Looking ahead to Saturday’s game Stuart Hogg considered the potential impact of Storm Ciara and, not unjustly, said: “It’s classic Scottish weather, we’re used to it now.”
And, in a sense, he was right. Those raised in this corner of the world are not unused to sheeting rain and icy cold wind. We have grown as resistant to it as we have Morris dancing, warm beer and qualifying for major football tournaments.
There are some days that push even the most weather-worn Scot to his or her extremes, however, and Saturday was certainly one of those. An absolute dog of a day got the only kind of game of rugby it could possibly offer.
Bitty, error-strewn bordering on the farcical at times, it was so bad that even the old-school rugby purists in attendance must have been thinking “surely there must be something better to be doing on a Saturday evening”. Just awful.
And, to put the tin lid on it, Scotland lost. Of course they did.
Like Dublin the week before, there was no lack of effort and flashes of encouragement at times, but with the scores locked at 3-3 a long way into the second half you always felt England had the upper hand and would find a way to dig out the win. They did just that when Hogg endured another costly error, although it was nowhere near as bad as the drop over the line in Dublin and came with the mitigating circumstances of the horrible conditions.
In the 69th minute, the full-back tracked a George Ford probing kick and found himself caught between two stools as Mother Nature and the oval design of a rugby ball contrived to create a perfect storm. Hope that it would trickle over the line and allow a Scottish 22 drop out quickly turned to desperation as the ball held up. A snap decision had to be made and was almost botched as Hogg just about got it over and down to concede an English scrum five.
The ball had squirmed out from under him and Owen Farrell had pounced but the Scottish captain was this time reprieved rather than exposed by TV replays. The relief was short lived, though, as the superior English forwards made the most of the attacking platform and drove sub Ellis Genge over for the winning try.
Dublin was frustrating but did come with some positives but it’s hard to say what you take out of Saturday’s loss of the Calcutta Cup after a rare two-year stay north of the border apart from a close shave with hypothermia and yet another moment questioning why you don’t just head off to a Caribbean island and start up a beach bar.
Another losing bonus point, a game Scotland were in until near the end but another occasion when Gregor Townsend’s side were simply outmuscled at the crucial points. Of the last 15 Test matches played under his tenure Scotland have only managed to beat Italy, Georgia (twice), France in a World Cup warm-up friendly, Samoa and Russia.
“Today’s game, as you see from the stats, was very unusual,” said Townsend, above. “There were about 80 kicks in the game and lots of mistakes.
“The weather was definitely a factor in how you played. It was not impossible to move the ball to the back line but in the 22 it was going to be pick and go, maybe a kicking option to mix it up but very risky to do more than a tight strategy in that area which does limit your options.
“They are a big pack and to make extra metres takes a huge amount of effort, gaining penalties in these conditions are probably more realistic than scoring tries.”
All roads to redemption lead to Rome, as they so often have for Scotland in the Six Nations era, and you would like to think more benign conditions await in the Eternal City a week on Saturday.
Townsend said that thoughts had not turned to that most must-wins of all must-wins in the immediate aftermath of this defeat, which makes it five losses and a draw in their past six Six Nations encounters since they beat the Italians at the start of the last campaign.
“Not just now. They [the players] are hurting,” said Townsend. “After a defeat you feel the pain a bit more physically.
“Most of our backs couldn’t feel their hands or feet at the end of the game. It’s not a normal game of rugby. This is my third season as Scotland coach and, up until today, we had one game with rain which was against Argentina but nothing like that.
“It was a different form of sport that you have to adapt to and I am really pleased how we adapted to it in the second half. I had concerns it was going to be a struggle for us in the second half because the wind was against us. To spend a lot of time in the 22 to get three points and potentially get another shot at goal was a credit to the work the players put in.
“Games stand alone in the Six Nations. That one stood alone because of the weather. But how you manage that and take your chances should apply in the dry or the wet. We didn’t do well enough to do that.
“At the end England, the first time they are in our 22 in the second half, they get a scrum five and scored pretty quickly. We need to make sure we are stronger around that area to make it hard for them to score.”