Scotland have yet to achieve a win against England at under-20 level but last night, in their 11th defeat to the men in white, the Scots, by posting a strong second half performance after the break showed that the gap is narrowing.
On a greasy surface at the Northern Echo Arena in Darlington, England won the game in the second quarter when their power play up front complemented by some adventurous handling in midfield produced three tries. Scotland, however, inspired by effective ball carrying from No 8 Magnus Bradbury, scored the only points of the second half and, moreover, were able to stop England adding to their tally.
“The team gave everything today and I’m proud of them. They worked hard for each other,” said Scotland under-20 head coach Sean Lineen, adding: “We have to focus on what will be a massive game next week against Ireland.”
Lineen’s opposite number Jon Callard admitted “They came back at us in the second and caused us problems.”
Scotland put themselves under pressure straight from the kick-off when stand-off Rory Hutchinson put the ball out on the full but a knock-on by England from the ensuing scrum provided relief for the Scots.
England’s dominant play quickly brought results with a penalty goal by stand-off Rory Jennings but a quick response by Scotland brought a equalising penalty by scrum-half George Horne.
The kicking contest continued with Jennings and Horne exchanging further penalty goals before the England No 10 put his side ahead with his third success in front of the posts.
Then a mistake by Scotland at a line-out in their own 22-metre area allowed flanker Will Owen to surge towards the line ending with scrum-half James Mitchell scoring the game’s first try, Jennings adding the conversion.
England continued to look useful with ball in hand and, from a move up the left touchline, they switched the attack, Jennings putting in a deftly judged cross kick to set up a try for prop Paul Hill. Jennings missed the conversion attempt and then failed to add the extra points to a pushover try from No 8 James Chisholm as England went in at the interval 26-6 ahead. Scotland looked more purposeful at the beginning of the second half and came close to a first try when Magnus Bradbury drove at the line only for the No 8 to be tackled into touch at the corner.
But Scotland were looking more confident and turning the tables on England with good ball carries and excellent line kicking.
The Scots’ pressure finally paid off after a surge from the lineout by replacement hooker Ross Graham that splintered the England defence, allowing Hutchinson to take the attack to the right.
The ball was then shipped via skipper Jamie Ritchie and full back Ruairi Howarth to winger Ben Robbins to give the former New Year Sprint winner his second try of the championship.
The game was turning towards Scotland but, frustratingly, the visitors were unable to take chances close to the line and spectacularly so when they lost a scrum after England were reduced to 14 men following the dismissal of prop Seb Adeniran-Olule for a foul at the contact area.
Both sides tried to conjure up a further score but in the final few minutes but without success, the game ending with England as winners but far from satisfied.
Scorers: England U20: Tries: Mitchell, Hill, Chisholm. Con: Jennings. Pens: Jennings (3). Scotland U20: Try: Robbins. Pens: Horne (2).
England U20: A Morris (Saracens); G Perkins (Saracens), J Marchant (Harlequins), N Tompkins (Saracens), H Packman (Northampton); R Jennings (Bath), J Mitchell (Sale); S Adeniran-Olule (Harlequins), J Walker (Yorkshire Carnegie), P Hill (Yorkshire Carnegie), K Treadwell (Harlequins), C Ewels (Bath), S Skinner (Exeter), W Owen (Leicester), J Chisholm (Harlequins). Substitutes: J Innard (Exeter) for Jack 53, O Hills (Leicester) for Adeniran-Olule 65, C Parker (Sale) for Hill 68, J Batley (Gloucester) for Treadwell 68, C Beckett (Leicester) for Skinner 53, Stuart Townsend (Exeter), for Mitchell 65 T Fowlie (London Irish) for Tompkins 56, P O’Conor (Wasps) for Morris 53.
Scotland U20: R Howarth (Edinburgh/Gala); B Robbins (Edinburgh/Watsonians), A Russell (Stirling County), P Kelly (Le Parc), A Coombes (London Scottish); R Hutchinson (Northampton), G Horne (Glasgow Hawks); M McCallum (Aberdeen Grammar Rugby), S James (Wasps), Z Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors/Glasgow Hawks), A Davidson (Glasgow Warriors/Glasgow Hawks), L Carmichael (Melrose), N Irvine-Hess (Melrose), J Ritchie (Edinburgh), M Bradbury (Edinburgh/Boroughmuir). Substitutes: R Graham (Hawick) for James 54, D Elkington (Watsonians) for McCallum 54, J Owlett (Exeter Chiefs/ Exeter University) for Fagerson 77, S Cummings (Glasgow Warriors/Glasgow Hawks) for Davidson 40, A Miller (Edinburgh/Watsonians) for Irvine-Hess 40, B Vellacott (Gloucester/Hartpury College) for Horne 71.
Referee: A Brace (Ireland)