DAVID BARNES @ Franklin’s Gardens
A FRUSTRATING end to this Six Nations for the young Scots. In the cold light of day, they will be able to look back on the campaign with a real sense of achievement at the progress made during a short period of time, and with pride that they have been genuinely competitive in all five matches played up until the last 20 minutes of this one – but it will take a while for the sting from the final score-line here to subside.
Both teams struggled to control the ball in contact, but England’s superior set-piece meant they enjoyed the lion’s share of territory and possession. However, it was only during the final quarter that they were really able to stretch out of Scotland’s reach, with the visitors standing up heroically to a massively physical bombardment until exhaustion and the erosive effect of injuries finally broke them.
Head coach Carl Hogg was pleased with how his team had defended but said that Scotland only had themselves to blame for being stuck on the back foot for so long.
“We never gave ourselves a batting chance,” he said. “We made far too many errors with ball in hand. I thought we defended really well in the first half, but it was always going to take its toll. As I said to the boys afterwards, it’s like being in a boxing match where we tied our hands behind our back and allowed them to punch us for 80-minutes.
“I’m just disappointed that we didn’t fire any shots ourselves,” he continued. “Coming off the back of last week’s victory [over Wales], we looked at resetting and giving ourselves a really good chance to come down here and perform at a level in line with the progression we showed in the France and Wales games, but we didn’t do that.
“Our error count was far too high, we didn’t hold onto possession so we couldn’t apply any pressure on them, and eventually that amount of defending is always going to take its toll as it did in the last 20 minutes.
“We lost primary possession at set-piece and off strike we turned the ball over in the first two or three phases, I cant think of many instances where we got beyond three phases, and that’s the disappointing thing. We never asked them any questions, we never asked them to defend, we just turned the ball over cheaply and it was defence on top of defence.
Hogg was clearly disappointed but not despondent, and with a World Championship looming over the horizon in less than three months time he is determined to make sure the team bounce back from this set-back.
“This is why it is such a wonderful game,” he mused. “You think you are making real progression – you have a really solid performance like last week against Wales – but if you don’t get your mental approach right to a game you get taught a lesson.
“That’s exactly what happened tonight – we didn’t get the foundation pieces of our game right and, ultimately, we got taught a lesson. Win, lose or draw, we have to reset and be ready to go – that’s professional rugby – and we didn’t do it tonight.”
With just three and a half minutes played, England really should have been in for the opening try, but outside centre Ollie Lawrence fumbled an easy pass with a clear overlap on his right.
Instead, it was Scotland who drew first blood, when home inside-centre Cameron Redpath tried to rush turnover ball wide and Cameron Anderson anticipated his looping miss-pass to intercept on halfway, before scuttling home from 50-yards.
Redpath (a former Scotland Under-18 cap and son of former Scotland senior team captain Bryan) was one of several familiar names in the England squad, others included Tom De Glanville (son of former England senior team captain Phil) at full-back, Manu Vunipola (cousin of current England stars Billy and Mako) at stand-off and Gus Warr (former Dollar Academy schoolboy and Scotland Under-18 cap) on the bench.
If England were stunned by that early set-back, they didn’t show it, and they soon had the match back on an even keel, when Scotland tried to run it out from their own 22 but ended up getting turned over, with De Glanville exacting full value from that possession with a powerful, arching run in under the posts.
It looked like England had grabbed the lead on 15 minutes when De Glanville sent an (almost) perfectly weighted kick into the left corner which picked out a huge gap in Scotland’s out-of-shape back-field, and lively home winger Arron Reed was first on the scene. Fortunately for Scotland, the TMO ruled that the ball had brushed the touch-line just before being gathered.
England had more opportunities to take the lead. Openside Aaron Hinkley got over the tackled Ewan Johnson and forced a penalty for holding-on, but Vunipola pushed his shot to the right of the posts. Then, on 27 minutes, the TMO chalked off another possible England try, this time because Lawrence had made a double-movement to get the ball over the line.
Having spent almost all of the first half hour hemmed back inside their own half, Scotland finally got some territory during the period just before the break. Consecutive malfunctioning line-outs initially prevented them from really turning the screw, but then they got their touchline work right, and a couple of phases later Roan Frostwick sniped round the side of a ruck before attempting to feed Ross Bundy for the score. But the replacement No 8 couldn’t gather and the ball ended up ricocheting between Scotland and England jerseys before stand-off Ross Thompson eventually got it to ground. Once again, the TMO was called upon, and after lengthy deliberation ruled that there had been a Scottish knock-on in amongst all the excitement, although it was hard to see the conclusive evidence to support that call.
Instead, it was England who went in at the break with the lead, having kicked a penalty in midfield to the corner and then rumbled over for captain Tom Willis to claim the try. Vunipola missed the conversion.
A powerful surge by Lawrence cut Scotland wide open at the start of the second half, but what would have been a scoring pass inside to Ollie Fox was a wee bit too high and a wee bit too far in front of the scrum-half, and Scotland’s under-pressure scrum managed to secure the ball for Thompson to clear.
However, with their line-out now completely off the rails, the visitors couldn’t keep absorbing pressure at the level they had been, and as the game edged toward the hour mark their once watertight defence began to leak. There was a sense of inevitability about the try England eventually scored through the excellent Hinkley, who stepped outside Jack Blain on the wing and thundered in from 20-yards.
It looked like the floodgates had opened when another lost line-out allowed England to break from their own 22, with Lawrence brushing past Ollie Smith and Blain, before sending Redpath home.
There was still 10 minutes to go when replacement tight-head Alfie Petch rumbled in for try number five, and back-up hooker Alfie Barbeary piled another dollop of misery onto the now bedraggled Scots with just over four minutes left on the clock.
And then the cruellest of endings for Scotland. Having dug deep to rouse themselves for one last tilt at a consolation score, Blain found some space on the left and managed to gather his own chip ahead. He was scragged down just short of the line but recycled quickly, and Frostwick whipped it away towards the men queueing up on his right. However, the pass was low and ended up bouncing into Reed’s hands, and he darted the length of the pitch to put the gloss on England’s win.
England: T De Glanville (J Hodge 61); O Hassell-Collins, O Lawrence (68), C Redpath, A Reed; M Vunipola, O Fox (G Warr 56); K Owen (O Adkins 61), S Ma’asi (A Barbeary 68), J Heyes (A Petch 53), A Coles, J Scott (J Kpoku 68), T Willis (R Capstick 53), R Tuima, A Hinkley.
Scotland: MDavidson; R McMichael, C Anderson, R McCallum (O Smith 25, N Chamberlain 68), J Blain; R Thompson, R Frostwick (M Scott 74); M Walker (A Nimmo 74), E Ashman (A Fraser 47), E McLaren (W Hurd 74), E Johnson, C Henderson (R Bundy 25-31), C Jupp, C Boyle, J Mann (R Bundy 32, T Leatherbarrow 66).
Referee: Sean Gallagher (Ireland)
England: Tries: De Glanville, Willis, Hinkley, Redpath, Petch, Barbeary, Reed; Con: Vunipola 5.
Scotland: Tries: Anderson; Con: Thompsons
Scoring sequence (England first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 12-7 (h-t) 17-7; 19-7; 24-7; 26-7; 31-7; 33-7; 38-7; 43-7; 45-7.