DAVID BARNES @ Myreside
AGAINST the odds and despite all pre-match expectations, England were put to the sword by a hungrier, smarter and braver Scottish side, and there is absolutely no dubiety about whether the right result was reached – any other outcome would have been a travesty.
After two heavy defeats in the opening rounds of this Six Nations campaign, it was hard to see this game ending well for the home side against an opposition which had only been defeated once before at this level in 14 attempts, but the team in blue showed huge self-belief and stuck to their guns throughout. With captain Robbie Smith leading from the front and Ross Thompson pulling the strings masterfully at stand-off, they scored 17 unanswered points during the second half to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and ultimately secure a famous victory.
England arrived with a squad consisting entirely of full-time academy players from Aviva Premiership clubs, while only a handful of the home collective had that sort of background. The rest are a mish-mash of part-time Scottish domestic club players, but they demonstrated that pedigree counts for little in a dog fight.
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“I’m very, very proud of the boys. To get beaten so heavily by France and get that response tonight when we are playing against 23 full-time professional players says a lot about their drive and desire to do well in the Scotland jersey,” said head coach Stevie Scott.
“I’ve been working hard on them all week about what it means to play against England and how it is a different game than any other match in the Six Nations. We were playing against professional players and it is always going to be tough for us, so we tried a different avenue by getting hold of the emotional side of it – talking about the heart and desire and putting bodies on the line.”
“We had to unsettle them – within the laws of the game – but we had to be on the edge. I think the boys got that right tonight.
Defence was a major source of regret for the Scots in the 69-19 defeat to France a fortnight ago, but this time they were absolutely rock solid. If the first man didn’t knock the English ball carrier down, then there were three or four more blue shirts there in a flash to get the job done. Part of that is system – a lot of it is desire.
So, despite England dominating the opening quarter, they had to make do with just three points from the boot of stand-off Tom Hardwick.
A show of strength
Then fists flew just before the 20-minute mark, and that clearly had an invigorating effect on the home side. In the passage of play which followed, England were twice marched backwards by powerful line-out drives and ended up conceding offside penalties, then a razor-sharp kick into the corner by Thompson prompted another impressive catch-and-drive, which eventually allowed second-row Ewan Johnson to clamber over a pile of bodies and in for the game’s opening try. Thompson nailed the conversion.
England rallied – unconvincingly at first – and Hardwick was off target with a long-range penalty. There was another flare-up but this time England seemed to have cottoned on to the fact that were going to have to up the ante a bit to avoid ending up with egg on their face.
An excellent break from outside centre Ollie Lawrence sparked a slick attack which ended with Hardwick bursting through two tired looking tackles to score, then another sweep up field from the visitors straight from the restart produced a second fine score when an inch-perfect cross-field kick from Glasgow-born and Borders-raised scrum-half Rory Brand gave Tom Seabrook his try on a plate.
It looked at this stage like the game was about to fall into a familiar pattern, and half-time came at just the right time for Scotland.
Young Scots show courage and maturity
Scotland pulled themselves back into the contest when Stafford McDowall latched on to the bobbling ball after a partially charged-down clearance kick, and released Kyle Rowe on the left. The winger chipped ahead but couldn’t chase because he was taken out by English full-back Jordan Olowofela, prompting a yellow-card and an opportunity for the home team to deploy their biggest weapon. They duly kicked to the corner and then rumbled over, with Finlay Richardson getting the ball down.
And it got a whole lot better for Scotland when they snatched the lead in the 64th minute, with that irrepressible line-out drive once again delivering – on this occasion referee Craig Evans awarded a penalty try.
Then another pin-point accurate kick into the corner from Thompson put England under pressure again, and they didn’t handle it well. An overthrown line-out ended up in Richardson’s hands and he rampaged home from 20 yards.
That created a seven-point lead and the young Scots showed huge courage and maturity to close the game out.
Scotland: P Dewhirst; R McMichael (L Trotter 76), S McDowall, C McLelland, K Rowe; R Thompson C Chapman; S Gunn (N McBeth 66), R Smith, F Richardson, E Johnson (M Sykes 78), J Hodgson, M Hughes, G Graham (R Darge 49), D Onojaife.
England: J Olowofela (J Grayson 76); T Seabrook (F Dingwall 61), O Lawrence, W Butler, C Murley; T Harwick, R Brand (B White 61); A Seville (T Trinder 50), G Oghre, E Painter (J Heyes 50), T Hill, S Lewis, J Basham (S Reffell 72), A Hinkley, S Moore.
Scotland: Tries: Johnson, Richardson, Penalty Try, Richardson; Con: Thompson.
England: Tries: Hardwick, Seabrook; Cons: Harwick; Pen: Hardwick
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 7-15; 7-17 (h-t) 12-17; 19-17; 24-17
Yellow cards –
Referee: Craig Evans (Wales)
Man-of-the-Match: Plenty of candidates, particularly second-row Ewan Johnson who carried heroically, blindside flanker Martin Hughes who was into everything, and stand-off Ross Thompson who kicked brilliantly – but captain Robbie Smith was crucial in taking the physical confrontation to England and unsettling them with raw aggression.
Talking point: Ten of the 19 players Scotland used in this match have been operating in the BT Premiership this season, while both props have been plying their trade in the league below – surely it is time for Murrayfield to stop talking down the club game.