STUART BATHGATE @ The DAM Health Stadium
AS EXPECTED, Scotland’s Six Nations campaign began with a heavy defeat by the top-ranked team on the planet. Bryan Easson’s side knew they would have to be at their best to have a realistic chance of coming anywhere close to England, and even allowing for the quality of the opposition, they were nowhere close to their best.
However, in the context of their tournament as a whole, and where they stand at present, this match does not matter over-much. Indeed, with a far more winnable encounter with Wales coming up next weekend, perhaps the best thing that can be said about this game is that it is now over and done with for another year. Or, if you prefer a slightly more optimistic outlook, it could be said that Scotland at least know the standard they should be aspiring to.
On the plus side, Chloe Rollie scored a first-half try and there were several other near things. In addition, the team as a whole kept fighting long after the outcome was no longer in doubt. They were 38-5 down at the break, and if they had not dug in the final score would have been a lot uglier than it was. There was also a late debut for Edinburgh University stand-off Meryl Smith, who may have had no opportunity to make an impact on proceedings, but will surely benefit from exposure to the whole occasion.
“We’ve got to be honest and say that was an excellent England side,” Scotland coach Bryan Easson accepted. “We were really disappointed in the first half. It was clear to see there were too many easy outs for England.When we made one error, it turned into two or three because they were trying to chase the error they had already made.
“I felt both defensively and in attack in the second half we put England under a bit of pressure. We spoke at the end of how pleased we were with the pride and the fight they showed in that last 20 minutes, but we cannot give a team a 40-minute start against us. We have to be on it from minute one.”
After Helen Nelson was off target with a penalty attempt, Marlie Packer opened the scoring for the visitors after a tap penalty had been carried on powerfully by Poppy Cleall. Packer would go on to score a hat-trick and be named player of the match. Emily Scarratt converted and would add four more before being replaced.
Cleall herself claimed the second, barging over from close range after receiving the scoring pass from Rosie Galligan.
Rollie’s try came after quarter of an hour, and followed a penalty that was sent to touch on the right. The initial drive from the lineout was halted close to the posts, but Scotland managed to recycle and send the move left, allowing the full-back to slide in at the corner for an unconverted score.
Any thought of a sustained fightback was soon dispelled, however, when Heather Cowell scored in the right corner, the initial problem having come when Scotland lost possession off their own scrum. Abby Dow added a fourth minutes later, shrugging off a Rhona Lloyd tackle on the edge of the 22 and sprinting infield without further challenge.
With just half an hour played, Packer scored her second from a lineout maul, then right on half-time scrum-half Leanne Infante added another try, with Scarratt’s conversion bringing the first 40 to an end.
Scotland made a decent start to the second half, and thought they had a second try after Rachel McLachlan touched down following a lineout spill, only for the move to be rightly chalked off for a knock-on. That moment was an instance of the extra defensive work England had to perform in the second half, but those chores did not entirely sap their energy, and they soon extended their lead when Holly Aitchison touched down from a chip into in-goal.
Inside the last quarter, substitute hooker Connie Powell was no sooner on the field than she scored from a lineout drive. Packer then completed her hat-trick from close range to wrap up what was a convincing victory but still left England coach Simon Middleton relatively dissatisfied.
“It was a little bit frustrating,” he said. “We knew that if we didn’t keep control of the game, they would involve themselves. They’ve got a lot of very good players and are very well drilled.
“I thought first half we were very good. In the second half we were very good defensively – but we had to be. We defended our line with great passion. In the second half we made too many errors, gave too many penalties away and couldn’t control the tempo of the game.
“It became a little bit stop-start. We lost control of parts of the game and Scotland capitalised on that.”
Scotland: Try: Rollie.
England: Tries: Packer 3, Cleall, Cowell, Dow, Infante, Aitchison, Powell. Cons: Scarratt 5, Rowland.
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-14, 5-14, 5-19, 5-24, 5-26, 5-31, 5-36, 5-38 half-time, 5-43, 5-45, 5-50, 5-52, 5-57.
Scotland: C Rollie; R Lloyd, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney (S Campbell 54); H Nelson (M Smith 78), J Maxwell (S Law 64); L Bartlett (L Cockburn 54, L Bartlett 61), L Skeldon (M Wright 54), C Belisle (K Dougan 71), E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain), R MacLachlan, J Konkel.
England: E Kildunne (E Sing 54); H Cowell, E Scarratt (A Reed 59), H Aitchison, A Dow; H Rowland, L Infante (L Packer 62); M Muir (V Cornborough 49), L Davies (C Powell 62), S Bern (B Cleall 62), R Galligan (S Beckett 62), A Ward, P Cleall (A Matthews 59), M Packer, S Hunter (captain).
Referee: J Neville (Ireland).