Did dressing-room disagreement spark Scotland’s revival?
Scotland’s man of the match at Twickenham, Finn Russell, revealed he had disagreed with coach Gregor Townsend’s tactical plan at ?half-time in London, and urged his team instead to ignore the coach’s demands.
“I actually had an argument with Gregor at half-time,” said the Scotland stand-off when interviewed live on camera immediately after the match. “He was telling us to kick and I said, ‘every time we kick they run it back at us and cut us open’. We were tackling them behind the gainline so we had to fix that.
“I’m gutted,” Russell continued. “At half-time everyone would have written Scotland off. For us to come out and have a second half like that shows the character the boys have. I’m just so disappointed we didn’t manage to finish it off at the end. The first half we got caught off guard then in the second half we had nothing to lose and we played our rugby. We played good Scottish rugby in the second half.”
Whatever the truth about that half-time talk it worked for the Scots who were utterly transformed from the side who had tamely allowed England to run in four unanswered tries in the opening half hour.
“That was a unique game,” Townsend marvelled at the close of play. “I have never been involved in a game like that as a player or a coach. Not many games of rugby end up being 31-0, then 38-31 and then end up 38-38 especially when you consider the team we were up against. It’s the most unusual game I have been involved in.”
Townsend conceded that at half-time the Scots had focused on winning the second half and restoring some pride rather than harbouring any thoughts of winning this one outright, and that was seconded by skipper Stuart McInally, pictured.
“It wasn’t nice,” he replied when asked about the atmosphere in the Scottish sheds at the break. “We gave England a lot of what they wanted in the first half. A lot of the kicking was part of our game plan but our chase wasn’t as good. It allowed them to get their dangerous runners into the game and space to run. They were carving us a bit and we were chasing our tails.
“We spoke about our kick chase and slowing down that first breakdown. We then scored some great tries in that second half which was really pleasing. We spoke about just winning the second half.
“Did we think at that time that we could score 30-odd points? Probably not, given the way we had played in the first half. But we scored a try and then another and started to believe and scored some great tries, some of them were brilliant, Sam Johnson’s which put us into the lead was fantastic.
“It’s a weird one as we were thinking we’d done it right at the end. I don’t know if regret is the right word, we were disappointed to concede under the sticks as well as that was the game gone to the draw. That was frustrating.”
Whatever the truth about Russell and Townsend falling out, the Scots held on to the ball for long periods in the second half which allowed the stand-off to have a big say in the scintillating fightback.
“Credit goes to Finn Russell,” said Townsend. “I thought his decision making was excellent, he put pressure on England with his kicking game. He attacked very well with ball in hand and had some big moments in defence too.”
Townsend also singled out three other players for specific praise; Magnus Bradbury who played the full 80 with precious little rugby in his legs this season, Darcy Graham who grabbed a brace in what was only his second international start and Sam Johnson who, the coach said, had claimed “one of the best tries Scotland have ever scored”.
It was difficult for fans to know quite what to think at full-time; anger at Scotland’s slow start, delight at that second-half fightback or a sense of loss at England’s late, lamented equaliser. It seems like the Scotland squad were equally bemused.
“I am very happy with the draw considering what happened in the first half,” said the coach, “but the players are gutted at the end of the game, really disappointed not to have won which seems incredible to think when you are 31-0 down to have accomplished that in the second half.”