Rugby-Wiser England won't be seduced by Russell magic a second time

Mitch Phillips
·3-min read
Rugby World Cup warm-up match - Scotland v France

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - Last time Scotland played at Twickenham they looked on course for a record defeat, were then seconds away from completing the greatest comeback in their history, only to end the game distraught after England somehow salvaged a 38-all draw.

The teams return to the scene of the crime on Saturday, marking 150 years of the oldest international fixture in rugby, with the coaches and many of the players involved in the 2019 clash forced to revisit the occasion in the build up to this weekend's opening Six Nations match.

On March 17, 2019 England began the day still in the hunt for the Six Nations title, though by the time they kicked off against their oldest rivals, Wales had already secured the grand slam by beating Ireland.

England, seemingly energised by the events in Cardiff, tore out of the blocks with a first-minute try by Jack Nowell.

Within half an hour they had added three more to lead 31-0 and though a chargedown try by hooker Stuart McInally reduced the deficit at halftime, the talk in the crowd was still of how many points the home side would rack up.

However, in the bowels of the stadium, a mini revolution was in place as Scotland's mercurial flyhalf Finn Russell told coach Gregor Townsend that his game plan was palpably useless and that he would take the game to the hosts and to hell with the consequences.

With Russell suddenly finding his targets with high-risk/high-reward passes, Scotland suddenly seized control as Darcy Graham and Magnus Bradbury scored quickfire tries. Sensing blood, Townsend threw on five replacements in one go after 56 minutes and immediately Graham scored again.

Every time Scotland crossed the line, England gathered in a huddle beneath the posts as Owen Farrell urged them to regain control but as soon as the game restarted they seemed unable to resist getting sucked into the high tempo exchanges.

Russell was calling the tune and England were dancing to it. Underlying his dominant role, Russell then picked off a loose Farrell pass to run clear and level the scores - Scotland's fourth try in a dizzying 13 minute spell.

A superb Sam Johnson try after with five minutes remaining then looked set to complete the astonishing comeback and end a Twickenham losing run stretching back to 1983, only for George Ford to save the day by scampering under the posts in the 83rd minute, converting to secure the draw.

IMPORTANT LESSON

Farrell was widely criticised for his failure to stop the rot but when asked this week to look back on the occasion, he said it had been an important lesson.

"When games go like that it makes you look a bit deeper into how and why and try to figure it out as a group," he said. "We have to ride the waves of the game, not get too high and not be shocked by things that don't go your way and try to stay steady and consistent. I’d say we are in a different place now."

England coach Eddie Jones this week repeated his post-match analysis that his team had been "seduced by the scoreboard" into playing the way Scotland wanted them to but also felt this England team, who reached the World Cup final eight months after surviving that scare, are a different proposition.

Scotland return on Saturday with Russell again in charge of an exciting-looking backline and England under pressure - albeit externally - to add some fizz to their game after a turgid autumn campaign.

However, Jones and Farrell will not need reminding that there is little to be gained by trying to out-basketball their oldest rivals and, with bad weather forecast and no fans present to signal any unrest, expect England to do all they can, at their own pace, to strangle the Scots out of the contest.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christian Radnedge)