Perhaps the most satisfying moment on Saturday evening, when the enormity of what Scotland achieved really started to sink in, came when the shell-shocked England coach told the media “we won the second half”.
That was the wince-inducing line which was occasionally trotted out by certain Scotland coaches in the dark days of the previous decade.
It is certainly not what we expected to be hearing from Eddie Jones, who had led a team north who had only lost once in more than two years under the Aussie.
England may well have “won” that second 40 minutes by 7-3 but it was the epitome of a pyrrhic victory as the Scots’ brave defence, resilience and discipline was backed up by that sensational, never-to-be-forgotten opening half when under-pressure stand-off Finn Russell inspired a stunning onslaught of attacking verve which simply blew the champions away.
Man-of-the-match Russell was keen to stress the team effort in the delirious aftermath and that was not false modesty on his part. He is a play it as he sees it kind of guy – a philosophy which can go awry at times but always threatens to deliver the kind of magic we witnessed on Saturday.
There were stars all over the pitch for Scotland. On any other day, the two-try heroics of Huw Jones, dynamism of hooker Stuart McInally or world-class breakdown jackaling of skipper John Barclay would have wrapped up man-of-the-match accolades by country miles.
Another contender, arguably, could be Nigel Owens. The Welsh whistler has attained a fame that many top Test players fall well short of and must be the only ref who gets mobbed by young autograph hunters. His style is not to everyone’s taste but on Saturday he surely proved again, if there was any doubt, that he is the best in the world. It is interesting to ponder if the man in the middle had come from a certain other part of these islands, no names, no pack drill, if the outcome might have been different.
Rugby is a game of interpretation but Eddie Jones had no complaints, praising both Owens and the TMO for their handling of the game.
After Greig Laidlaw and Owen Farrell traded early penalties, the Scottish surge began when Huw Jones pounced on Russell’s teasing grubber.
Farrell pegged a penalty back before the Scotland stand-off was again at the heart of the Scottish try. His audacious long pass over the head of England centre Jonathan Joseph and into onrushing hands of the magnificent Jones took the Scots into the English 22. Quick ball was moved and it was Russell who floated another perfect pass to Maitland in the left corner.
The icing on the cake came when Jones continued his recent ability to hit the perfect angle. He left England No 8 Nathan Hughes flat-footed and not even the combined efforts of Anthony Watson and Mike Brown could stop the centre from claiming his tenth Scotland try in just 14 caps.
Farrell’s try at the start of the second half sent jitters around the stadium but Scotland dug in.
England were denied two tries by the eagle eye of Owens, first pulling Danny Care back from what would have been a scoring interception for an infringement by Joe Launchbury at the breakdown. Then Farrell’s score was ruled out correctly by the TMO after Owens’ suspicion that Courtney Lawes tackle, which dislodged the ball from Barclay had been a knock forward by the England man.
The match was effectively sealed 13 minutes from the end when impressive replacement flanker Sam Underhill was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle and Russell kicked the resultant penalty.
England continued to push but Scotland’s final act of defiance was to deny them the solace of a bonus point as the atmosphere rose to a deafening crescendo.
The feats of Russell and Jones grabbed the headlines and dominate the highlights reel but this was a victory built on a supreme effort by the forwards.
The Scottish scrum again defied the ever-present fears of imminent collapse against a huge English pack who had been training with the grizzled Georgians in their bid to crush their less experienced opposition front row. Just as Russell was at pains to share the plaudits, so too did Townsend pay tribute to the efforts of his forwards coach Dan McFarland.
“He has been outstanding in terms of the detail that goes into our scrum sessions, our forward play, whether that’s around the contact area or the lineout,” said Townsend of the assistant he brought with him from Glasgow. “We made huge advances in November with the way we maul and the way we defended mauls and I thought we did that really well today.
“Our scrum has been really solid. That’s a big credit to Dan, but it’s also a big credit to the players who have come in. Stuart McInally has played another 80-minute game for us really well. Gordon Reid and Jamie Bhatti are doing excellently at loosehead and Simon Berghan almost got a second 80 minutes. He carried well, scrummed well, defended well and it was great to see his performance against France backed up.
“It was also a boost when WP Nel came on with all his experience with ten minutes to go to shore up the scrum and be solid at the end.”
Townsend added: “We knew we have some very good players who can defend very well. We give England some different pictures in how we defend off lineouts and it worked in our favour.
“England have a big pack. They have three second rows in their team and their eight and seven are big men too. But we have excellent tacklers and people with speed who can get those big men to the floor quickly and can then make the next phase a slow one because they can get on the ball. Any attack will have success if they can create quick ball. If you don’t create quick ball it will be very tough because the defence will be in place. We managed to do that today.”