The opening weekend of the Six Nations continued in style as the Auld Enemies faced off at Twickenham this afternoon. It has been 30 years since Scotland have won at English Rugby HQ, and they were there today full of fight, determined to cause an upset.
It started as a game that was evenly matched and with both sides showing plenty of skill and initiative, was shaping up to be a close encounter. It was small margins that proved costly in the first half, with Stuart Hogg taking full advantage of a napping English defence to break through the line, and Scottish ill discipline that meant England’s Owen Farrell could keep the scoreboard ticking over.
The later stages of the game saw victory escape the Scots, as England, buoyed by the integration of an impressive bench, gave the tired Scots little opportunity to get points on the board, and sought to wear them down through constant defence.
Despite this there was lots to take from this game for Scotland, who looked so different from the side that lost in Aberdeen two months ago: a debut try for Sean Maitland, a team that was cohesive and swift, showed some real attacking spirit and occasional skill at the breakdown.
There was none of the cagey opening minute rugby that usually characterises such encounters; the home side got the match underway, but were able to launch an early attack as Ruaridh Jackson kicked possession away to the waiting Ben Morgan who threw himself at the line of players in blue, shrugging off the first tackle from Tim Visser.
Scotland were on the back foot as they were penalised for hands in at the ruck, handing the first three points to the home side, two minutes into the game.
England came again, building through the phases and edging closer to the line, Tom Wood had the home crowd screaming as he broke through the line, prop Euan Murray had his blinkers on and Wood was able to drift with worrying ease past him, but the pressure was relieved as Scotland earned themselves a defensive scrum, and Stuart Hogg was able to push England back with a solid clearance kick.
It was Hogg who broke through for Scotland, catching Mike Brown’s long kick and darting past Brown, Dan Cole and shrugging off a tackle from Alex Goode, entering the English 22 for the first time. It was his Glasgow teammate and Scotland debutant Sean Maitland who crossed the line, after quick phases from Scotland, Ryan Grant got the initial carry with Greig Laidlaw spotting the gap and flinging the ball to Maitland who crossed in the far corner. Laidlaw was unsuccessful with his conversion, meaning Scotland were two points ahead.
England struck back moments later, as Sean Lamont was penalised for not releasing, and received a short talking to from referee Alain Rolland. Again it was within Farrell’s range, and they took the lead once more. This lead then stretched to a four point lead, only moments later as England won the penalty almost directly in front of the posts.
As the opening quarter closed out, Laidlaw closed the points gap to a mere one point, with English hooker Tom Youngs penalised for coming in at the side right in front of Rolland.
Scotland came close to the try line again, with blood replacement (later made a permanent substitution) David Denton getting the offload to Tim Visser who chipped the ball forward, gaining yards, and then putting England on the back foot from a tight line out. This attempt came to naught as Ryan Grant held onto the ball too long for Rolland’s liking.
Scotland’s defence was sorely tested and left scrambling on the half hour mark, as Owen Farrell charged down Jackson’s kick and England built through the phases, Joe Launchbury nearly crossed the line, but was dragged down by Richie Gray. Launchbury was able to get the ball out to his teammates though and Chris Ashton managed to ground the ball just over the line, despite Jackson and Hogg doing their best to prevent him; with Farrell’s conversion, Scotland found themselves trailing by seven points.
Farrell took the English lead to 19-8 minutes before half time, as returning international Johnnie Beattie was penalised for a high tackle on Morgan. However Laidlaw was able to claw it back on the stroke of half time with a comfortable penalty kick
Half Time: England 19-11
Scotland had a high penalty count in the first half, and discipline cost them straight away in the second half, as Euan Murray was penalised for holding on. Choosing to kick for touch, England piled the pressure on Scotland as they went for the early score. Tom Wood threatened the Scottish defence as he sought to break through, however it fell to captain Chris Robshaw and Ben Morgan to make the ground for the home side before English debutant Billy Twelvetrees caught what was a very flat pass and darted through a gap between Jim Hamilton and Dougie Hall to cross the line, Farrell added the extras and took the English to a fifteen point lead.
Scotland needed to react immediately and there was a real contest in the middle of the pitch, as both teams fought for the ball. For England, Ben Morgan injured himself trying to break through and was replaced by James Haskell. For Scotland Dougie Hall sustained a knee injury trying to break the line, and was replaced by Ross Ford.
Ford’s first duty was a scrum, from which Scotland won the penalty as England engaged too early, Jackosn took the quick tap before booting the ball into the English 22, and plenty of blue shirts gave chase. Scotland began to gain ground as they built through the phases but Richie Gray was penalised for going off his feet, perhaps harshly as he did look to have tripped.
Farrell smashed the ball deep into the Scottish 22, and the line out gave England a solid platform to launch a sustained attack from, during which Alex Goode crossed the line but was held up by excellent defence from Kelly Brown. Moments later though Joe Launchbury got the ball from the ruck and grounded in amongst a mass of English and Scottish bodies.
The celebrations for this were cut short for the home crowd, as Alain Rolland spotted that his touch judge’s flag was up, the two had a long talk resulting in the try being disallowed, and England’s hooker Tom Youngs being penalised for foul play.
Two minutes later there was nothing to stop Rolland awarding the try. English scrum half Ben Youngs evaded Jackson, and Jim Hamilton before being brought down by Maitland. Replacement Dylan Hartley was able to get the ball out to Farrell who sent a long floating pass to an unmarked Geoff Parling who ran in the points, fly half Farrell showed an uncharacteristic stutter though, pushing the conversion wide. England had a twenty point lead, and Scotland had twenty five minutes to do something about it.
With a swathe of changes for England giving them fresh legs against a flagging Scotland, who had only made three changes, the Scots were being sore pressed all over the park. England came close to the line again, with captain Robshaw darting for the line in the far corner, excellent defence from Scotland saw Visser bundle him into touch. Hogg showed his class under pressure with a long clearance kick, but it was collected by Goode, and replacement Mako Vunipola launched another attack for the home side. More excellent defence from Scotland’s Matt Scott and captain Kelly Brown resulted in Scotland getting the turnover ball. Hogg chose to run with it, from behind his own line, getting an offload to Visser who sprinted forward before going for the chip and chase, but he did not have the legs to reach it before English full back Alex Goode.
Goode, following Hogg’s example, chose to run with the ball, but did not get far before being surrounded by Scottish bodies, Hartley had come back in support but after some good work by Jackson in the tackle, was penalised for not releasing. Jackson’s kick for touch gave Scotland a line out a few metres from the try line, definitely their best chance of the half so far.
The ball came out to Johnnie Beattie, who had been playing the entire game like a man with a point to prove, and he forced his way forward, with Vunipola and Parling clinging to him. He got the pass away to Laidlaw, and then Jackson who flung it wide, Denton tried to catch it, but failed and Robshaw bundled it into touch.
Scotland were still metres from the try line as England had a defensive scrum. Scotland challenged valiantly and earns themselves the attacking scrum, from which Kelly Brown and Johnnie Beattie worked like men possessed to gain yards.
Scotland scored their first points of the second half with only ten minutes remaining, as Maitland got the ball out wide, he did not have the legs to chase his own chip forward, but Stuart Hogg came sprinting from deep in midfield with impressive pace, to kick the ball forward before grounding it over the line to the delight of the vocal visiting crowd. Laidlaw did not miss with his conversion, and Scotland had closed the gap to 13 points.
Fresh legs from Henry Pyrgos and Alastair Kellock could do little to rejuvenate the Scots, who held out against more English attack in the final minutes. The home side found the final try that they were looking for as the clock went red, with replacement scrum half Danny Care grounding the ball between the posts, and Farrell converted as Alain Rolland blew the whistle for full time.
England: Alex Goode, Chris Ashton, Brad Barritt, Billy Twelvetrees, Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Ben Youngs; Joe Marler, Tom Youngs, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling, Tom Wood, Chris Robshaw (c), Ben Morgan.
Replacements: Dylan Hartley (Youngs T 53), Dave Wilson (Cole 74), Mako Vunipola (Marler 57) Courtney Lawes (Launchbury 64), James Haskell (Morgan 46), Danny Care (Youngs B 57), Toby Flood (Twelvetrees 67), Dave Strettle (Goode 67).
Scotland: Stuart Hogg, Sean Maitland, Sean Lamont, Matt Scott, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Greig Laidlaw; Ryan Grant, Dougie Hall, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Kelly Brown (c), Johnnie Beattie.
Replacements: Ross Ford (Hall 47), Moray Low, Geoff Cross, Alastair Kellock (Hamilton 55), David Denton (Strokosch 14), Henry Pyrgos (Laidlaw 72), Duncan Weir, Max Evans (Hogg 77).
Ref: Alain Rolland
INJURY AND SQUAD UPDATE:
Alasdair Strokosch will see a specialist surgeon on Tuesday to decide if he can play any further part in this year’s RBS 6 Nations Championship, having retired early on Saturday. Team doctor James Robson said: “It would seem he has a fractured orbit (area around the eye) but, as ever with such collision-type injuries, they can take time to settle. He will be examined by to determine the extent of the injury and any recovery schedule.”
In addition to Strokosch, a number of other Scotland forwards will require medical assessment over the next few days. Hooker Dougie Hall (knee), back-row forwards David Denton (knee) and Johnnie Beattie (ankle) will be under the care of physiotherapists Paul McGinley and Stephen Mutch.
The Scotland squad reassemble in Edinburgh tonight. At this stage, with medical evaluation still ongoing with the Scotland A squad, 13 players will be added to the 23 who were on match-day duty yesterday.
Pat MacArthur, Robert Harley, Peter Murchie and Grant Gilchrist had all travelled with the main party to Twickenham. Peter Horne will also return to camp having been ruled out of the England game due to a thumb injury (presumably the reason for Weir’s call up).
Eight players are promoted from the Scotland A squad following their 13-9 win over England Saxons at Newcastle on Friday – namely props Jon Welsh (Glasgow Warriors) and Alasdair Dickinson (Sale Sharks), hooker Steve Lawrie (Edinburgh Rugby), back-rower Richie Vernon (Sale Sharks), scrum-half Sean Kennedy (Glasgow Warriors), stand-off Tom Heathcote (Bath Rugby) and wings Nikki Walker (Worcester Warriors) and debutant try-scorer Duncan Taylor (Saracens). Interestingly with Denton and Beattie recovering from knocks, no sign of Ryan Wilson who was an excellent captain, but he could well be on the injured list.
Additional reporting: Scottish Rugby Blog Staff