Six Nations: England stunned as Scotland take victory in pulsating Calcutta Cup battle
England’s bid for a record third straight Six Nations Championship took an almighty lurch for the worse as proud Scotland brought off a brilliant upset result at Murrayfield.
Exultant choruses of ‘Flower of Scotland’ and simple chants of ‘Scotland, Scotland’ greeted a collapsed scrum that gave a proud home pack breathing space with six minutes to play.
But the truth was that Scotland were very rarely on the rack, as their skilful play in possession and bossing of the breakdown helped preserve the lion’s share of astonishing 16-point lead at the interval.
Dylan Hartley’s reigning champs were also harried into a stream of crass errors, particularly in the second half.
The pre-match predictions that Scotland would need tries to unseat the tournament favourites were answered by three scores before the first half was up – two from centre Huw Jones and another from Sean Maitland, who will wear a broad smile next time he shows his face at his London club, Saracens, where six of this downed England 23 play.
With just a solitary second-half score, a penalty by Finn Russell, the Scots had their highest points total against the old enemy since the Five Nations became Six in 2000, and a magnificent and thoroughly deserved first Calcutta Cup success since 2008.
England have dropped just the one match in the Six Nations in six out of the last seven seasons – the exception being the Grand Slam in Eddie Jones’s first year as head coach, 2016 – and they will probably have to keep that record going to retain their title now.
There is likely to be no room for further slip-ups in the visit to France in a fortnight followed by Championship leaders Ireland coming to Twickenham on 17 March – although Scotland will feel they are in the title hunt, too, having recovered from their first-day thrashing in Wales to defeat France and England at Murrayfield, and make it nine wins in 11 at the famous old stadium over the last past two years.
England had won 25 of the 29 meetings since Scotland beat them for the Grand Slam here in 1990, while the Scots had not scored a try in this fixture at Murrayfield for six and a bit matches, or roughly 500 minutes.
That all changed with Jones’s try with 15 minutes gone, after a penalty goal apiece by Greig Laidlaw and Owen Farrell. And the Scots did not stop there, with Maitland and Jones, with his second, going over again for a stunning Scottish lead of 22-6 at half-time.
The home side had the conditions for their running game to prosper, with beautiful, clear skies over the Scottish capital and just a light breeze.
Both teams had early success forcing turnovers on the ground – Hamish Watson for Scotland and Chris Robshaw of England enjoying the latitude awarded to the foragers in this Championship.
But, at 3-3, the first big breakthrough went the Scots’ way, as a rolling maul earned them a penalty advantage embraced with positivity by the fly-half Finn Russell, whose dab of the ball was not gathered by Jonathan Joseph. It ricocheted beyond the England goalline, through a thicket of white jerseys, and Jones was first to reach it for the Glasgow centre’s ninth try in his 14th Test, and Laidlaw converted.
Farrell’s second penalty, for Scottish offside ahead of a clearing kick, chipped into the lead at 10-6, and a knock-on by Russell disrupted an attack by England, for whom the returning No.8 Nathan Hughes had enjoyed one good initial rumble.
There was a sliver of luck in Scotland’s second try, as in the first, but how they capitalised on it, as Jones caught a pass that was probably flatter than intended and hared into the England half.
With England appearing to fan out in expectation of the ball going wide, early, Scotland hooker Stuart McInally made a few metres with a half-break, before the play was indeed stretched for Maitland to score at the left corner.
Laidlaw missed the conversion but made no mistake with the much easier effort after Jones was in again, in the 38th minute.
The 24-year-old who won the Currie Cup with Western Province in South Africa last year, and used to commute from south to north to represent his country, cut against the grain to leave English tacklers flounder again, and used his pace and power to carry him through the covering Mike Brown and Anthony Watson.
England badly needed a quick riposte in the second half and they got it as Farrell jogged over from Danny Care’s pass off a ruck for his seventh try in 56 Tests, and added the extras.
England captain Hartley queried with referee Nigel Owens whether the reigning back-to-back chanmpions were bing given a fair shake at the breakdown, after Joe Launchbury was pinged for going off his feet.
Hogg took on the resulting kick from 45 metres, and sliced it wide instead of giving the Scots a 25-13 lead.
Farrell’s offside soon afterwards was an England error to add to one by Hartley in the first half when his decoy run saw him take out Hogg unfairly.
Scotland refused the kick after the Farrell offence and England thought they had found a way back in when Watson and Farrell hacked upfield for an apparent try only for it to be chalked off for Courtney Lawes batting the ball forward as he made a tackle on John Barclay.
Scotland’s forwards had conceded one scrum penalty in the England 22 and a line-out overthrow while otherwise living impressively toe to toe with a visiting pack that was heavier by around five kilos per man.
As England strained to justify their world number-two ranking, held for the last 18 months, they let possession slip when Joseph left a pass behind, then Farrell’s delivery evaded Jonny May on the wing, followed by Lawes kicking the ball from the hands of Laidlaw’s replacement, Ali Price.
And that hugely damaging period of play culminated in Sam Underhill – the hero of the tight 12-6 win over Wales last time out, thanks to his wonder tackle on Scott Williams – being sent to the sin bin for a poorly-executed challenge that turned into a shoulder charge on prop Jamie Bhatti.
Russell kicked the penalty, for 25-13 with 14 minutes remaining.
Scotland: tries: Jones 2, Maitland; conversions: Laidlaw 2; penalties: Laidlaw, Russell.
England: try: Farrell; conversion: Farrell; penalties: Farrell 2.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour (rep B Kinghorn 65th min), H Jones, P Horne (N Grigg 72), S Maitland; F Russell, G Laidlaw (A Price 62); G Reid (J Bhatti 56), S McInally, S Berghan (WP Nel 69), G Gilchrist (T Swinson 56), J Gray, J Barclay (capt), H Watson, R Wilson (D Denton 69).
England: M Brown (J Nowell 56); A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J May; G Ford (B Te’o 65), D Care (R Wigglesworth 72); M Vunipola (J Marler 69), D Hartley (capt; J George 56), D Cole (H Williams 65), J Launchbury (G Kruis 72), M Itoje, C Lawes, C Robshaw, N Hughes (S Underhill 54).
Referee: N Owens (Wales).
Independent News Service