Forwards roll back years to pack a punch
IN THAT famous Grand Slam Calcutta Cup match 20 years ago, the Scottish forwards demonstrated their intention of taking on their illustrious opponents from the start, with Finlay Calder memorably thumping into white shirts and then the entire pack driving him onwards.
No such stirring opening yesterday, but over 80 minutes, the effect was the same as the Scottish pack never took a step backwards and fronted up to a bigger but definitely not better eight. Had they a set of backs with a cutting edge, this pack would lead a Scotland team that could take on anyone.
Though never dominating for any length of time, the forwards more than matched the English, and the wonder must be why both scrum-halves, Chris Cusiter and Rory Lawson, and stand-off Dan Parks sometimes kicked away possession when the Scottish pack was desperate to get the ball and make yards.
Particularly in the first half, the back row of Kelly Brown, John Barclay and Johnnie Beattie was immense, but the tight five did their fair share in the loose. All eight forwards showed speed to the breakdown and knew what to do when they got there. One example was a clean English ruck after 25 minutes which was turned over by sheer weight of numbers and an aggressive rucking style that would have had Jim Telfer purring.
Yet as the match wore on, it was clear that England would slow down the Scottish ball at every ruck, an activity at which they are masters. But even as the white steamroller tried to ruck its way towards the Scottish 22 in additional time, the Scottish pack remained disciplined and kept them out.
The first lineout after a minute was exemplary, Ross Ford nailing it to Jim Hamilton. For the remainder of the match, Scotland ruled their own lineout but England were equally competent and the plans for Hamilton and Al Kellock to disrupt the English throw-in did not materialise. What was clear was that Scotland had worked hard on varying their lineout tactics, and that helped make this vital area of the game secure.
The scrums were no fun, largely due to a slippy pitch. In an effort to impose some regularity on what can be a problem area, at the initial scrummages referee Marius Jonker talked to the front rows, issuing precise instructions as to what he wanted, and a free kick against England for going in early showed he was going to be strict, though he also showed a fine understanding of the difficult underfoot conditions.
For England, the front row of Tim Payne, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole outweighed their opponents by an average of 3kgs per man, but between them totalled less caps than Allan Jacobsen, who was making his 44th appearance. Cole in particular had only three caps to his name before yesterday and his inexperience showed when he conceded the first penalty at a ruck right in front of the referee. He soon began to use his height and weight to try to grind down Jacobsen, but the man they call Chunk buckled down to his task and it was Cole who was warned about his binding technique after half-an-hour, though Jonker also had a quiet word about Euan Murray's similar problems.
Scotland's confidence from the start in the tight five was shown by the decision to kick to the corner which ultimately led to Parks' second penalty.
Apart from a couple of moments of indiscipline, the Scottish pack played well in the first half, and can feel aggrieved about Wilkinson's second score in particular, as touch judge Carlo Damasco had spotted Dylan Hartley's attempt to punch Ross Ford but he and the referee agreed not to overturn the penalty, apparently on the basis that it was only an attempted smack.
At the start of the second half, Hamilton gave away a penalty, kicking the ball out of Danny Care's hands – always a no-no, especially when referees will tend to favour a 5ft 8in scrum-half over a 6ft 8in lock. It was the start of a rocky period for the Scots as the English pack, and particularly the back row of James Haskell, Joe Worsley and Nick Easter, motored in the way they can – big men moving at speed and hitting hard.
Yes, the Scottish pack shuddered but it did not break, and having done his bit, Hamilton went off to be replaced by Nathan Hines who brought his own fireworks to the party.
Referee Jonker gave England a final warning about their killing of the ball at the breakdown just before the terrible accident which saw Kelly Brown and Ugo Monye collide, the Scot retiring to be replaced by Alan MacDonald. England paid heed to the ref, and prospered while Scotland's discipline began to fray.
The series of scrums and rucks on the Scottish line just after the hour-mark proved crucial. England had sent on fresh muscle in the shape of Lewis Moody and Steve Thompson but the Scottish scrum did not buckle, though Euan Murray ended up being a bit harshly penalised for not rolling away.
At the end, a draw might have seemed the right result for neutrals, but if you are a Scottish forward this morning you can celebrate a victory – a moral one, but hey, we Scots will take any win going.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 26 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 16 C
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