After the usual fireworks meant to lighten the leaden skies over Murrayfield, both sides took the field in a charged atmosphere for this most historic of fixtures.
Perhaps the occasion got the got the better of Duncan Weir as he kicked out on the full with only his second touch. The first was a kick too. Jim Hamilton hoped to capitalise on an early England mistake as Jack Nowell threw it into touch, but the quick lineout was taken incorrectly by the second row and it led to an early penalty attempt for Farrell. Huge whistles accompanied the first airing of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and Farrell hooked it wide when the he swung his boot at the ball.
Danny Care rectified that for England minutes later with his second drop goal of the tournament and England were off and running.
As you would expect for this fixture, Scotland were firing into everything with exuberance and when Jim Hamilton charged round a ruck and was improbably not pinged for it by referee Jerome Garces, it delighted the Scotland fans and gave Laidlaw an early chance to equalise. At the extent of his range, the kick fell just short.
Hogg got into the game under a couple of high balls; Scotland were showing a clear intent to kick and chase at the relatively inexperienced English back three.
Garces was also showing intent: to let the ball move quickly, penalising Denton for holding on and allowing England to kick for territory. Scotland collapsed the maul that followed (Hamilton was caught this time), England went for the corner and another maul to the cheers of the plentiful visiting fans. They cheered even louder as Luther Burrell danced over for the try seconds later. Scotland hadn’t done all that much wrong but they were 0-10 after quarter of an hour.
Seymour came tearing out of the blocks for the restart and got enough of a hand on it to make Lawes offside as he gathered it and give Scotland the chance for a perfect response.
Laidlaw’s kick hit the upright this time. They had been narrow misses, but were Scotland set for an unlucky afternoon?
Minutes later Sean Lamont was caught offside in a ruck and handed England another kickable chance. Even though he missed, with 20 minutes played, indiscipline – not bad luck – was costing them dearly and the kicking game chosen by the management was gifting England plenty of ball to play with.
Scotland’s woes at the lineout from last week continued with an overthrow gifting prime attacking ball to the visitors. They were unable to breach the defence but earned a penalty to put them up 0-13, which it would stay until half time.
David Denton was a key early presence, carrying ball out wide and close in, but although he was gaining ground it was nothing England were not wise to especially as he doesn’t pass that often. Likewise, Seymour and Hogg were given one or two chances with the ball but it wasn’t in the sort of positions they thrive. The centres had almost nothing to do as the back three were doing the kick chasing.
At least the pace of Seymour and Hogg was keeping the crowd interested in the chase, and one monster kick from Hogg led to a period of Scots pressure before half time as Weir breached the England defence momentarily, but all they came up with thereafter was a kick that enabled Nowell to take the mark. Scotland hadn’t been totally indescribably rubbish- they’d just been ineffectual with the ball and lacking concentration off it.
England, meanwhile had taken their chances and finished the first period up against Scotland’s posts scrambling for another try that Scotland only just prevented.
HT Scotland 0-13 England
Ford got his first clean lineout away two minutes into the second half and was immediately substituted for Lawson, along with Grant. His replacement, Ali Dickinson, killed the momentum of a promising passage with a knock-on. The new front row got at least one scrum half way right but it was reset and England earned a penalty second time out. It was all grimly familiar.
Jonny May increasingly had a chance to show his wares as the ball moved out, slicing through the Scotland defence and only great position over the ball by Alex Dunbar slowed it enough for Scotland’s defence to realign.
The next scrum was closer to home and Moray Low’s binding was judged to be at fault. Farrell missed the kick again, but there was no way Scotland would continue to ride their luck as England’s attacks intensified. Dunbar again made a great last ditch tackle but then Garces carded him for not releasing.
Naturally England chose the pick and drive and hammered at Scotland – who had already done large amounts of defending in the second half. Even if they did not score as Scotland got out of jail with a penalty of their own, the physical toll would make the energy levels required for any sort of comeback hard to find.
Scotland tried to keep the intensity up with full backing of the crowd, but too many moves ended in ineffectual kicks while England’s kicks went exactly where Farrell wanted them to.
It wasn’t kicking or set piece that killed the game off for Scotland though, as Jonny May once again went on the rampage and Nowell combined nicely with Brown to give the full back an easy run in with 20 minutes to play and the score up to 0-20. Seymour has gas to burn but attacking down his channel was starting to pay dividends even as Dunbar returned to the pitch.
Dunbar came on and had what seemed like his first ball carry, on 63 minutes. Which says something about how little the Scots put it through the hands.
By the time Chris Cusiter was sent on on there was little he could do to change the impetus of the game as all he had to do was clearance kicks. With Scotland needing three converted tries to win, most of the last quarter played in the home team’s 22, and England abandoning flair for tight forward play against a battered Scotland pack, he was chasing a hopeless cause.
The passionate Murrayfield crowd jeered the increasingly jubilant Swing Low Sweet Chariot to the last, but as with much done on the park, it made little difference to the result.
FT: Scotland 0-20 England
SRBlog Man of the Match: Stuart Hogg was (again) one of the few positives for Scotland but the tactical approach is not set up to suit his game. Official MoM was Mike Brown, although for me Jonny May did enough to decisively shift the momentum towards England.
SRBlog Man of Match: