The most eagerly anticipated Calcutta Cup match since the Grand Slam decider of 1990 came and went, and with it went Scotland’s chance of a first ever 6 Nations title, whilst seeing England claim the title, equal New Zealand’s record of eighteen consecutive Test wins, and set a new record of eleven 6 Nations games on the bounce.
England came firing out of the blocks, and practically as soon as Fraser Brown had gone in the bin for a dangerous tackle on Elliot Daly, England opened the scoring in only the 3rd minute through Jonathan Joseph, the outside centre showing great gas to evade the sprawling Alex Dunbar and coast over.
In the 18th minute, Stuart Hogg was replaced by Mark Bennett for an HIA, but it was to be a brief cameo for Bennett, who had to be replaced by Henry Pyrgos. This meant a major re-shuffle in the backs, Seymour now at full-back, Price on the wing, with Pyrgos taking Price’s place at scrum-half. Hogg was not to return, so these changes became permanent.
The disarray of the reshuffle soon became apparent, and again it was the dancing feet of Joseph that cut through the Scottish line, a wonderful finish from the Bath player taking the ball at pace, weaving past Watson and Visser, to claim his second of the afternoon.
Scotland hit back almost immediately. A kickable penalty was instead taken to the line, and after concerted pressure, big Gordon Reid eventually muscled over from close range.
Tormentor in chief Joseph though, was not to be stopped. A wonderfully worked move off the line-out led to Joseph scything through the middle again, and club team-mate Anthony Watson, a replacement for the injured Elliot Daly, put the game beyond all reasonable doubt.
Half-time: England 30-7 Scotland
Have I mentioned Jonathan Joseph yet? He completed his hat-trick shortly after the interval, Nathan Hughes found a gap round the side of a ruck to blast through, and Joseph was on hand to further compile Scottish misery.
After a long consultation with the TMO, referee Mahieu Raynal decided that Nathan Hughes could avoid 10-minutes off the park for a late hit on Tommy Seymour, who was not to be so fortunate and was the latest Scotland back to see his afternoon prematurely ended with Weir his replacement in the unusual position of full-back. From the resulting penalty Finn Russell found a good touch, but the line-out went awry and soon England were to earn a penalty within 3-point range. Farrell obliged, and the score was now an embarrassing 40-7 to England.
Finn Russell agonisingly kicked the restart straight out. It was that kind of afternoon. Scotland won a penalty from the resultant scrum, went for the line-out, and after patient, probing phase-play, Huw Jones out-stretched his left-arm to score.
Russell’s successful conversion reduced the deficit, but there was still no chance of a comeback, especially with the bombastic figure of Billy Vunipola coming off the bench to further strengthen the England ball-carrying threat, and he was in possession at the back of the maul as the Red Roses surged closer to the 50-point mark.
After an hour the lesser-spotted tight head Simon Berghan, natural habitat: the bench, came on, and making his first appearance in Dark Blue after yet another injury, this time to back-rower Ryan Wilson, was Cornell Du Preez.
Tim Visser, who had been completely anonymous in the first half, then made two powerful line-breaks, only to give the ball away first by an attempt at a hail-Mary pass, then he knock on 15m from the line, but he was involved again as Scotland breached England’s defence once more, Huw Jones finding a bit of space out wide, before dancing through to finish brilliantly again.
But the further respectability that brought to the score-line was then wiped out by Danny Care’s try and Owen Farrell’s sixth successful conversion. Deep into time added-on, the sniping scrum-half eventually found space to rub salt, lemon juice, vinegar and chilli sauce into the already gaping wound, and seal the 6 Nations Championship.
The dream, and let’s be honest, that’s all it really ever was, is over for another year, but with one more game under Vern Cotter’s tutelage, and second place in the championship to play for, there is still plenty of cause for optimism in this young Scotland side. They came up against a powerful, dominant and record-crushing England unit, and soon found themselves forced into a major back division reshuffle. England will be going for consecutive Grand Slams next weekend in Dublin, and you have to congratulate them for producing by far their best performance of the tournament.
And this has probably hammered the price down on tickets for the Italy game on Viagogo, so, you know, silver linings and that.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
SRBlog Man of the Match: Jonathan Joseph rightly won the overall award, but for Scotland the award goes to opposite number Huw Jones. Took his two tries brilliantly.