
England dominated the first quarter of an hour without putting Scotland under any real pressure, although the visitors did take the lead on 16 minutes when Jonny Gray was penalised in front of his own posts for pulling Ben Youngs into a ruck and Marcus Smith fired home the three easy points.
Scotland bit back immediately with a set-play involving a quick line-out to unmarked Jamie Ritchie at the front, a quick ruck in he middle of the park, and then the ball being transferred back the way it had come for Stuart Hogg to send fellow Hawick-man Darcy Graham between two lumbering white jerseys. The diminutive winger accelerated into space then beat Joe Merchant on a six-pence before sending Ben White – five minutes into his debut as a temporary HIA replacement for Ali Price – over the whitewash for a glorious try, which blew the roof off the Murrayfield stands.
That moment of brilliance apart, it was tense, cagey stuff, with England dominating possession and territory but lacking the inspiration you might expect from a team containing a midfield of Smith, Henry Slade and Elliot Daly. The visitors did manage to get over the line on 31 minutes from a formidable line-out maul but couldn’t wrestle the ball onto the turf, so they made do with a second Smith penalty after hands in a ruck from Ritchie, which narrowed the gap to a single point.
However, when Kyle Sinkler was called for going off his feet 40 yards out and directly in front of his own posts in overtime of the first half, Finn Russell was happy to restore his team’s four point advantage at the turnaround.
A Scottish mix-up which saw Grant Gilchrist penalised for obstruction when he got in the way of Graham running a kick back gave England the platform for a third Smith penalty, given against Graham for reaching past the ball as he went for the jackal.
As the game of cat-and-mouse continued, Russell was lucky the ball bobbled harmlessly into touch when a snatched kick was charge-down, then when Scotland were penalised at a scrum immediately after replacing their entire front-row, it allowed England to build pressure through their increasingly dominant line-out drive, and they fired their way into the lead when Youngs put Smith through a hole in Scotland’s out of shape defence.
That livened things up, with Scotland ratcheting the tempo to open up England through the middle twice, Price mugging Youngs at the base of a ruck and Duhan van der Merwe stretching his legs from deep. It was high-octane and high-risk, with Stuart Hogg chancing his arm when keeping a deep kick in play then managing to dance his way out of trouble.
Scotland had more of the ball during this third quarter than they had managed during the first half, but they couldn’t get any territorial pressure, and a Chris Harris penalty allowed Smith to take his and his teams’ tally for the match to 17.
It was time for Eddie Jones to send on his famous ‘finishers” with Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Alex Dombrandt and George Ford trotting off the bench for the final 17 minutes, but it didn’t have the desired effect. Within a minute, a penalty try had been awarded against the visitors and Luke Cowan-Dickie was on his way to the sin-bin for slapping the ball forward and out of play to prevent an easy catch and score for Graham off Russell’s cross-kick.
Scotland kept their foot on the gas and England were rattled, struggling to exit after a Russell kick pressed them back deep inside their own 22, and an early scrum engagement allowed the Scots stand-off to nudge his team back in front with just eight minutes left on the clock.
The chance of three more points with just four minutes to go evaporated when an interfering-on-the-deck penalty in front of the posts for Scotland was reversed after the TMO identified a neck-roll by Hamish Watson on opposite number Tom Curry, and England found a way to their opponents 22 with less than two minutes to play.
The last minute was high drama, with Scotland stealing a line-out through Sam Skinner, kicking long, England countering with real bite, Pierre Schoeman ripping the ball in contact, and Grant Gilchrist not managing to collect – all of which meant the visitors had a scrum 35 yards out in the middle of the park as the game clock ticked past the 80 minute mark.
Four times it was re-set as Scotland struggled to cope with the pressure coming through on them, but at the fifth time of asking they held firm and England went left, only for Graham snaffle possession and Hogg to fire his clearance kick deep into the North Stand behind his own in-goal line.
Scotland: S Hogg; D Graham, C Harris, S Johnson (S Tuipulotu. 59), D van der Merwe; F Russell, A Price (B White 12-24, 64); R Sutherland (P Schoeman 51), G Turner (S McInally 51), Z Fagerson (W Nel 51), J Gray (S Skinner 63), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie (M Bradbury 59), H Watson, M Fagerson.
England: F Steward; M Malins, E Daly, H Slade, J Marchant (J Nowell 80); M Smith (G Ford 63), B Youngs; E Genge (J Marler 63), L Cowan-Dickie (S Simmonds 76), K Sinckler ( W Stuart 63), M Itoje, N Isiekwe (C Ewels 76), L Ludlam (A Dombrandt 63), T Curry, S Simmonds (J George 69).
Referee: Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand)
Scotland: Tries: White, Penalty Try; Con: Russell; Pen: Russell 2
England: Try: Smith; Pen: Smith 4.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-6; 10-6 (h-t) 10-9; 10-14; 10-17; 17-17; 20-17.
Yellow cards –
England: Luke Cowan Dickie.