Scotland end England grand slam hopes with Van der Merwe hat-trick

<span>Duhan van der Merwe celebrates with Blair Kinghorn after scoring his third try.</span><span>Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock</span>
Duhan van der Merwe celebrates with Blair Kinghorn after scoring his third try.Photograph: Stuart Wallace/Shutterstock

At this rate they will be locking the Calcutta Cup in a display cabinet in Edinburgh and throwing away the key. For the fourth time in as many seasons Scotland beat England and this was the biggest thumping of the lot, orchestrated by the brilliant Finn Russell and illuminated by a spectacular hat-trick from England’s nemesis Duhan van der Merwe.

Talk about a Flying Scotsman thundering into history. Van der Merwe was the scourge of England at Twickenham last season and the 28-year-old was even more influential here as his side, for the first time in more than 50 years, completed a quartet of wins in this ancient fixture. It has also breathed fresh life into Scotland’s title hopes while England, with Ireland and France still to play, head homeward to think again.

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The visitors could have no complaints. They faded badly after a bright start and by the end their pack were being unceremoniously marched backwards, cheered on by an exultant home crowd. For years Scotland fans dreaded the punishment this game might bring. These days they would happily play England every week.

Van der Merwe certainly seems to respond positively to the sight of a white jersey. Both his tries against England at Twickenham last season were eye-catching finishes and there was a real swagger about his latest contribution. This was the first hat-trick scored by a Scotland player in the world’s oldest international rivalry and his second try, in particular, was an absolute ripper. England had been looking to play with some ambition but, not for the first or last time, lacked the execution to match. In the 29th minute a stray pass rebounded off George Furbank’s head back into Scottish hands and Van der Merwe, with more than 60 metres to go, suddenly had the run of the left touchline. He surged past Ben Earl and Henry Slade before diving into the corner. The big blond winger increasingly pens his own scripts.

His two other touchdowns were not bad either. Having initially gone 10-0 down and found rhythm elusive, Scotland burst into life courtesy of deft hands from Sione Tuipulotu which put Huw Jones, his centre partner, clean away. A pop pass off the floor found Van der Merwe in support and the big winger stepped confidently inside the cover.

The third, five minutes after the interval, also owed plenty to a quality assist, this time from Russell. Cam Redpath, on as the injured Tuipulotu’s replacement, somehow twisted out of trouble and burst upfield before finally being brought to earth. England were still scrambling when Russell’s shrewd cross-kick found the lurking Van der Merwe who again finished with aplomb to propel his side into a 24-13 lead.

Manny Feyi-Waboso did cut an excellent line to score his first Test try in the final quarter but, by then, the game was all but gone. Scotland were far from perfect but their clever use of quick restarts put England on the back foot and, even after a couple of wobbles, they kept playing with a cohesion and collective dynamism their visitors seldom matched. It gave Russell a perfect platform which Scotland’s expert baton twirler was never likely to waste.

The ingredients for a stirring Scottish afternoon had been there all day long. The weather was cold but, crucially, dry and the matchday walk to the stadium never lacks for partisan passion. Thoughtfully, they were even staging a sing-along performance of The Greatest Showman at the Playhouse for those without a ticket to see Russell, the rugby equivalent, strutting his stuff across town.

England’s mission, for those prepared to accept it, was to slam the lid on the Scottish ringmaster’s box of tricks. It was an encouraging development for the visitors when George Ford sprang a neatly executed strike move after just five minutes, releasing Elliot Daly on his shoulder to put a gleeful Furbank over for a beautifully worked try.

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It was to prove an exception to the prevailing rule. Ford, having converted Furbank’s try, slotted a further penalty to give England the supposedly vital fast start they had been seeking but untimely errors and turnovers are still holding them back. It did not stop them beating Italy and Wales but Scotland were always going to be a different calibre of opposition.

With Van der Merwe also greedily helping himself, it left England behind at the interval for the third successive game. Houdini by Dua Lipa, in the circumstances, felt a not entirely inappropriate half-time musical choice but this time there was to be no escape. Despite the loss of a limping Tuipulotu, a rolling Russell chip into the corner put the visitors under renewed pressure and Van der Merwe’s third try materialised not long afterwards.

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Even when Ford responded with another penalty, George Martin knocked on the restart to put his side right back under the cosh. It summed up England’s night: one step forward, two steps back. Scotland, eyes now gleaming bright, turned the screw and the early withdrawal of some of England’s supposedly key men told a sobering story.

It leaves Steve Borthwick with a dilemma or three. A desire to play more rugby is admirable but cough up 22 turnovers and make 24 handling errors against Ireland and a grisly fate will await. Scotland, in contrast, can now approach their remaining games against Italy and Ireland with fresh enthusiasm. There is more to life than beating England but, equally, it never loses its lustre in these parts.