Gregor Townsend hails Greig Laidlaw’s role in sparking Scotland’s Calcutta Cup revival
This Calcutta Cup match swung one way then the other only to finish in the highest-scoring draw between two first class rugby nations in the history of the sport.
If most right-thinking people didn’t have the first clue what to think afterwards, the nice people at CVC private equity partners, who are trying to buy a chunk of this venerable old tournament, must have been frustrated. The Six Nations could add a zero on to their demands after this match and it would still be a bargain. The Championship is a priceless gem, the Koh-i-Noor of the rugby world.
Attack coaches will be getting bonus payments in their pay packet at the end of the month, paid for by defence coaches whose salaries have been docked for incompetence.
In the opening half-hour, England scored almost at will, running in four unanswered tries. The next 50 minutes belonged to Scotland, who saw England’s four tries and carved out six of their own. Stuart McInally started the ball rolling just before the break before four more arrived in a breathless third quarter, two of which fell to Darcy Graham, one each to Magnus Bradbury and the irrepressible Finn Russell.
With four minutes left, Sam Johnson scored a spectacular solo effort with an assist from stand-off Russell, who sent the centre on his way with an audacious no-look pass that sliced open the England defence with surgical precision.
Johnson finished brilliantly but Russell was the enabler at the heart of Scotland’s fightback.
“He was,” admitted Gregor Townsend, “but not on his own. He was probably getting better ball ahead of him and making decisions on the front foot to turn the opposition.
“It was easier than in the first half when all he was seeing was a line of defenders coming at him and the players outside him, and not much space to kick into.
“Credit also goes to our forward pack for giving us front-foot ball in the second half. Magnus [Bradbury] and the other players were carrying hard. I felt our scrum was very good, as we had at least parity. I felt a couple of times that we had a bit of a nudge on them in the scrum. That’s down to the good work that Danny Wilson has done with the squad, but also the six guys in the front row who played.”
The change in momentum was as startling as it was unexpected and Townsend talked about the fact that there is only ever a finite amount of confidence in any given sporting arena.
So if one team has their tails up it means, by definition, that the other side’s heads must be dropping and so it proved on Saturday.
He also admitted that former Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw, right, had played his part in a half-time dressing room that was surprisingly level-headed despite England holding a 31-7 lead.
“He [Laidlaw] was very calm,” said Townsend. “I wasn’t listening to it, but he spoke to Ali and Finn and the backs. The changing room was a calm place.
“To get those calm influencers in the team, Stuart [McInally] is another one, is a massive help to us as a coaching staff.”
With every additional try the Scots’ self-belief increased and England struggled to comprehend what was happening to them, never mind fix the problem. Which is when Fraser Brown threw them a lifeline.
The hooker had a horror show at the same ground two years ago, collecting an early yellow, and he was pinged fighting for a ball he should never have targeted on the halfway mark with the 80 minutes up and England trailing by seven.
They kicked to the corner. Adam Hastings made a good tackle and he might have been better advised to let the score in as it would have given George Ford, on for Farrell, a tricky touchline conversion.
Instead, the little stand-off nipped through a gap under the posts and converted his own try to grab a late draw almost four minutes over the regulation 80.
“He was really disappointed with the result and the fact that he’d given away the penalty,” said Townsend when asked about Brown. “He’s usually really good over the ball and he’s usually very legal. It’s really disappointing.
“There was chat after the game among management and players that maybe we should have let them score in the corner. But you can’t fault the effort.
“Adam Hastings had a great tackle in the corner and the players were doing all they could to stop England scoring.
“You would never think about letting a team score in the corner because of the standard of goal kicking these days.”
The excitement of Saturday’s humdinger of a match rather overshadowed the disappointing nature of the Scots’ campaign taken in the round.
They won just one match and finished fifth, seemingly unable to perform for anything like a full 80 minutes.
Having witnessed Scotland at their coruscating best in Saturday’s second half, it was impossible not to wonder why they don’t play that well a little more often. Perhaps they will put it all together at the World Cup, which is looming large just over the horizon. Certainly Townsend will hope for a little better luck when it comes to the long list of injured players that missed this tournament.
“Obviously we believe that, with everybody available, we’ll be stronger,” he said. “You never know what happens in the summer.
“It’s likely we’ll have less injuries than we have halfway through the season.
“It makes things more difficult selecting an initial squad for the World Cup and a final squad for the World Cup because there are players who have played really well for us in the last two or three weeks and they are going to be competing against players who have played really well for Scotland in the last two or three seasons.
“A lot will go down to how they train in the summer and how they play in the warm-up games.”