The Scottish Mail on Sunday
‘GROUNDHOGG’ DAY FOR SCOTS
Deja blue as another glaring mistake from Scotland captain Stuart leads to England grabbing game-changing try
THIS was ‘Groundhogg’ day for Scotland. For the second time in successive weeks, the nation’s new captain will have endured a sleepless night as he pondered another high-profile error.
From his fumble on the try-line against Ireland in Dublin last week came another against England yesterday. Only this time, it was at the other end of the pitch.
Giving chase to George Ford’s grubber-kick in the 68th minute, and with the score locked at 3-3, Hogg had the English midfield cavalry galloping down on him.
Skipper Owen Farrell and fellow centre Jonathan Joseph put him under immense pressure.
But this was another almighty cock-up from Hogg.
The TMO ruled that the Scotland full-back had carried the ball over his own line, but had somehow managed to ground it with his belly when it looked like he had spilled it for Farrell to score.
From the resulting five-metre scrum, the English pack carried explosively from close range. They powered over for the game’s only try through replacement prop Ellis Genge, with Farrell converting.
Seven points gifted in the tightest of games. For the Scots, that was it. It was a lead which England would not relinquish.
The skipper had sold the jerseys, an uncomfortable reality which he did not seek to hide from. To his credit, Hogg again shouldered the blame in the aftermath.
But there is no doubting Gregor Townsend’s new captain is under the spotlight. If these mistakes persist, questions will begin to be asked of whether the burden of extra responsibility is beginning to play on Hogg’s mind.
Storm Ciara served up some truly filthy conditions. By the time the Calcutta Cup was back in English hands for the first time since 2017, lightning had struck twice for Hogg.
This was the game where there was very little in the way of actual rugby. It was an encounter where the team that made the fewest mistakes were likely to emerge as winners. And Scotland coughed up plenty of them.
Hogg’s blunder may have been the most glaring, but there were plenty of others in there, too.
Winds in excess of 60mph could explain why the hosts’ line-out was so poor, but it does not explain why they were turned over 21 times.
Handling errors are one thing, but the weather doesn’t count when the ball is on the floor. It was an area where England dominated.
Having been 24-0 down in Paris last week before some Jonny May magic gave the final scoreline a misleading sheen of respectability, the visitors steadied the ship amid choppy waters.
Scotland were bidding to keep the Calcutta Cup in their possession for a third straight year for the first time since 1970-72, but Eddie Jones revelled in the role of partypooper. Whatever legitimate gripes he may have had about bottles being thrown, he need not lecture us on conduct and etiquette.
England’s head coach smirked his way through his post-match interview like a giggling shoolboy, answering ‘no comment’ to what were perfectly reasonable questions from the English press pack.
For Townsend, all roads now lead to Rome. The game against Italy in a fortnight is now one which he dare not lose.
If the highlights of this game belong on the MET Office website with Michael Fish providing commentary, it is Townsend and Hogg who are surely seeking a ray of sunshine.
Sam Johnson tried to set the tone for Scotland within the opening few seconds. Straight from the kick-off, the centre raced upfield like a man possessed and fixed his sights on May. The ball hung in the wind for what felt like an eternity as the England winger jumped to collect it. He was, by now, a rabbit in Johnson’s headlights.
He went steaming into May like a bowling ball knocking over a skittle and Murrayfield roared its approval. But it proved to be a false dawn. The theme of indiscipline from Dublin had bled into this match and it was proving costly for Scotland.
They conceded three penalties at the breakdown inside the opening 12 minutes. Had it not been for such foul conditions, Farrell would surely have punished them on more than just the one occasion.
The jeers rang out into the Edinburgh night sky as Farrell lined up another penalty after 27 minutes. An announcement was made over the tannoy pleading with supporters to show respect to the kicker. Yet, truthfully, had the England captain been kicking in a library, it wouldn’t have made the blindest bit of difference. The gusting winds were the problem, not the noise.
The stadium erupted with ironic cheers when he missed. It was yet another moment when Scottish indiscipline had gone unpunished.
On a better day when the weather wasn’t such a decisive factor, Farrell would have kicked them into submission.
By the time the opening half-hour had passed, a sloppy start from the Scots had turned into a decidedly poor one.
The line-out was a source of endless problems. On one hand, you couldn’t help but sympathise with Fraser Brown. The Scotland hooker must have felt like he was throwing a boomerang at times.
Yet, England somehow managed
to retain at least some degree of control over their line-out. There was a way to get the job done. The Scots just hadn’t sussed it.
England fly-half Ford had an attempt at a drop goal on the cusp of half-time. It was wide and so, at 3-0, the lowest-scoring first half in the Calcutta Cup since 1966 soon came to a conclusion.
If anyone else needed reminding of what happened in that particular year, pockets of jubilant England fans happily reminded the Murrayfield natives as they supped away on a half-time refreshment.
Scotland’s start to the second half was sprightly. They flickered into life. A swirling wind had decided that it wanted to help them.
A penalty from Adam Hastings on 46 minutes dragged them level after the otherwise excellent Sam Underhill had been penalised at the breakdown.
If Scotland were fortunate to be only three points behind at the interval, then to be on level terms so soon after felt like a moral victory of sorts.
But by the time Hogg fumbled, England had long since turned the screw. With the scent of blood in their nostrils, Genge’s try gave them a wound upon which to feast.
Farrell’s conversion was good and his team were now 10-3 ahead. The Saracens star added another on 77 minutes, before Hastings replied with one of his own minutes later.
With 60 seconds remaining, and facing a seven-point deficit at 13-6, the Scots knew a converted try would see them retain the Calcutta Cup in the most improbable of circumstances.
But it would have been undeserved. With a second straight loss at the start of this championship, the questions are mounting up.