Calcutta Cup analysis: Rugby – bloody hell!

E very Scottish rugby supporter is spoiled for choice this Monday morning when seeking something from the astonishing events at Twickenham to smile about and escape the start of another weekly grind.

One will surely be the beaming face of Finn Russell in that post-game interview with the man-of-the-match medal so rightly draped around his neck. From his mouth came all the proper remarks about being disappointed Scotland hadn’t got the win, the frustration that the long wait for a triumph at Twickenham continues, that they couldn’t quite hold out that last desperate onslaught from the English, but what clearly emanated from him, without wishing to put words in his mouth, was just a sense “that was bloody good fun, when can I get to do it again?”

In these times of Brexit tension, political feuding and appalling events taking place around the globe, online ranting and, in other footballing codes, lunatics running on to the field of play to physically attack participants, it is worth remembering that sport should be fun. A glorious unscripted bit of showbusiness that reveals and celebrates the human spirit, inspires and entertains.

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Russell, for all his unbridled talent, has had some undoubted occasional shockers in a Scotland jersey, but quite rightly has shaken every one of them off. Bill Shankly was a great man with a brilliant turn of phrase but chucking or kicking a ball about a field of grass with your mates is not more important than life or death in any universe.

Man of  the match Finn Russell celebrates with replacement Chris Harris after scoring Scotlands equalising try. Picture: PA.
Man of the match Finn Russell celebrates with replacement Chris Harris after scoring Scotlands equalising try. Picture: PA.

What a game! ‘Rugby, bloody hell’, as Sir Alex Ferguson might put it. Words fail even professional wordsmiths on occasion. Being Scottish and a fan of sport can often be trying as all of us know so let’s rejoice when a moment comes along that fills the chest with pride and leaves the mind spinning with astonishment.

Jim Baxter entered national folklore for a bit of carefree keepy-uppy at Wembley in 1967 so why shouldn’t Russell for his extraordinary exploits at Twickenham on Saturday? Perhaps if it had been 10-10 at half-time rather than the gaping chasm of 31-7 in arrears he wouldn’t have cut loose with such unshackled derring-do but we’ll never know. Sport doesn’t have a set script.

Head coach Gregor Townsend was an evident mix of emotions afterwards too. It can be an easy cliche to refer back to the way the Gala maverick played the game as a blueprint for his coaching career, which does a disservice to someone who led Glasgow to a historic Pro12 title in 2015. There is an old rugby saying that “the beers taste sweeter after a win” and you could sense part of the man who was raised in the nation’s rugby heartland would have swapped all of what transpired in mind-boggling fashion for a drab 6-3 win but, it has to be said, another part of him feeling that all games of rugby should be like this.

Of course, calm analysis, even in the wake of such amazing drama, is necessary. The argument that when Townsend’s Scotland are good they are very very good, but when they’re not they can be very average, remains. But, let’s be honest, and pay due credit to the role of Vern Cotter, pictured, in the national team’s development, that is a welcome improvement on the long years when we were just, frankly, a bit rubbish.

Thoughts spring forward in a World Cup year and a cold assessment of the entire Six Nations campaign would have to be mixed, even taking into account this 38-38 epic which, for all its spills and thrills, did leave a bitter frustration – similar to the 35-34 loss to Australia in the World Cup quarter-final at the same venue nearly four years ago – that Scotland just can’t seem to close these things out.

On that score, some gracious and sporting credit should go to England for their late exploitation of a frustrating penalty conceded just before the clock ticked over, George Ford scurrying over to save his side’s blushes. Would Scotland have responded in such a way if they had blown a 31-point lead?

Americans may find it unfathomable and in many sports, for reasons of simple practicality in knockout competition, things like penalty shoot-outs are basic necessities, but there is a lot to be said for an honourable draw. The randomness of an over-time lottery or tiebreaker is always a cruel infliction on those who have given as good as they’ve got.

The main takeaway for Scotland from a Six Nations hit by a ferocious barrage of injuries before and during must be that they showed character and skill that should inspire belief. They fell short at times, albeit against top-quality teams like worthy Grand Slam champions Wales. Paris will forever remain a nagging frustration as a shambles of a France team were made to look so much better than they are.

But the glorious fightback of Twickenham was a brilliant response that delivered what any Scottish fan ever asks for. Pride in the jersey.