Nicola Sturgeon drinking from the Calcutta Cup: the British press reacts

Scotland toast a win for the ages, the English inquest begins and Wales on the right track

Finn Russell with the Calcutta Cup. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

Finn Russell with the Calcutta Cup. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

 

Oh, what a perfect day.

Saturday saw Ireland’s Grand Slam’s challenge really ignite, while England’s chariot came to a shuddering, spluttering halt.

Joe Schmidt’s side are now three wins from three after a thrilling, fraught but ultimately deserved 37-27 win over Wales in Dublin.

Meanwhile Eddie Jones’s history chasers were finally given a taste of their own medicine, as they were out-played, out-fought and out-thought at Murrayfield.

Scotland’s warrior poets delivered coming of age performance in Edinburgh, holding their nerve in the second half to win 25-13 and lift the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 2008.

And now it is advantage Ireland heading into the final two rounds of the Six Nations - but three sides retain legitimate hopes of winning the Championship.

Gregor Townsend’s Scots will hold no fear heading to Dublin on March 10th following back-to-back wins over France and England, while the English can secure an unprecedented three-in-a-row with wins over Les Bleus and Ireland on St Patrick’s Day.

The only team unlikely to play a part as the tournament reaches a booming crescendo are Wales, whose Triple Crown duties are over following one fine win and two narrow defeats.

It is fascinatingly poised - here is a look at how the English, Scottish and Welsh press reacted after a brilliant day of Test match rugby.

Nicola Sturgeon

The Scotsman report First Minister Nicola Sturgeon drank from the Calcutta Cup in the changing rooms after - an image which shows how much this win meant to the Scottish.

And their writer Duncan Smith suggests it might be their finest ever: “Not just a win, but a win for the ages. A thrilling explosion of attacking flair and derring-do which ripped the seemingly invincible English apart.

“This was the stuff of dreams. The kind which, for Scottish sports fans, are so often punctured by waking reality and turned into a nightmare. But not this time.

“The debate begins now on whether this was the greatest Scotland rugby victory of all time.”

Meanwhile his colleague Aidan Smith points to the fine performance of Finn Russell as being a catalyst for Scotland’s win: “Russell was chest out, shoulders back, relaxed, a millions miles from being cowed, and sniffing the cold evening air for the next opportunity for a flairful intervention from his Pick ‘n Mix selection.

“He’d arrow a pass then point to the receiver where the ball should go next. He might even have been smiling as he did this, something which baffled observers earlier in the tournament when things came unstuck.”

Finn Russell inspired Scotland to victory over England. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP
Finn Russell inspired Scotland to victory over England. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP

This praise for Russell is echoed by Gerard Meagher in The Guardian (UK), he writes: “The fact that it was Russell as conductor-in-chief, with the weight of the world on his shoulders and by showing both his class as well as the composure so many observers felt he lacked, is all the more impressive.

“It goes down in the annals of history as one of Scotland’s wonderful Calcutta Cup victories and owes so much to Gregor Townsend’s determination to stick to his guns.”

While Scotland celebrate, the inquest will begin for England, and in the Independent (UK) Jack de Menezes has suggested Jones should be very concerned about the level of his side’s performance, writing that “in 25 previous matches under Eddie Jones, England have never played this badly.”

“He (Jones) vowed to learn from whatever errors that he and his side made, but another problem is that these lessons need to be learned quickly. The 2019 Rugby World Cup begins in 19 months’ time, and England cannot afford any more of these performances.”

Captain Hartless?

Elsewhere, in the Daily Mail (UK), columnist Clive Woodward has questioned the performance of Dylan Hartley, and his lack of leadership when an under-performing England needed it most.

He writes: “Welcome to the club, Eddie. It is almost a rite of passage for British coaches to get turned over at least once in their careers by an inspired Scotland side at Murrayfield and that’s what happened good and proper on Saturday. I’ve got the T-shirt as well. . .

“Saturday had a strange feeling from the off. England were rightly pre-match favourites but their attitude and intensity in the first half was just way off. It just wasn’t there. They froze and didn’t look prepared for what they found themselves confronted with.

Eddie Jones and Dylan Hartley after England’s defeat at Murrayfield. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty
Eddie Jones and Dylan Hartley after England’s defeat at Murrayfield. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty

“Not for the first time my heart sank to see Dylan Hartley go off by pre-arrangement after 55 minutes with his team desperately needing some leadership and inspiration.

“I can’t get my head around this finishing business. Can you imagine Lawrence Dallaglio or Martin Johnson going off at Murrayfield with 25 minutes to go when their team are in dire trouble?”

As England scratch their heads and Scotland celebrate, there will be a feeling of anti-climax to Wales’ final two Championship fixtures against Italy and France.

Wales came into the tournament with a severely patched-up squad, and in Wales Online Rob Lloyd has suggested Warren Gatland should experiment again in the tournament’s final two rounds.

Sobering

He writes: “With his side battered and bruised from a sobering afternoon in Dublin, Warren Gatland has accepted that the quest for a first Championship crown in five years is over. . .

“The reshuffle won’t be wholesale, Gatland has rarely gone down that route. But we can probably expect a handful of changes from the side that were pounded at the Aviva.”

The electric Liam Williams - a star of last summer’s Lions tour - was barely involved at the Aviva Stadium, which is a testament to Schmidt’s well-drilled machine.

Lloyd writes: “Ireland dished out a lesson in starvation tactics; Wales barely had crumbs to dine on.”

And also in Wales Online, the great Barry John has suggested Wales are on the right track - and has been effusive in his praise for Ireland.

He writes: “Even though Sexton had a rare off-day with his goalkicking, the way he orchestrated things in open play really was first class. His pass for Jacob Stockdale’s first try summed up his performance.

Liam Williams had one of his quieter afternoons as Wales were beaten 37-27 by Ireland. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters
Liam Williams had one of his quieter afternoons as Wales were beaten 37-27 by Ireland. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters

“And in Murray, Sexton has the perfect modern day rugby general dictating the tempo. They really are a terrific pair to be able to call upon.

“Ireland will be buoyant and if they take care of Scotland as I think they will, then there will be no reason why they can’t got to Twickenham on the final weekend and win a Grand Slam. What an occasion that could be on St Patrick’s Day.”

A perfect day indeed.

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