England fall flat in dramatic Six Nations finale against Scotland

 
Michael Searles
England v Scotland - Guinness Six Nations
George Ford scores a last minute try as England draw level (Source: Getty)

When Sam Johnson crossed the line to give Scotland a 38-31 lead over England with just three minutes left on Saturday, it looked as though the visitors were about to claim their first win at Twickenham in 36 years with the biggest comeback in Six Nations history.


England denied them with the final play of a game that finished 38-38 and became the highest scoring draw in international history instead, rounding off an exhilarating Test match.

Eddie Jones’s side looked unfazed by the knowledge that Wales had claimed the Grand Slam just prior to kick-off as they flew out of the blocks and took a 31-0 lead in as many minutes, only for Scotland to respond with six unanswered tries.

Wales came back from 16-0 down at half-time in this year’s opener against France and that remains the greatest comeback the Six Nations has seen, showing the magnitude of what Scotland came within seconds of doing.

For England, though, there are a number of questions to be answered after a day in which they could have claimed the Calcutta Cup and Six Nations, but ultimately left with nothing.


England’s complacency

Jones’s men looked well on their way to another bonus-point win at 31-0 and as Swing Low echoed around the stadium, there was an unmistakable feeling of what might have been for England during this Six Nations.

If the championship title had been on the line, the likelihood is that England would have not shown the complacency that crept in during the second half, but in a game that represented an opportunity to win back the Calcutta Cup, the way in which they keeled over will be a concern with the World Cup just six months out.

Jones has repeatedly reiterated his desire for England to be aggressive and ruthless. The collapse demonstrated how far they still have to go.

“It is a recurring thing. It is not a one-off,” Jones said. “When you want to be the best side in the world you have to put sides like Scotland away. We had the opportunity to do it and we didn’t.”

England v Scotland - Guinness Six Nations
Owen Farrell fails to keep up with Stuart McInally after the Scotland hooker charged down his kick and started the fightback (Source: Getty)

Suffocated

England’s tendency to let leads slip stems from their inability to suffocate the opposition.

Wales may not have scored the most tries or racked up the biggest points difference, but their capacity for stopping teams playing is what currently separates them from England, Ireland and the rest.

England are capable of pressuring opponents, as they did in the opening stages against Scotland, but they rarely maintain a high level for the entire 80 minutes.

Jones and his team have the summer Tests against Wales and Ireland to continue some much-needed improvements in concentration and discipline before the World Cup.

Harried and hustled

If the expression “a game of two halves” was meant for any match, this was it. Just as England failed to hustle Scotland for the entire match, they were equally guilty of being harried too easily by Scotland.

The hosts dominated the opening 40 minutes and were aggressive at the breakdown with a strong defensive line that Scotland rarely penetrated, but in the second half the roles were completely reversed.

Scotland exploited England by rushing half-back pairing Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs and scored several of their tries through charging down kicks or intercepting passes.

The pair failed to exert any control on the game during the second half and were rushed into making mistakes as Jones resorted to replacing them both in the final stages of the game.

Farrell falls off

No one better epitomised England’s ability to look unstoppable when playing well – but like the wheels were falling off when playing poorly – than Farrell.

The No10 controlled the pace of the first half and kicked excellently in extremely windy conditions, making all four conversions and one penalty, as well as getting England into dangerous positions with kicks to touch.

But for all his good work, he was equally responsible for their downfall.

The 27-year-old had a kick charged down by Stuart McInally, who scored Scotland’s first try just before half-time, and later had a pass intercepted by opposite number Finn Russell as Scotland ran riot.

Questions arose about his ability to be sole captain after England looked devoid of ideas against Wales, and his failure to galvanise the side as Scotland scored six tries will raise further doubts.

He was replaced by George Ford with just over 10 minutes to go following a desperate tackle on Darcy Graham that could have seen him sin-binned. His replacement, meanwhile, scored and converted the final try of the game to spare England’s blushes.