August 8, 2022

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What drama. And what a performance from Scotland. Retaining the Calcutta Cup with successive wins...

What drama. And what a performance from Scotland. Retaining the Calcutta Cup with successive wins for the first time since 1984. I could not be happier for Gregor Townsend and the players. That brought back some very happy memories. Now the real work begins.
hat a six weeks this could prove to be for Scotland. Clearly it is only one game. One win. There is no point getting carried away or looking too far ahead. But I do not think it is arrogant or presumptuous to say Scotland should now be looking to win this Six Nations.

That is the reality of the situation they now find themselves in. And a reflection of just how good they are. The fact is if you win your home matches you always give yourself a chance. And if you win an away game then you are really in the mix.
Scotland have a massive test now in Cardiff next weekend. But they will go there with real hope in their hearts, partly because Wales looked so fragile in Dublin but mostly because of what was a brilliant defensive performance against England at Murrayfield.

We all know this Scotland team can play fast, attacking rugby. We all know that Finn Russell is one of the most creative 10s in the world. But it is Scotland’s defence which is now winning them games.
Steve Tandy’s impact has been incredible. Scotland were the best defensive team of the Six Nations last year and again yesterday, with England controlling large parts of the game in terms of territory and possession, it was their defence which kept them in it.
England had them under the cosh at the start of the second half. I think they conceded the first five penalties of the half because they were under so much pressure at lineout, mauls, and the breakdown. But they did not panic. They stayed calm.
To concede only one try all game was a monumental effort. And then you look at them with the ball. I think they only had two opportunities to attack in the first half and they scored from one.
Of course, the big talking point was the yellow card and penalty try in the 65th minute when England were leading 17-10. Would England have won without that? Maybe.
But England can have no complaints. It was the right decision, and anyway I thought England made a number of other errors in those last 15 minutes which handed Scotland the initiative.
I felt Marcus Smith should have stayed on the pitch. In fact, I thought the raft of replacements England brought on after 63 minutes was a mistake. It seemed to break England’s rhythm. I actually thought they had the stronger bench but they did not use it wisely.
Then after the yellow card I was surprised they opted not to take a back off and try to retain parity at the set-piece. Once you are into phase play it does not matter anyway. But you do not want to sacrifice strength at the set-piece.
I would not have taken Sam Simmonds off. That throw-in from Joe Marler sort of summed up England’s loss of control. Then there was the decision taken not to have a shot at goal which could have brought them level at 20-20.
Should England have gone for the draw? The vagaries of the wind made it difficult. And it was a difficult kick anyway.
But either way, England clearly thought if they could get into Scotland’s 22 they could get a penalty or more from lineout drives because they had dominated that part of the game, all game. And then Scotland came up with that lineout steal. Unbelievable.
There were too many good performances to single out. I thought Duhan van der Merwe had one of his best games in a Scotland shirt. I thought the back three as a whole were brilliant. The back-row too.
Matt Fagerson was a deserving man of the match. I think Scotland made 140 tackles and only missed six. Fagerson made 16 without missing one, as well as averaging five metres per carry. He also broke two tackles and forced a turnover.
I would make a special mention too of Russell. I think that cameo with the Lions has really changed people’s perceptions of him but he has been maturing for a while. He never tried to force it yesterday. He just tried to keep Scotland in the game, and when it mattered he delivered.
I thought his opposite man was good as well. There is no need for England to hit the panic button. England showed with their try how effective they can be, coming off a driving maul with Smith and Slade coming around really late. As I say, I was surprised when Eddie Jones took Smith off. They were winning 17-10 at that point. They are still heading in the right direction.  
Scotland are the ones dreaming now. They will miss Jamie Ritchie in Cardiff next weekend but that is another exciting thing about Scotland at the moment. Their strength in depth is better than it has been for the last 20 odd years. Bradbury did brilliantly when he came on.
If they can win that they really will start to get excited because they then have Italy, which they should win. And then France at home.
It really might come down to that last game in Dublin on the final weekend of the tournament. Again, that is not getting ahead of ourselves. It is simply the reality.
Scotland have put themselves in the mix. Now Townsend’s men are in it to win it.
This Six Nations has got off to a rollicking start. It was always set up for drama and the Calcutta Cup certainly delivered on that front.
 
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)

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