Finn Russell’s wizardry gives Scotland a magic show to remember
First Twickenham win in 38 years was deserved. Any other result would have been a travesty
Scotland’s Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg celebrate after beating England at Twickenham. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
When a rivalry has been maturing for 150 years, the taste of success is always intoxicating. For Scotland this was as special as they come, a Calcutta Cup moment to toast for many decades. Up went Gregor Townsend’s arms at the final whistle and an entire nation rose with him. After 38 years of failing to conquer Twickenham, it is finally England’s turn to stare mournfully at the bottom of an empty glass.
It was totally deserved, too. Any other result would have been a travesty. Could this yet be Scotland’s year? There are still four rounds to go and Paris will be no picnic but at least they have broken their usually sluggish opening weekend habit and shown they can hold firm away from home. For 24 hours at least, they can raise a glass to the rugby fates and dream of even sweeter days to come.
At the heart of the drama, as always, was Scotland’s master blender, Finn Russell. The watching British & Irish Lions coach, Warren Gatland, will not have headed away with an entirely positive list of notes but it was Russell’s cross kick which supplied the all-important only try of the game, well taken after half an hour by the strong, South African-reared winger Duhan Van der Merwe.
There were also a gorgeous range of subtle defence-turning diagonal kicks: little sliders, lofted wedges and a couple of other chips that missed their target by only a couple of inches. A thumping tackle on Jonny May was also proof the outhalf does not simply deal in frilly cameos. Less brilliant were an untimely yellow card late in the first half, a couple of missed kicks at goal and some other avoidable little mistakes that will have caused Gatland to wince ever so slightly.
The Russell sin-binning was definitely one of them, a flapping arm failing to distract the officials from the reflex jerk of the right leg which tripped up Ben Youngs as he attempted to dummy his way through. The TMO, Joy Neville, is as sharp-eyed as they come and once the images were replayed on the big screen there was only ever going to be one outcome. An ode to Joy? Russell wasn’t in any mood for singing as he disappeared for 10 minutes.
It was a blow for Townsend’s team because until then Scotland had barely put a foot wrong. They were calm, deliberate and, crucially, smart: direct long throws over the lineout, the forwards standing off as England sought to drive, using Russell as a decoy rather than the main man. “Russell, Russell, Russell!” yelled the English forwards as they charged towards the blue number 10. Often they would arrive and find the ball elsewhere.
It helped that Scotland’s wizard had a hugely promising young assistant at his elbow; Cameron Redpath looked as if he had been playing Test rugby for years. The 21-year-old, though, was far from the only visitor making an impact. Hamish Watson does not look the biggest opposite some of the English giants but he was absolutely everywhere. The red scrum-cap of hooker George Turner was also conspicuous, while Jonny Gray looks an even better player since he fetched up at Exeter.
It was never remotely akin to the bonkers 38-38 draw of a couple of years ago but, in some ways, Scotland supporters will have relished this even more. Control and discipline are supposed to be England’s trump cards; this time it was the Scots who were as rock solid as Stephen Hendry amid the eerie snooker-hall hush.
At the back Stuart Hogg also lived up to his pre-match pledge to play with spirit and positivity, his booming boot repeatedly helping to pin the English back. Van der Merwe looks a quality addition and the other tartan Boks also made their presence felt. By the end they were not only dancing, to borrow from the late Bill McLaren, in the socially distanced streets of Hawick and Galashiels, but in the Western Cape as well.
England: Daly; Watson, Slade, Lawrence, May; Farrell, Youngs; Genge, George, Stuart; Itoje, Hill; Wilson, Curry, Vunipola. Replacements: Malins for Watson (76), Ford for Lawrence (69), Robson for Youngs (56), Obano for Genge (72), Cowan-Dickie for George (56), Williams for Stuart (63), Lawes for Wilson (53), Earl for Vunipola (67). Sin Bin: Vunipola (24).
Scotland: Hogg; Maitland, Harris, Redpath, Van Der Merwe; Russell, Price; Sutherland, Turner, Z Fagerson; Cummings, J Gray; Ritchie, Watson, M Fagerson. Replacements: Jones for Maitland (72), Steele for Price (69), Kebble for Sutherland (64), Cherry for Turner (67), Nel for Z Fagerson (64), R. Gray for Ritchie (66), G Graham for M Fagerson (64). Not Used: Van Der Walt. Sin Bin: Russell (38).
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland).