If this was war, then it was the long-range artillery that won out, as in ever worsening conditions, a kicking frenzy broke out.
With the crowd at BT Murrayfield in fine vocal form, captain Stuart Hogg got us under way with a deep hanging kick-off which was well chased, with Sam Johnson putting in a thumping hit just 5m from the England try-line.
England were forced to clear, Kinghorn carried into the 22, but as was the case last week, failed to turn possession in to points when Maro Itoje interrupted Ali Price’s pass, and England forced a penalty.
Gauzerre then awarded a free-kick when Rory Sutherland closed the gap at the line-out, and although Farrell’s kick gained more height than distance, an excellent follow-up kick to the corner from the England captain pinned Scotland into a tight spot, which they did well to escape.
Although the conditions didn’t initially seem hideous (it was windy, but not blowing a gale) at the start, England were putting a lot of air on the ball, and when Stuart Hogg failed to gather one of them England attacked and were awarded the first kickable penalty of the afternoon when Scott Cumming failed to roll away after making a tackle.
Farrell’s kick, to a chorus of boos, dropped short and Blair Kinghorn cleared to touch around 30m from the Scotland line.
From England’s next series of phases, an offside penalty against Cummings gave Farrell another chance, this time much easier, and Farrell obliged to put England 3-0 up after 11mins.
Maro Itoje, known to give away a penalty or two in his time, was pinged for a high tackle on half-way, which was thumped into the corner, but Scotland’s line-out, in a promising position, was overthrown.
Farrell, however, skewed his clearing kick, so Scotland had another line-out just outside the 22. Ludlam entered the maul at the side, so Hogg went again to the corner.
Cummings claimed and passed down to Watson as the maul formed, but the ball was made unplayable by the English pack, so they were awarded the put-in at the scrum, and Scotland saw another chance go begging when in their opponents’ 22.
England seemed happy to soak up Scottish pressure, scrum-half Willi Heinz in particularly keen to play the territory game, and they nearly got a scrum near the 22 when Hogg’s booming kick looked like it would go dead, but it stopped right in the corner of the in-goal area.
However, from the free-kick clearance, England wrestled
possession back, allowing Elliot Daly to stretch his legs. Although Scotland
won possession back, Stuart Hogg was contentiously penalised by Monsieur
Gauzerre for not releasing after the tackle, only for Farrell to make a dog’s
dinner of his penalty attempt.
A fine mist of rain had begun to fall, and it was getting notably windier. And colder.
Kicking from hand was the order of the day, as both teams looked for the other to make an error from which they could counter-punch.
England had seemed to blink first when Kruis was penalised for not releasing, only for Hogg to miss touch with a low drilled kick to the corner as he attempted to counteract the wind. Rory Sutherland then got penalised for side entry to a ruck, so England had a chance at an attaking line-out at the 22. Thankfully for Scotland, their throw went squint.
With a dour first-half drawing to a close, an Adam Hastings clearance went out on the full, so England could have a second go at the line-out they had fluffed just moments earlier. Scotland, whose maul defence had seemed much improved last week, again stopped it in its tracks, so George Ford had a go at the drop-goal. It missed handsomely.
Scotland had one last foray into England territory when awarded another free-kick for an early engagement at the scrum, and although Hastings’ chip over the top was gathered in, there was a knock-on in contact, so both sides went to the nice, warm dressing rooms with only Farrell’s penalty separating them.
Half-time: Scotland 0 – 3 England
George Ford kicked us off in the second half, and you knew there would be plenty more where that came from.
When Ford himself made a hash of a Hogg skyscraper, Jonny Gray’s lovely offload saw Sutherland dummied and burst through a hole in the English defence.
Huw jones, with a remarkable record of four tries in two games against England, took it to within 5m, and England were forced to infringe.
Scotland ambitiously went for the line, but this time they retained possession. Drive after drive went closer, until Sam Underhill was penalised for not releasing after the tackle.
Right in front of the sticks, Adam Hastings banged over the equalising 3-pointer, to a light smattering of boos.
Scotland had a lucky escape when they turned possession over in their own 22, but a spill from Underhill once advantage was over handed possession back, and Hastings cleared with the outside of his boot to halfway.
Going for the lines in this kind of weather is risky business, and once Heinz kicked out on the full, Scotland were given their own line-out on halfway.
The line-out was a mess, but Hastings got a boot to it, which caused mayhem in the England defence. They were forced to clear to touch just 15m from their own line.
Murrayfield roared in approval, then groaned in despair, as Sinckler ripped the ball from Gray’s grasp after multiple phases of pick-and-go-not-very-far. Another pointless visit to the opposition 22.
McInally replaced Brown on 52mins, and the first thing he did was overthrow a line-out. England kicked (surprised?) deep to Hogg, and Captain Marvel did his thing.
He sold Farrell a dummy, raced outside Joseph towards England’s
half, then kicked a grubber into the England 22.
When Heinz made another mess of a box-kick, Scotland got the line-out from practically the same spot Hogg’s kick had gone out at. Another good attacking position, but with great inevitability, Watson this time knocked on in the tackle, despite his protestations that England were offside.
England’s insistence on kicking kept on coming back to bite them, George Ford the guilty party this time, as he cleared directly to touch from just outside his 22.
For what seemed like the 800th time already in this Six Nations, Scotland’s line-out was not clean, so England could knock Scotland back 50 or so metres.
Until they kicked out on the full again. This time it was Elliot Daly with the shanked clearance, but again, the line-out was poor, and this time, stolen.
England, despite having almost no territory in the second half, were awarded the chance to take the lead, when replacement Ellis Genge won a scrum penalty.
The scrum had been conceded when the usually reliable Sean Maitland had spilled in the tackle after claiming another up n under, but England’s usual Mr Reliable, Owen Farrell, again skewed his kick wide, so we stayed at 3-3 with quarter of an hour remaining.
If you thought Stuart Hogg had made a howler last week, he nearly added to that collection as he tried to watch a George Ford kick over the line.
Hogg’s grounding was not clear, but after a TMO review, was given a slight reprieve, when it was decreed he’d done just enough to ground, but had taken it back over the line.
The reprieve was brief. Although the scrum didn’t make any ground, England’s pack did what Scotland’s always fail to do. Work together, to force themselves over the try-line, Ellis Genge being the man in possession as they bundled over.
With under 5mins remaining. Simon Berghan was penalised for side entry at a ruck, and Owen Farrell, after 90secs of faffing about, dissected the swaying sticks.
Straight from the restart, Joe Launchbury gave away a penalty which Hastings converted to give Scotland a last ditch lifeline, and a losing bonus-point.
A lifeline which Scotland then kicked away. What the hell was Ali Price thinking about, box-kicking possession away with 20secs left?
A wretched spectacle, which must have Toony pulling hairs out of anywhere he can find them. Individual errors, the inability to turn pressure, of which they had plenty, into points, is on the players.
Referee: Pascal Gauzerre
SRBlog MOTM: In horrible conditions, Adam Hastings kicked very well from hand, and is so far the only man to score points for Scotland in this Six Nations. Not flawless, but did well in testing conditions.