Scotland at Twickenham: haven’t won since 1983. A tough prospect for a Scotland team fragile after losing to Italy.
From the kickoff England went for the pack drive to test the waters up front and having found that reasonably successful, cut loose straight away and only a tackle by Hogg slowed the attack enough to prevent a catastrophic start.
It didn’t get much better, as Jonathan Joseph grabbed the opening try in a period where Nowell and Brown both looked threatening but Joseph made the most of Matt Scott rushing out of the line to hop over; Ford converted off the upright.
Back from his ban, Russell showed his laid back nature by throwing two passes to no-one in quick succession as Scotland looked under pressure from a confident England.
Brown almost had another try, clean through on the posts but Stuart Hogg made his second try saving tackle. Russell fluffed the clearance under pressure from Lawes and England hammered them in the ensuing scrum. It looked a little scary, but Murray, Ford and Dickinson managed to get a nod from Poite to clear danger for all of about 30 seconds.
Scotland were butter, and England were a Swiss army knife where even the thing that scoops stones out of hooves was able to cut through.
It didn’t help that once again they were opting for kicks: aimless ones, too short, too long; crap ones.
And then something changed – they stopped kicking.
Unsurprisingly with ball in hand and the likes of Seymour on the ball they looked far better. This was turned from theory into fact on 22 minutes when a nice lineout play from Cowan allowed quick ball and it went wide on a penalty advantage. Bennett barrelled through the English defenders and seemed quite surprised to be over the line with only falling over required to score the try and even the scores in the most unlikeliest of fashions.
That had the required effect on Scotland, with Bennett, Fife and Scott suddenly finding inroads (down the same channels England had been attacking them) and they almost had another try on the half hour mark. Laidlaw – who looked markedly sharper around this point – settled for the penalty and 10-10.
After another swift incursion into the English 22, Laidlaw kicked a further penalty to – lo and behold – take the lead. He lead his men into the tunnel as a group, and a bunch of players who looked like perhaps they had risen from the dead…
Half time: England 10-13 Scotland
Scotland inched back into the grave with half time news that Matt Scott had suffered an injury, leaving Greig Tonks to fill in at inside centre. Clearly no respecters of momentum, a fired-up home side attacked the Scotland line and there were no surprises when quick ball to George Ford found him an easy gap to run through from first receiver. Disappointment maybe, but not really surprise.
With England settling back into the lead, it became a scrappy game and both sides look better in attack than defence.
Ford kicked a penalty to increase the lead to 7 points and England started to make changes up front. Russell blew the restart straight out and England had another kickable penalty on half way. They opted for the sidelines and a real chance to kill the game off, but the Scots managed to defend it and clear.
England still had more line breaks which meant Scotland couldn’t get the momentum back they badly needed, and they were almost certain to tire. It was looking like a desperate last 20 minutes in store, but Scotland took heart from a penalty that allowed them a bit of pressure. England came right back at them with Brown crossing for a try but the pass from Haskell (villain of the week) was forward, luckily for Scotland.
14 minutes to play, and only 7 points down. After the Italy game last week you’d have taken that, but it was still deficiencies of thought rather than skill that were keeping Scotland at arms’ length of the lead. The discipline was a lot better but they still lack the nous to get themselves where they need to be in order to score the tries they undoubtedly can.
It was perhaps a measure of how close Scotland were to that point that Robshaw opted for the posts and a 10 point lead, but fate conspired to kick Scotland in the buts once again by bouncing the ball off the posts once again. In the ensuing melee, Jack Nowell got the try he had been threatening all game and the game was done with three minutes to go.
Scotland will take some credit from a match where the initial assessments were that a 20 point margin for England would be “closer than people think” (© SCW), but once again will be agonising over the little differences that keep them on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
SRBlog Man of the Match: Cowan was good, Gray and Denton led by example up front and Seymour and Bennett were tireless. But Scotland led at half time, and were only in the match after a very poor opening quarter thanks to Stuart Hogg who bounced back from last week with another strong display.