We all love the Six Nations for its local rivalries, and we weren’t left to wait long for the clash of the Auld enemies as England hosted Scotland at Twickenham. New head coach Steve Borthwick would have been hoping that his first match in charge saw his team get back to winning ways after losing 3 and drawing 1 of their last 5 matches against Gregor Townsend’s Scotland.
And after almost 15 minutes of physical rugby, it was Scotland who took the lead as Sione Tuipulotu’s grubber sat up in the in-goal for Huw Jones to score the opening try after his break moved Scotland up to the English line, however England soon hit back and scored a try of their own when, following a poor kick under pressure from Finn Russell brought them into the Scottish 22, a period of 14 phases ended with Max Malins grounding Marcus Smith’s crosskick, though Farrell’s missed conversion from out wide left the visitors ahead. And that lead was soon extended as Duhan van der Merwe broke through a gap in the English kick chase and backed himself to step 2 tacklers and hold off Alex Dombrandt on his way to the line. But the hosts again found the answer, with some great attacking lines eventually creating the space to spread the ball wide and send Max Malins over, and though Farrell missed the conversion, he finally got off the mark with a penalty on the stroke of half time for a 13-12 lead.
England started taking control after the break, and when a brilliant crash ball from Dombrandt brought England up to the Scottish try line, they remained patient before sending Ellis Genge over for try number 3. Scotland found a answer though in an odd fashion, a mishandle on the floor from Ben White caused him to spin unexpectedly to pick up the ball, which allowed him to unknowingly evade the onrushing Ben Curry, before taking advantage of the gap this left to snipe over. England were soon back on the attack, but Marcus Smith found himself well handled by Tuipulotu as he tried to create something from a 2v2 close to the ry line, resulting in him being bundled into touch. As the replacements started to come on around the hour mark, Matt Fagerson was pinged for hands in the ruck, allowing Farrell t extend the lead to 4 points with just over 5 minutes left, but after a Russell crosskick just eluded Kyle Steyn, the fly half kicked a penalty of his own to make it 23-22. And with 7 minutes left, a break from Steyn pulled too many of the England defence over to his side, and a couple of quick Scottish passes allowed Duhan van der Merwe to step inside Marcus Smith and carry Malins over the line as he reached out to score the bonus point try, with Russell kicking the conversion to secure a 23-29 victory and retain the Calcutta Cup for another year.
After years of seeing Eddie Jones sucke the life out of English rugby, some of the play today brought real joy to my heart.
With Nick Evans now in charge of the attack, inexperienced players like Chessum, Dombrandt and Hassell-Collins carried with the confidence of veterans, players were not just looking for gaps between defenders, but hitting them with conviction and on fantastic lines. It’s no surprise to me that Marcus Smith looked more comfortable than ever in the attacking game.
Was it all perfect? Of course not. There were certainly offloads that didn’t go to hand, players left isolated or other such errors, but that is to be expected given this is the first match in a new attacking system, with some new players, and most likely some amendments made due to the number of injuries picked up in recent weeks. I would also argue that Ben Youngs appeared to be choosing the chip over the ruck far too often when continuing to go through the phases would have been a better decision.
The important thing here is that England have immediately looked much more dangerous with ball in hand and showing that they can score tries. And that immediately makes them more dangerous.
This really was a classic Finn Russell match. For so much of the game, it looked like England would come away with the win, and the stand-off would have deserved his fair share of blame, as he often kept hold of the ball just a little too long, allowing himself to either be tackled in possession or as he was getting his kick away, with a number of England’s best chances in the first half coming from kicks that had fallen short in midfield as he was pressured in the kick.
But as the game went on, his ability to spread the ball around proved crucial, and the way that he would put the ball out in front of the players to run onto, allowing the wings to run riot down the touchlines and encouraging line breaks.
He truly is a mercurial talent, and while the risks he takes won’t always pay off, he doesn’t let his head drop and continues to find the gaps an exploit them. And by doing so, he keeps Scotland as an attacking threat right til the very end.
This year, I’m doing Movember a little different with my Movember Marathon.
You can find all the details on my announcement.
Visit my JustGiving page for updates or if you would like to donate.
Help me to change the face of men’s health!