A FIRST Calcutta Cup win in a decade saw Scotland explode back into contention for their first Six Nations Champ-ionship victory as they ripped one of the greatest England teams apart in the first half then held them out manfully in the second at Murrayfield.
Three well-taken tries were the reward for 40 minutes of rugby in which the home side’s abrasiveness and energy denied their opponents the opportunity to generate the sort of unstoppable momentum that had taken them to a record of 24 wins in their 25 previous matches under head coach Eddie Jones.
Finn Russell received the man-of-the-match award but it was Scotland’s captain, John Barclay, who was the most influential figure afield, leading his men from the front as they dominated the breakdown battle.
Admittedly it was not the flanker but former captain Grant Gilchrist who won the penalty which got them off to a very different start to those against Wales and France, an easy penalty strike for Greig Laidlaw putting the first points on the board two minutes in. However, when England made their first attempt to assert themselves off the back of a powerful run by Nathan Hughes, it was Barclay who earned the next inside the home 22, to allow his side to clear their lines.
Derided as a team that plays “side to side” rugby by England coach Jones ahead of the tournament, there had also been a determination to show they could be more pragmatic and there were periods when Scotland were much more patient than has been the case, opting to exchange kicks rather than concede easy territory.
A rare breakdown error, Hamish Watson penalised for not releasing the ball, allowed Owen Farrell to level the scores in 12 minutes, but what creative play there was came from the Scots and 14 years after their last home try against England, they showed a new lethality when within striking range.
There may have been elements of luck about their first try, Greig Laidlaw colliding with Nigel Owens the referee in the build-up, but Russell capitalised on the confusion to slide a grubber kick in behind the English defence, try sniffer supreme Huw Jones got a boot to it to wrong foot Anthony Watson and followed through to gather the ball, touchdown, then thrown himself into the embrace of the Scotland replacements warming up behind the posts.
Farrell struck a second time to reduce the leeway, but when Russell released Jones on the right for a second time with a dangerous-looking, but perfectly weighted double miss pass, he raced deep into English territory, getting to the 22 before being hauled down by Jonny May. The chance briefly looked to have gone but the ball was rapidly recycled and worked left where, after a powerful surge from Stuart McInally, another quick ruck allowed Laidlaw to feed Russell who lofted another miss pass to Sean Maitland who squeezed into the corner.
If a 15-6 lead seemed less than Scotland deserved for the superiority of their play to that point, that was addressed three minutes before the interval when Jones latched onto a Laidlaw pass that looked to be dropping short of him but managed to accelerate as he stooped into the ball, carrying him through the initial tackle and into space as he burst into the 22 then showed extraordinary power to carry Mike Brown and Anthony Watson close enough to the line to let him touch down under posts.
England returned after the break with increased intensity, scoring a try early in the period when, after they had worked their way into the 22, Danny Care realised the Scottish defensive line was fractured and sent Farrell into space on the left.
While England had much more possession than in the opening period, though they ironically, given Jones’
pre-tournament observations, spent a fair bit of time going from side to side while making only very gradual forward progress, the foolishness of replacement San Underhill in getting sin-binned for a reckless shoulder charge only making their task even tougher.
The England coach rightly acknowledged afterwards, though, that the outcome was much more about how Scotland played attributable to the way they attacked in the opening period and the way they defended in the second which made it close to the complete performance.
Scorers: Scotland – Tries: Jones 2, Maitland. Cons: Laidlaw 2. Pen: Laidlaw
England – Try: Farrell. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 2.
Referee: N Owens (Wales)