DAVID BARNES @ Twickenham Stoop
SO CLOSE, but no cigar. A match which bore more than a passing resemblance to that remarkable Calcutta Cup draw at Twickenham in 2019 ended in disappointment and frustration for Scotland, but when the dust settles, Kenny Murray’s side will take huge pride and no little confidence for the rest of the tournament from the way they clawed their way back from 21 points down with half an hour played to eventually take the lead with around 15 minutes left. There is no shame in this final score-line, but what a story it would have been if they had hung on for their first win in 15 outings.
“It’s mixed emotions,” reflected head coach Murray after the match. “Obviously you are proud of the boys’ efforts, but at the same time, when you get yourself ahead on the scoreboard with 11 minutes to go, it’s really disappointing not to win it, if I’m being honest.”
“There was a few tries we shouldn’t have conceded and that’s what killed us in the end,” he added. “I think there was a bit of shell-shock in the first 20 minutes with the pace and the physicality, and we learned what the consequences are of not getting your detail right at this level.
“But we got better and better and the game progressed, and I thought your intensity and physicality when we came out after half-time to really impose ourselves on them was excellent.
“I don’t think anybody outside the group gave us a chance of coming down here and getting a result beforehand, so we always talked about believing in ourselves. Our theme for this year is ‘fighting for every inch’ and we saw that with guys getting back to make try-saving tackles, and knocking guys out the pitch. So, in terms of effort and mind-set, I can’t fault the team. We just need to take some learnings from that about how we actually win games.”
When England winger Josh Hathaway helped himself to a hat-trick inside the first 14 minutes, the Scots hung in there bravely, scoring an excellent try through second-row Harris McLeod, after a thunderous carry from all-action Rudi Brown and a neat offload from Richie Simpson, and the Scottish stand-off also slotted a breakdown penalty during this period..
However, it looked like the writing was on the wall when England No 8 Chandler Cunningham-South powered home from close range to claim the bonus point with just 20 minutes played, soon followed by blindside flanker Finn Carnduff getting try number five after scrum-half Charlie Bracken was first to react when the ball squirted out the side of a back-pedalling Scottish scrum-five.
At this stage, Scotland couldn’t cope with England’s power and precision in the contact area, but they continued to take the game to their opponents with whatever scraps of possession they could salvage, and their resilience paid off during the final 10 minutes of the first half.
Brown claimed Scotland’s second try of the evening following some powerful running in midfield from No 8 Jonny Morris – who was replaced not long later looking dazed – and another Simpson penalty on the stroke of half-time brought it back to an improbable 11-point game.
England will have been frustrated that some poor decision-making and technical inaccuracies in the red zone prevented them from running away from Scotland on the scoreboard during that first 40. At least three times they broke the line bit then butchered clear try-scoring opportunities, but the Scots also deserve credit for the way they continued to battle against the tide.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 59)
Rested and refreshed, Scotland fired out the blocks after the break do win a sequence of ruck penalties, which eventually created the field position for co-captain Liam McConnell to burrow over, setting up a straight-forward conversion for Simpson which narrowed the gap to just four points.
There was a bout of handbags between that try being scored and the conversion kicked which perhaps reflected England’s sense of frustration and bemusement that opponents they had spent the first half hour of this match steamrollering had somehow found a way to within touching distance.
Scotland had developed a swagger, with Simpson scooping up a kick ahead from England and careering out of his 22 to leave a would-be tackler clutching thin air with an audacious dummy, and it needed a tap-tackle from Rekeiti Ma’asi-White to derail what could have been a dangerous counter-attack.
By now, every breakdown was a proper contest, and Scotland were beginning to dominate territory and possession.
There was desperate scenes on the English try-line when Ben Afshar used a penalty advantage to chance a chip kick over the top and the ball bounced awkwardly before eventually being touched down by home captain Lewis Chessum.
Play was brought back for that earlier English offence with Simpson doing the necessary to bring his team to within a point, and Scotland were straight back on the attack from the restart when replacement hooker Jerry Blyth-Lafferty carried from near halfway to just five metres from the try-line.
Scotland couldn’t capitalise with a try but they were awarded another penalty and Simpson once again fired home the kick to establish an astonishing two-point lead. The age-old chant of ‘Scotland, Scotland’ now reverberated around the Stoop.
England tried to tighten things up and trundled a maul 20-yards but couldn’t get to deck and Scotland were awarded the turnover, then a crazy home offside for failing to retreat for a clearance kick allowed Simpson to strike again to make the gap five-points.
It was heady stuff, but England were never going to go down without a fight, and they started to build through the phases to eventually recapture the initiative when a long period of pressure culminated in Monty Bradbury sending Elliot over on the right, and the conversion edging the hosts back into the lead.
Harris then missed the chance of three more easy points from a scrum-penalty right in front of the points, meaning the Scots were still in the contest with five minutes to go – if they could only get out of their own half.
But England now had this game by the throat, and it took a sensational last gasp tackle from William Robinson to prevent Tristian Woodman on the line, with Sam Derrick following up to bundle Bracken into touch.
England eventually settled for a late penalty from Harris, but Scotland thoroughly deserved their losing bonus-point.
England: S Harris; T Elliot, R Ma’asi-White, J Woodward (L Johnson 67), J Hathaway; M Bradbury, C Bracken ; A McArthur (A Opoku-Fordjour 51), F Theobald-Thomas (C Scott, 51), T Hoyt (A Fasogbon 51), D Eite, L Chessum, F Carnduff ( 56), G Fisilau, C Cunningham-South.
Scotland: D King (F Burgess 61); W Robinson, D Munn, K Yule, A Caqusau (G Gwynn 53); R Simpson, B Afshar; M Surry (C Davidson 51), C Tait (J Blyth-Lafferty 51), C Norrie (M Ogunlaja 51), J Parkinson (E Erskine 70), H McLeod (R Hart 18), L McConnell, R Brown, J Morris (S Derrick 39).
England: Tries: Hathaway 3, Cunningham-South, Carnduff, Elliot; Con: Harris 4; Pen: Harris.
Scotland: Try: McLeod, Brown, McConnell; Con: Simpson 3; Pen; Simpson 5.
Scoring sequence (England first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 10-7; 12-7; 12-10; 17-10; 22-10; 24-10; 29-10; 31-10; 31-15; 31-17; 31-20 (h-t) 31-25; 31-27; 31-30; 31-33; 31-36; 36-36; 38-36; 41-36,