DAVID BARNES @ The Dam Health Stadium
THERE was mixed emotions at the end of this match for Scotland head coach Kenny Murray and team captain Rhys Tait. For 60 minutes, the home side gave at least as good as they got, and were perhaps the better of the two teams, but they ran out of steam in the final 20 – with three tries inside the space of 10 minutes around the hour mark particularly damaging – meaning that they were a fairly distant second in the end.
To their credit, the young Scots held on bravely when there was a danger of this game really getting away from them, and a late score from replacement hooker Gregor Hiddleston of GHA earned a four-try bonus point.
Scotland will travel to Colwyn Bay next Friday with a sense of belief, to take on a Wales side who will be shaken by their 53-5 thumping by Ireland in their round one match of this Six Nations campaign.
“I was pretty happy with how the boy fronted upon the first 40 but we sat off them during that last 20 minutes and they capitalised on that, they got on top of us and kept coming at us,” reflected flanker Tait afterwards. “It was tough for the boys but I was proud of the way we fought back and to get a point out of the game was really good.
“There was a lot of errors but a lot of positives as well,” he added. “This a is a really good group of boys and I think we’re all of the same opinion that we’ll bounce back next week. There’s a lot of good energy in the squad, as we showed in the first 45 minutes when we rally went after them, so now we need to focus on doing that for the full 80.”
Murray added: “Our theme this week was that we were going go toe-to-toe against a big, physical side, and to turn around at half-time ahead against England was pretty pleasing, despite a couple soft tries. But we learned a few tough lessons in the second half, about how you pay the price for errors at this level.
“We made too many individual errors, we didn’t get set quickly enough defensively at times, and we got punished for that. There are positives to take, but we need to be pretty hard on ourselves because we want to win games at this level, not just be content at saying we gave a good account of ourselves. We need to be more clinical.”
England set out to impose themselves, but Scotland stood firm in the opening 10 minutes, soaking up the pressure with some fierce tackling in midfield, stopping a line-out maul in its tracks, and then picking up a scrum penalty.
It got even better when Robin McClintock – the French born and raised full-back with a grandfather from Dumfries – fired an excellent low kick into the corner, forcing England to concede a penalty from which No 8 Ollie Leatherbarrow powered over with 13 minutes played.
Buoyed by those five points from their first foray into enemy territory, Scotland took advantage of further English indiscipline to work their way right back into the visiting 22, but were left frustrated when they were held up over the try-line.
Then came a whirlwind passage of play, with England’s drop-out from their own try-line reaching McClintock near halfway, who fired a monster drop-kick right back in the direction the ball had come from, hitting the right post about 20 feet off the ground. A snatched clearance allowed Scotland to take a quick line-out and streak again towards the try-line, but Christian Townsend lost control of the ball just short of the line, and England counterpunched hard through full-back Henry Arundell, who showed phenomenal pace to sweep past a succession of tacklers for a length of the park try.
Scotland held their nerve, worked their way back into the strike-zone and Leatherbarrow thought he had claimed his second try, but referee Benoit Rousselet eventually chalked it off after a lengthy review of the video evidence indicated that the ball had been knocked from his grasp in the act of scoring. The No 8 wasn’t to be denied, however, because he burst from the back of the resultant scrum and bull-dozed over, with Townsend firing home the conversion for good measure.
England responded before half-time with a try through No 8 and captain Toby Knight off the back of a powerful line-out drive, leaving the game delicately balanced as both sides took a well-earned breather.
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Scotland started the second half brilliantly, with Ross McKnight latching onto a dropped English pass inside his own 22 and making 80-yards up the right touchline. He was eventually brought down by Arundell – but Scotland turned the screw and got their reward when Ollie Melville found a way over the line on the opposite side of the park.
England moved back into touching distance with a Jamie Benson penalty, before Scotland threatened again when a clever pass from Jed Gelderbloom released McKnight, but this time Duncan Munn was perhaps harshly penalised for going off his feet, and thereafter the game swung away from Scotland.
England snatched the lead when Arundell’s pace from deep again proved too much for the Scots to handle, with the full-back going from 22 to 22 before sending a pass inside for scrum-half Tom Carr-Smith to score. With penalties coming thick and fast, Olujare Oguntibeju, the home team’s replacement second-row, was sent to the sin-bin for playing the ball on the deck, and it was only a matter of time before Knight burrowed over for his second try of the night.
The restart went to George Hendy, who was just off the bench, and the winger wasted little time making his mark, launching a rampaging run up the left touchline before sending Ethan Grayson – son of former England stand-off Paul –in for the try.
To their credit, Scotland recovered some composure and Townsend’s flat pass sent second-row Max Williamson through a gap, but the ball went forward which meant Munn’s heroics in chasing down his own hack ahead to touch down before crashing into the fencing just beyond the dead-ball line was in vain.
A late try Tom Litchfield finished the scoring for England, but Scotland had the last word with Hiddleston touching down in overtime and Townsend nailing the conversion.
Scotland: R McClintock; R McKnight (B Evans 56), D Munn, M Gray (E Cunningham 61), O Melville; C Townsend, J Gelderbloom (S Broad 77); T Banatvala (M Jones 39), P Harrison (G Hiddleston 67), G Scougall (C Norrie 53), J Taylor (J Spurway 61), M Williamson, M Deehan (O Oguntibeju 57), R Tait, O Leatherbarrow,
England: H Arundell; D Bailey (G Hendy 66), T Litchfield, E Grayson, O Dawkins; L Johnson (J Benson 46), T Carr-Smith (M Jones 69); M Dormer (W Hobson 51), J Stewart (J Spandler 69), M Summerfield (R Hardwick 73), A Bell, T Lockett, A Wardell (C Rice 66), K Cripps (G Fisilau 51), T Knight ©.
Referee: Benoit Rousselet (France)
Scotland: Tries: Leatherbarrow 2, Melville, Hiddleston; Con: Townsend 2.
England: Tries: Arundell, Knight 2, Carr-Smith, Grayson, Litchfield; Con: Benson 4; Pen: Benson
Scoring sequence (Scotland first): 5-0; 5-5; 10-5; 12-5; 12-10 (h-t) 17-10; 17-13; 17-18; 17-20; 17-25; 17-27; 17-32; 17-34; 17-39; 17-41; 22-41; 24-41.
Yellow cards –
Scotland: Oguntibeju (63mins)
England: Hudson (80mins)