Victories over our near neighbours are rare at any level so the Scotland A team was always up against it in their attempt to register what would have been their third successive win over their English counterparts.
A draw on the night was probably a fair result especially after the Scots found themselves trailing by 13-6 early in the second half.
This was a topsy-turvy match that was there for either side to grab and make their own but neither quite managed it. The Scots struggled to match a physical England side that dominated possession and territory for long stretches of this match. The visitors got their noses in front just before half-time, while the Scots staged a spirited second-half fightback simply by holding on to the ball for more than two of three phases.
“If there was a slight frustration it was that we could have played some more,” said coach Shade Munro. “But we did our analysis and conditions were meant to be awful here tonight, so a lot of our game plan was to kick out of our half and turn them but maybe we didn’t back ourselves enough in that area.”
Not for the first time the Scottish loose forwards lost the battle of the breakdown where England bossed things mercilessly. The muscular visitors won the turnover count with something to spare and, in doing so, denied the home side from generating momentum. On numerous occasions the Scots took the ball into contact and the English emerged with it, or the referee’s arm went skywards.
Given that issue, the Scots did pretty well elsewhere, especially in the tight exchanges. The forwards drove several mauls to good effect and they stopped England’s big men from doing the same whenever they attempted to march a maul upfield.
The heavens opened just before the kick-off to ensure that the ball was greasy. The Scots rarely even attempted to move the ball, opting to kick on the first or second phase, especially when inside their own half.
Ally Hogg won the man of the match and Jonny Gray impressed but few others put their hands up for Calcutta Cup consideration, least of all fly-half Greig Tonks whose evening lasted just 36 minutes when he was replaced by Bath’s Tom Heathcote after suffering a shoulder injury. Heathcote finished the home hero by levelling the scores with a late penalty.
The first try came five minutes before half-time when Scotland were leading 6-3, a drop goal and penalty to Henry Pyrgos against three points from Freddie Burns’ boot. England moved the ball wide to the left, winger Adam Thompstone chipped ahead and Scotland’s full-back Jack Cuthbert guddled the ball, conceding a five-metre scrum. Three resets later, England had a penalty try which was a little surprising because, up to that point, the Scots set scrum had dominated.
England extended their advantage by three more shortly after the restart. Another Scottish mistake, this time by winger Byron McGuigan, led to another five-metre scrum but the Scots won the turnover with the same wheeling tactic that the French referee had previously deemed illegal. Eventually the home team got a toe-hold in English territory, thanks in part to the Saxons’ second yellow card of the evening. Scrum-half Dan Robson sat out ten minutes of the first half and replacement fly-half Henry Slade followed him to the stand in the second.
The one-man advantage seemed to bolster Scottish spirits. They kicked for touch, drove the lineout and, a few plays later, McGuigan was over in the left-hand corner. Heathcote’s touchline conversion levelled the scores at 13-13 as the match moved into the final quarter.
England got another penalty, 40 yards out, after the Scots were pinged for holding on yet again and centre Elliot Daly made good the kick to edge the visitors ahead again and still there was one final twist in this tale.
Four minutes from time Heathcote scuffed a tricky penalty from wide on the right. One minute later the same man was teeing up another attempt from a slightly easier angle after Saxon flanker Luke Wallace obstructed Cuthbert’s kick chase.
This time Heathcote was successful and the final few minutes were wasted with England running the clock down.
Scorers: Scotland A: Try: McGuigan. Con: Heathcote. Pen: Pyrgos. Drop goal: Pyrgos, Heathcote. England Saxons: Try: Pen Try Con: Burns. Pen: Burns (2), Daly.
Scotland A: Cuhbert; Fife (Vernon, 60 min), Bennett, Grove, McGuigan; Tonks (Heathcote, 36), Pyrgos (Hart, 56); Reid (Allan, 72), Brown (Bryce, 72), Welsh (Kalman, 50), Low (Atkins, 56), Gray, Harley, Cowan (Holmes, 56), Hogg.
England Saxons: Miller, Rokodugani (Sharples, 45), Daly, Eastmond, Thompstone; Burns (Slade, 52), Robson; Waller (Catt, 63), Ward (George, 45), Wilson, Stooke (Mathews, 63), Kruis, Clark, Wallace, Dickinson (Ewers, 63)