Six Nations 2021: England v Scotland

There wasn’t much to get excited about in the first half of the 150th edition of the Calcutta Cup, with neither side taking complete control of the half. Scotland will have been happy with their attacking play, whereas England had a few opportunities in the closing stages, but it was very even, with each team having a sin bin and the scoreline only having a two point difference when the whistle was blown.

England traditionally come into games with a few tactics up their sleeves, and the one they had chosen for this game was clear to see from the early stages. We know that Scotland have quick backs, all of whom advance up the pitch at every opportunity, so England looked to charge down the box kicks from scrum-half Ali Price, stopping those opportunities from happening. However, England were also very sloppy in possession, making plenty of mistakes in the first half with their passing, and that gave Scotland the opportunities to advance forward. Whenever Scotland did come forward, England lacked the strength to hold them back, probably due to the lack of game time that some players have had, but it is still something they will be concerned about. They also conceded some really poor penalties as well, which also showed the pressure they were under.

Overall, there wasn’t much to mention with England, because it was a poor first half from them, and they needed to come out in the second half and show something different.

However, after half-time, the errors continued, and it stopped them getting any momentum going. They left too many spaces in their defensive line, allowing the Scottish attackers to play through them, and this was dangerous, given how, as mentioned, Scotland’s backs have pace and can get behind the defence. It was interesting that England head coach Eddie Jones made a change early in the second half, taking off Newcastle Falcons flanker Mark Wilson, and putting on Northampton Saints’ experienced forward Courtney Lawes. Lawes has been one of England’s best tacklers in recent years, so this was clearly with a view to stopping Scotland finding so much space and advancing through the gaps.

In all honesty, England looked devoid of ideas in this game, and played in a stale manner with little inspiration or creativity. They tended to resort to a kicking game, which didn’t get them anywhere on the pitch; instead, it played right into Scotland’s hands, as Scotland then allowed the ball to slow down, before kicking back into the England half and into touch. They also lacked any leadership and an ability to come up with new ideas mid-game, which is worrying when you consider that they are the defending champions. There is plenty of work to do in the next weeks if they want to keep that crown.

As for Scotland, we mentioned how they were forced to not box kick as much as they would have wanted to, because of the way England were charging them down, but that didn’t stop them controlling the majority of the first half. Price in particular had to be inventive when he had the ball, and this was perhaps why they caught England out so much of the time.

It was also notable that Scotland had power in their forward drives, particularly around England’s try line, and they kept forcing England back whenever England pushed forwards. As mentioned, England lacked the strength to hold them back, and that was one reason why Scotland were able to get forward so often in the first 40 minutes.

After half-time, Scotland continued to play a steady game, knowing that England would continue conceding penalties, and they were happy to wait for their chance and then go for it. As mentioned, their pacy players, such as winger Duhan Van Der Merwe and captain Stuart Hogg, were thorns in England’s side for the whole game, constantly finding spaces and always looking to get behind their opponents’ defence.

They had the better opportunities in the second half, too, but the key thing is that they didn’t need to play at their best in this game, because of how badly England were playing. Head coach Gregor Townsend was able to make changes along the way to supplement his team, rather than to change the tactics of focus of his team, and he had some good options that he could turn to. Newcastle flanker Gary Graham is one who has been in really good form in the Premiership so far this season, and it was introductions like this that helped Scotland to keep ticking over as the game went on.

This wasn’t a vintage performance from them, but Scotland will be happy with the win, and to end their 38-year pain at Twickenham. However, they will also know that they will be tested more in future games this year. There were some elements of their performance, like the kicking game, that worked really well for them, but there will be others that they will look to focus on ahead of next week; these included how they lacked a central creative force once influential fly-half Finn Russell had been sin-binned in the middle of the game. However, overall, they played well and deserved the win.

MAN OF THE MATCH:

Scotland had many good players in this game, but their captain was immense for them. Stuart Hogg is already one of the best full-backs in world rugby, and definitely one of the most attacking, but he showed in this game how to be a leader. He was in the middle of all their good play, delivering accurate long-range kicks when needed, and led from the front in every meaning of that. It was an all-round outstanding performance from the Exeter Chiefs player.

NEXT UP:

England are at home again next week, when they host Italy at Twickenham on Saturday lunchtime. Scotland, meanwhile, return to Murrayfield for their first home game of the season, with Wales travelling to Edinburgh for the late game on the same day.

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