There was an air of hope and the atmosphere was electric; fans were daring to dream of Laidlaw lifting the Calcutta Cup – and why would they not? Scotland were in their best form for years, while England had lots of uncapped players and it was unsure whether they had recovered from the World Cup. Instead, the Scots turned the air of hope to one of depression as fans realised that they had just witnessed a return of the Scotland they thought was long gone.
There were many bad points about Scotland but to begin with was their structure – or more accurately, the lack of it. The back line was a shambles when the Scots were attacking; 90 per cent of the time it was flat, which meant that when the ball came out wide, there was not enough space to actually do anything other than repeatedly succumb to the English defence, doing what Scotland does best and going through the phases.
The Scots’ organisation around the ruck was similarly poor. For instance, at one point in the second half the Scottish forwards all congregated together, following the ball like a swarm of bees, thence giving England the overlap and the advantage. The sad thing about the match was that this lack of structure was prominent throughout the game.
Alongside the poor structure, Scotland’s pace in both defence and attack was slower than the queue for the tram post-match; there was a complete lack of urgency. For instance, while going through the phases before the Nowell try in the 51st minute, the Scottish defenders did not run up to the marauding English; they waited for them, letting them get deeper and deeper into the Scottish 22 with relative ease.
Even when Scotland had the ball in their own half, Visser and Maitland were, to be blunt, not quick enough to get the Scots past the English and out of their half. This lack of urgency was also apparent in the aerial battle. Time and time again Stuart Hogg sent the ball booming down into the English half only for no one to chance it and capitalise on the territory. Instead, England just charged straight back into the Scottish territory.
Sadly, the list of negatives does not end there for Scotland; the mistakes and poor decisions that accumulated in 80 minutes were simply unforgivable. To start with the forwards, both Richie and Jonny Gray missed the tackle on George Kruis that would have stopped the second English try – but the Gray brothers were not the only forwards to cost the team dearly. The usually stoic Ross Ford missed his man in the lineout three times and was penalised for not throwing straight.
However, the backs did not fare much better. For example, Finn Russell intercepted an English pass and had a clear run to the try line, but did not utilise his lightning pace.Instead, he kicked it away and ended up giving England the throw-in in the lineout, throwing away a chance for Scotland to pull level.
Finally, we must turn to statistics to fully comprehend what 67,000 people witnessed. England had 78 per cent of possession, 50 per cent of which was in the Scottish 22. England turned over the ball five times compared to Scotland’s one, and Scotland made 38 errors. However, Scotland had the ball in open play 91 per cent of the time and only conceded nine penalties to England’s 12. Furthermore they dominated in the maul, winning five, when compared to England, who won one. So why did Scotland not win?
Well it is the same story as three years ago; they had opportunities to score but failed because, like the Scotland of old, they could not convert pressure into points.
Fans could be forgiven for being optimistic after Scotland’s World Cup performance, but the sad fact is that Cotter’s side has regressed back to the Scotland we all thought was dead and buried.
Image courtesy of Chris Brown.