Finn Russell delivered a decisive and redemptive performance as Scotland stunned a sloppy England 25-13 at Murrayfield to end Grand Slam hopes for Eddie Jones’ side.
Calcutta Cup clashes between these sides have been typically one sided in favour of the English, and the Scots came into the contest smarting from a 61-21 demolition at Twickenham last year – a victory which saw England match the All Blacks’ world-record winning run.
And though England were a shadow of that in Edinburgh on Saturday, Scotland were infinitely improved, displaying the pulsating ball-carrying tactics that Gregor Townsend’s men had been tipped to thrill us with in this Six Nations.
Scotland had not scored a Six Nations try against England at Murrayfield in 14 years, but they had three by the end of a stunning first half – Huw Jones twice touching down either side of a Sean Maitland score that Russell played the central role in.
Russell was hauled off a fortnight ago against France after an error-strewn display but he knitted together Scotland’s attack in this contest, vindicating Townsend’s faith.
The visitors roared out after the interval, knowing Ireland had beaten Wales earlier in the day and secured a bonus point, but could not add to Owen Farrell’s touchdown and now face a daunting trip to Paris on March 10, while Scotland will hope to maintain form and blow the competition wide open when they head to Dublin on the same day.
FULL TIME | The Calcutta Cup is ours! #AsOne
Scotland come out victorious at BT Murrayfield today against England, 25-13! pic.twitter.com/ZgYB4Y3r6W
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 24, 2018
Reports of a bust-up in the tunnel filtered through before kick-off and the contest began at a suitably furious pace, with Greig Laidlaw and Farrell trading penalties, but Scotland forged ahead amid the chaos.
Russell had been so pilloried a fortnight previously, but he got away a grubber as Farrell charged in, which Jones prodded beyond the wrong-footed Anthony Watson and dotted down.
Farrell immediately cut the deficit, but England were poor with ball in hand and Scotland made them pay with a spectacular score.
Again, Russell’s fingerprints were present. A long floated pass teased would-be interceptors on its way to Jones, who charged half the length of the field and another beautiful ball by the fly-half found Maitland with the room to touch down under duress, with Laidlaw unable to convert from the touchline.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 24, 2018
The Scotland of pre-tournament speculation had arrived and Jones extended the lead further with another score, dashing between Farrell and Nathan Hughes, before powering over the line with Watson and Mike Brown hanging from him, a 16-point half-time advantage secured by Laidlaw’s boot.
So often England’s inspiration, Farrell provided the fast start to the second half they needed, skirting around Grant Gilchrist as the lock was caught narrow and converting his own score.
Nigel Owens called Danny Care back as the scrum-half raced clear on an intercept – Stuart Hogg missing a consequent long-range penalty – and England were denied again when Farrell raced through to touch down, only for the try to be ruled out by the TMO for a knock-on as Courtney Lawes rocked John Barclay with the tackle which forced the ball loose.
As England’s desperation grew, so did their ill-discipline – conceding six penalties in a 25-minute period – and replacement Sam Underhill was soon back on the touchline for 10 minutes after not using his arms in the tackle, and Russell split the posts to fervent cheer.
The loudest cheers came two minutes from the end, England again whistled as they camped out on the Scotland line, and the visitors’ attempts to secure a losing bonus point with time up fell short, their championship hopes perhaps fading at the same time.
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