It actually ended up quite comfortably for Scotland 25-13 in a fixture that England historically win routinely and without ever shifting into top gear. England had announced before the game that their players would be wearing special heated trousers to warm up their muscles for the ding-dong battle ahead. At £315 a pop they may wish they had kept the tailor’s receipt. It’s unknown if the trousers came from Savile row or skid row. When the onslaught arrived, their temperature was set to half-baked rather than the full blast from the field. English coach Eddie Jones is always looking for an edge over his opponents. Jones brought the cutting edge technology to his subs bench in the hope, literally, of putting the “warm” into “warm-up”. These high tech overpants are designed to operate at a comfortable and soothing 38 degrees which is allegedly the ideal temperature for keeping your highlands warm. Queue Benny Hill jokes and double entendres about the Trossachs. Jones also has a reputation for detail and not contending with Physios, dietitians and conditioners; one can assume that England have a qualified heating engineer on the bench or a chef who can turn the dial to the required temp and make sure the English players don’t enter the field half cooked. We should also beggar the question; where is the smoke alarm located?
Scottish spectators, well known for being shy and retiring, waited with barely disguised humour for the England replacement prop to melt on the bench so they could quote in unison that well know phrase from The Wizard of Oz; “I’m melting, melting”. Unfortunately the only thing melting was England’s game plan. Those of us who have accidentally over microwaved a ready meal and then discovered a softened blob of indescribable mess, eagerly awaited with anticipation the same result on the English bench. Other Scottish spectators wondered if an English international rugby player could become the first one to be roasted while waiting to go on the field, and not by his coach. When the afore mentioned English prop prepared to enter the fray he removed his tracksuit top before taking off the heated trousers and that lead to a time honoured comment from one Scottish spectator, well known for his acerbic wit, ”tha’ looks like an oven ready turkey”. Medical staff on duty are experienced and trained in all manner of injuries; must they now be comcerned about singeing? Allegedly a well know restaurant on Princes street, in the shadow of Edinburgh castle, quickly got their Six Nations special on the menu: Mashed Potatoes, peas, gravy and slightly overdone English scrum-half, garnished with parsley, all this followed by a large dose of humble pie. England visit Paris next to take on the French and one can assume the post match dinner will live up to the usual expectations. If England wear the same trousers then cue jokes about braised Coq au vin on the menu.
Well! I suppose we should talk about the serious stuff. This was Scotland’s biggest winning margin in this fixture in 32 years. No tries at home against England since 2004, and then three in the space of 21 minutes. England, lost in a black hole of Calcutta Cup, were goners long before the end. England seemed to treat the game with a certain degree of complacency. “I wouldn’t be able to tell you the history. It doesn’t really affect me,” said England centre Ben Te’o in the build-up. “What could a former player tell me about the stadium or the crowd? A lot of that stuff is pretty irrelevant. “You’re always going to have an away fixture with a hostile crowd, that’s part of the game. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” Te’o, a veteran of seven State of Origin appearances for Queensland, of an NRL Grand Final with the South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby League team, is one of many of his compatriots sent homewards to think again.
Scotland’s triumph was built on their relentless breakdown superiority. Ten times they turned English ball over. It was aided by addled English defence – 13 tackles missed in the first half alone – and a spooked lack of discipline from those in white shirts, 13 penalties conceded by the flummoxed visitors
In the first half, Scotland made 327 metres with ball in hand to England’s 166. They made five clean breaks, 149 tackles against England’s 111, Eddie Jones’ men going sideways and into a blue wall almost every time. Jones can point to a strong set-piece and a record that still reads 24 wins from 26 games. Others might point to the decision from referee Nigel Owens to rule out one English try for a knock-on in the tackle by Courtney Lawes and pull back another as Danny Care raced away for a breakdown penalty on Joe Launchbury, although Owens looked to have both spot on. In defence the Scots were immense: Jonny Gray with 20 tackles, John Barclay and Hamish Watson 13, Stuart McInally 11. Barclay contributed three turnovers, Ryan Wilson two.
And in attack – and it is the attack that defines Gregor Townsend’s ethos and team – they were relentless. Finn Russell kept the accelerator down, he kept kicking low along the ground behind the English backs thus keeping the pressure on . Sean Maitland caused panic down the left. Huw Jones – who also made 13 tackles, lest it go unnoticed – made 133 metres and beat five men.
If his first try owed a little to the luck of the bounce, his second epitomised where the contest was won and lost: quick ball, crashing through Farrell and Nathan Hughes; a gap opening up, the boldness and pace to take on the covering Brown and Watson; the skill and desire to fight through both. Scotland for the first time in tournament showed that significant progress has been made and will travel to Dublin in a confident frame of mind.