England salvage Six Nations draw after Scotland’s spectacular comeback | Sport


The championship was already decided but the drama had scarcely begun. Scotland, looking utterly bereft at Twickenham once again, resurrected themselves from a 31-0 deficit after half an hour to come within a few minutes of a first championship victory here since 1983. Only a try and subsequent conversion at the very end, both scored by George Ford, saved England the indignity of 36 years.

The draw means Scotland retain the Calcutta Cup for the first time since they won in Edinburgh the year after that win in 1983. They have suffered horribly from injury this year but they finish, at least, on the up.

England, meanwhile, finish second, the attacking kings with 24 tries and a bonus point in four out of five of their games, but this second-half collapse was a horror show. However slick their attacking game, a tendency to go missing in the very games they light up is the biggest issue for Eddie Jones to solve. Wales had exploited it in Cardiff in round three, England imploding into a directionless kicking game then, which resurfaced here after a display of attacking rugby in the opening half-hour as glorious as any they have produced all championship – which is saying something.

Worse still, the man at the heart of their collapse was none other than the captain, kicker and guardian of the flame, Owen Farrell. He was charged down for Scotland’s first try towards the end of the first half, a forgivable sin, given that 31-0 lead at the time. But then he threw the pass that Finn Russell intercepted to level the scores for the first time, in only the 60th minute. A few minutes later again, another armless and late tackle, this on Darcy Graham, gave Greig Laidlaw a first chance to put Scotland into a lead that seemed incredible.

Ford replaced Farrell a few minutes after that and his match-salvaging points rescued a measure of dignity for the home team. People marvelled at Wales’s comeback against France in round one, having trailed 16-0 at the break. That was a Six Nations record. Had Scotland hung on to the lead they finally established with their sixth try, with five minutes to go, they would have smashed it.

The similarities would have ended there. Yes, one might question England’s mental strength – they failed to maintain brilliant starts twice in South Africa last summer and then again against France, Wales and now Scotland in this championship – but where France conspired to gift Wales their win in Paris, here Scotland more than played their part in a breathtaking match.

As ever some of their tries were of the highest calibre, worthy of victory anywhere against anyone. It might be easier to score them when a cause seems as irretrievably lost as theirs, but even as potential victory hove into view they kept playing, scoring arguably the best of the lot to take the lead with five minutes to go.

How absurd that prospect would have felt after half an hour had it occurred to anyone in the stadium, which it did not. England have played attacking rugby beyond that of anyone this championship, as ambitious as Scotland’s but with the invaluable upgrade of genuine power. They had muttered darkly in the week about a certain residue of ill feeling from the manner of their defeat in Edinburgh last season. They started as if they meant it, a try up after only 66 seconds.

Jack Nowell cut inside four stationary Scots for that first try and something of an exhibition was under way. Tom Curry was on hand to finish a short lineout and drive for the second in the ninth minute before Joe Launchbury dummied his way to a third. Twelve minutes had gone.

On the half-hour Jonny May (who else?) scored his 14th try in 14 matches, finishing after a brilliant counterattack from England’s 22, for that bonus point. The one-sidedness of the contest then felt almost sickening.

Scotland finally landed a blow when Stuart McInally charged down Farrell and managed to see off May to race home. Even as early as the 35th minute, it registered as little more than a consolation – 31-7 at the break.

Seven minutes into the second half a stunning inside ball by Finn Russell set Sam Johnson away from a scrum, and soon Graham was dancing to the line – 31-12. Twickenham coughed.

Three minutes later they were starting to consider a full-on choke. Ali Price chipped ahead and gathered; Magnus Bradbury galloped to the line – 31-19.

Seven minutes later again Scotland hit a sweeter note still, Russell the architect, the electric Graham the finisher, past Elliot Daly, no less – 31-24. Then the unthinkable: Farrell pass, Russell intercept, try, 31-31 with a quarter still to play.

England were shellshocked, their second-half wobbles now confirmed as some sort of chronic condition. As in Cardiff they retreated within themselves, preferring to send the ball skywards. Farrell’s contretemps with Graham, more accident than of malice, gave Laidlaw a first chance but he missed the penalty in the 67th minute.

No matter, soon his pass put Johnson through an enormous hole in England’s midfield and Scotland had a winning position at Twickenham, their dream of these past 36 years. England’s nightmare was complete. Less than five minutes and seven points between them and not even a victory, just the avoidance of a humiliation.

England, to their credit, responded. They came in waves at the Scots until Ford appeared from nowhere to slide through to the posts. The conversion was a formality, the humiliation avoided. The inquests, though, are only just beginning.

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Source link : https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/mar/16/england-scotland-six-nations-match-report

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Publish date : 2019-03-16 19:16:00

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