This may be the coach’s last Six Nations but if it is, he is going out in style. For the fifth time in six years, his team are going home with the Calcutta Cup. It’s a remarkable record given Scotland’s awful history at this ground in particular. Remarkably, Townsend has never lost at Twickenham and Saturday’s 29-23 victory means Scotland have now triumphed twice in a row at the stadium for the first time ever.
They were worthy winners, and with a bonus point too. Two tries from Duhan van der Merwe - one of them an absolute worldie - and one apiece from Huw Jones and Ben White were the headline acts but that barely does justice to a remarkable afternoon. The game ebbed and flowed and at times it looked as if England would mark new coach Steve Borthwick’s first game in charge with a win. The home crowd sang long and loudly, with Swing Low booming round the ground, but Scotland were always in touch and Finn Russell was creative and controlled, outsmarting England’s dual playmakers, Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell. The stand-off also contributed nine points with three conversions and a penalty.
Scotland had heroes across the team. Luke Crosbie, in his first Six Nations appearance, was immense. Jones and White more than justified their surprise selections. Richie Gray showed soft hands Russell would have been proud of. For England, it's back to the drawing board.
They had enjoyed the lion’s share of territory and possession in the opening exchanges but Scotland stayed calm and disciplined, soaking up the pressure and biding their time, and when they struck it was worth the wait. Stuart Hogg won a penalty in his own half and Scotland kicked for touch. From the lineout, Russell found Jones in a bit of space. The centre made headway and Scotland recycled, continuing to apply the pressure. And they made it count. The Huwpuilotu portmanteau has gained increasing currency on social media thanks to the pair’s exploits for Glasgow and they combined brilliantly for the opening try. Tuipulotu showed great composure to thread through a perfectly weighted grubber and Jones read it all the way to pounce. It was his fifth try in five matches against England. Russell converted and England suddenly found themselves 7-0 behind and a little bewildered.
They came roaring back. Scrum-half Jack van Poortvliet had a go and then Marcus Smith tried to shimmy his way through. Scotland were creaking and when the ball was played out the back of the ruck to Smith the stand-off floated a kick to the corner which Malins met perfectly on the bounce to score. Farrell dragged the conversion attempt wide but England were back.
Scotland looked unfazed and extended their lead in breathtaking fashion. Van der Merwe was five metres inside his own half when he took delivery of a long pass from Kyle Steyn. The big Edinburgh wing went on a mesmerising run, slaloming his way past five England defenders to score one of the great tries in this fixture. England won’t look back with much fondness on their attempts to tackle him, with No 8 Alex Dombrandt looking particularly lumbering, but van der Merwe simply swatted them away. It was a moment that will be replayed for years to come. Unfortunately for Scotland, Russell struck the post with the conversion attempt.
England’s early efforts had betrayed a lack of imagination, with the home side relying overly much on their kicking game, but they ended the half with a flourish. Malins grabbed his second try of the day, finishing off a fine overlap move as England played the ball through the hands, with Lewis Ludlum timing the final pass to perfection. Farrell, uncharacteristically, was off target again with the conversion but chipped over a penalty just before the break after WP Nel had been pinged at the breakdown. It meant Borthwick’s side went into the interval with a 13-12 lead they barely deserved.
England moved further ahead seven minutes into the second half. Ellis Genge, hammer of the Scots in 2020, powered over from close range and Farrell added the extras. Scotland now trailed by eight and needed to find a way back in. Dombrandt obliged, dropping the ball, and not for the first time. From the scrum, Hogg had a go but was denied. Scotland came again, and White seemed to fumble backwards from the ruck but recovered, pirouetted and made for the line, stepping inside Freddie Steward en route to score against England for the second successive season. Russell’s conversion made it a one-point game going into the final quarter.
Nobody could question Scotland’s ambition and they tried to regain the upper hand by running the ball from their own line. Jamie Ritchie started it and fed Steyn who released Hogg. The Scotland full-back went steaming up the right touchline but when he tried to play it back inside to Steyn the ball just eluded the winger’s grasp.England made the most of it, extending their lead with another Farrell penalty after Simon Berghan was guilty of hands in the ruck. But Scotland weren’t done. Russell continued to prompt and probe, floating out passes to willing takers. Steyn had a go down the left, then play moved to the right and, remarkably, it was the Scotland forwards who shifted the ball wide with some brilliantly quick passing. Fraser Brown, Richie Gray - as slick as you like - and then Matt Fagerson, before van der Merwe received it on the touchline. The winger still had plenty to do but cut inside and forced his way over with brute strength. Russell converted and the visitors now led 29-23 with less than five minutes remaining.England came back but Scotland held firm and when the hosts conceded a penalty with seconds left the game was done. Russell booted it high into the crowd and Scotland celebrated. Bring on Wales.
Scorers: England: Tries: Malins 2, Genge. Con: Farrell. Pens: Farrell 2.
Scotland: Tries: Jones, van der Merwe 2, White. Cons: Russell 3. Pen: Russell.
England: F Steward; M Malins, J Marchant (O Lawrence 76), O Farrell, O Hassell-Collins (A Watson 65); M Smith, J van Poortvliet (B Youngs 59); E Genge (M Vunipola 60), J George, K Sinckler (D Cole 60), M Itoje, O Chessum, L Ludlam, B Curry (N Isiekwe 60), A Dombrandt (B Earl 55). Replacement not used: J Walker.
Scotland: S Hogg (B Kinghorn 65); K Steyn, H Jones (C Harris 75), S Tuipulotu, D van der Merwe; F Russell, B White (G Horne 69); P Schoeman (J Bhatti 65), G Turner (F Brown 58), WP Nel (S Berghan 58), R Gray, G Gilchrist (J Gray 65), J Ritchie, L Crosbie (J Dempsey 58), M Fagerson.
Referee: Paul Williams (NZ)