THE century of games ended for Scotland as it began, with a victory, and, as a result of it, the Scots surely have their clearest sight of the Triple Crown since they last won it in 1938.
Scorers – Scotland: Tries: D Johnston, Kennedy, Cons: Dods (2), Pens: Dods (2). England: Pens: Hare (2).
The prize has been within their reach several times during these barren years, but never before in Dublin.
But this is dangerous talk – the very stuff which Messrs MacGregor, Aitken and Telfer were anxious to banish from the after-match conversations on Saturday. Nevertheless, Scotland’s forward-based win over England, as comprehensive as any in recent years, must have filled them with a rare confidence for the third leg against Ireland next month.
The Scottish forwards, as they had been at Cardiff, were immense – a finely blended unit, alert and supportive. Their breakaways forced England into elementary errors. They foraged with devastating accuracy. David Leslie, given less scope in the lineout than he enjoyed against Wales, had the reflexes of a cat in the loose, Iain Paxton was always where he was needed and, if it is possible to grade performances amidst such excellence, Jim Calder was, perhaps, the best of the three.
Alan Tomes, in his 35th international, played one of his finest games, and in partnership with Bill Cuthbertson, who went off at half-time with a groin injury, mined some priceless possession from the rucks. The front row were immovable, asserting themselves in the first scrummage of the game when they wheeled and disrupted the English heel.
Even when John Beattie replaced Cuthbertson in the second row, there was no discernible loss of power in the Scottish shove. Colin Deans’ contribution in the loose was staggering.
Every Scot – and, with Beattie and Jim Pollock, who replaced Euan Kennedy, on the field, there were 17 of them – played his part to the full. Most pleasing of all was John Rutherford’s return to form. Gone were the doubts which had clouded his judgment at Cardiff.
Clear in mind and purpose, his kicking in conditions which demanded it, was decisive. Only once during the game did a kick fail to find its target and, even then, the Scots gained ground because, by then, poor Dusty Hare was a broken reed. On the slippery surface, the full-back was tugged first one way and then t’other, while England’s forwards were making their ponderous way back to lend assistance.
Hare was harassed unmercifully by Roger Baird and Keith Robertson on the wings and by David Johnston and Kennedy in the middle, and ultimately there was no place for him to hide. There has not been a demolition job like it since Barry John brought down the curtain on Fergie McCormack’s international career in Dunedin 13 years ago. To complete a wretched day, Hare missed six kicks at goal from eight attempts.
Scotland’s choice of Rutherford as chief tactician was so much the wiser than England’s decision to use Nick Youngs, who was under too much pressure to be able to kick with anything like Rutherford’s accuracy. England were unable to provide the impetus from their scrummage to give Youngs the time and space he had used so effectively against New Zealand.
Fitness was also a factor. Peter Wheeler, who has played three times since November, was out of touch. Maurice Colclough, apart from taking some lineout possession in the second half against Beattie, whose inexperience at the front was perfectly understandable, was a passenger. Paul Simpson, so dynamic against the All Blacks, was found wanting with the ball behind him, and when Peter Winterbottom went off in the second half with a bruised hip, England had lost their most committed and productive forward.
The conditions suited Scotland, whose rucking has improved with every game. England’s attempts to move the ball by hand were doomed and only twice during the game did they make any headway. They might have scored from one surge in the first half but fatal indecision in front of the Scottish posts disheartened them.
Scotland’s attacks invariably carried more threat. Rutherford’s first kick, high and across field, might have led to a try had it stuck in Johnston’s hand, Roy Laidlaw’s chip to the line eluded Baird by a hair’s breadth, and in the second half, another wickedly angled prod from Laidlaw deceived Mike Slemen but spilled from Rutherford’s grasp.
The first try, though by no means a classic, nevertheless required all Johnston’s speed and close control to score it. Both England centres over-ran what, in football parlance, might be termed a ‘50-50 ball’ in midfield. Paxton hacked on and Johnston, looking from some positions in the ground but not, importantly, from referee David Burnett’s, a shade offside, dribbled past Hare to score. Peter Dods, with the accuracy and composure which have been welcome companions in his international career to date, kicked the goal.
It soon became plain that if England couldn’t kick their goals they would not score at all. Clive Woodward was wide with a drop-goal attempt and Hare missed with his first four penalties. Youngs made a trenchant blind-side run which was bravely halted by Robertson, and, on the stroke of half-time, Hare’s persistence was rewarded with a 40-yard penalty.
Scotland have scored some timely tries this season – Pollock’s against New Zealand, Aitken’s against Wales – and, on Saturday, they delivered the most savage blow to England’s hopes within a minute of the resumption of play.
Laidlaw’s kick down the west touchline once again revealed Scottish speed over the ground but, most significantly, exposed Hare’s lack of it. Calder won the ball, Tomes drove forward and, with England’s defence caught flat, Kennedy scored Scotland’s second try and provided Watsonians with their matching set.
Dods’s conversion put the Scots 12-3 ahead, a lead which was almost immediately reduced when Hare kicked his second penalty, from six attempts. He was to miss twice more before the end. Throughout the game, therefore, the greatest danger to Scotland came, not from England, but from the Scots themselves. They gave away far too many penalties which, on the day went unpunished, but which could have lost them the game.
Burnett is a most experienced referee, tolerant and understanding, yet three times the Scots chose to argue with him and, on each occasion, they were marched ten metres closer to their own line. A cautionary note but not one on which to end. England were almost as profligate. Rutherford swept them back upfield four times in the second half after they had conceded penalties in attacking positions, and Dods’s two penalties did justice to the Scots’ superiority.
Scotland: P Dods; K Robertson, D Johnston, A Kennedy (J Pollock), G Baird; J Rutherford, R Laidlaw; J Aitken (capt), C Deans, I Milne, W Cuthbertson (J Beattie), A Tomes, J Calder, I Paxton, D Leslie.
England: W Hare; J Carleton, C Woodward, G Davies, M Slemen; L Cusworth, N Youngs; G Pearce, P Wheeler (capt), C White, M Colcough, S Bainbridge, P Simpson, J Scott, P Winterbotttom (J Hall).
Referee: D Burnett (IRFU).