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Calcutta Cup: Last-gasp heartbreak for Scotland as England level late to deny them epic Six Nations win

© Shaun Botterill/Getty ImagesSam Johnson of Scotland evades Jack Nowell of England as he breaks away to score their sixth try
Sam Johnson of Scotland evades Jack Nowell of England as he breaks away to score their sixth try

A strange one.

That was Scotland skipper Stuart McInally’s frank assessment of one of the most-incredible games of rugby.

Quite simply, this was an astonishing game of rugby.

Scotland were written off before a ball had been kicked and when England went 31-0 up after half-an-hour, it looked horrible for the Dark Blues.

But a simply unbelievable second half saw them rack up 38 unanswered points and outscore England six tries to five, and only an injury-time try stopped them winning at Twickenham for the first time since 1983.

As McInally admitted: “With a minute-and-a-half to go you dare to dream, you think we might have done it, and then they score a good try at the end.”

This game crystalised the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Scotland team.

The first half was desperately poor as basic errors meant they simply failed to fire a shot in anger, allowing England to rack up a huge lead at a rate of a point per minute.

The Red Rose brigade were helped by the infuriating habit of individual Scots racing out of their defensive line, leaving gaps that were ruthlessly exploited.

It was everything you expected from a patched-up side that had been shorn of too many key players and were fielding too many rookies.

As McInally said: “We gave them exactly what they wanted.”

Put it this way, Scotland’s entire midfield had 60 caps between them, 39 of those accounted for by Sean Maitland.

That’s a murderous handicap at Test level, let alone at a ground where you haven’t won in almost 40 years and were humiliated on your last visit.

But the second half could not have been in starker contrast. Right from the off the Scots simply tore into England, their speed and snarling aggression rocking England and robbing them of their previous accuracy that had seen Jack Nowell, Tom Currie, Joe Launchbury and Johnny May claim the try bonus point before the half-hour was up.

Owen Farrell, making a mockery of the swirling, bitterly cold wind, had added 11 points with the boot.

Scotland had hardly been in auld enemy territory and it looked like a case of scant consolation when McInally charged down a Farrell kick and set off fully 65 yards, showing great gas for a front-row forward to snatch a try wholly against the run of play.

Not that the captain thought he’d sparked a historic comeback, admitting: “At the time it was good just to stem the flow a bit.”

But after England amassed their best-ever Calcutta Cup first-half haul, Scotland proceeded to rack up the championship’s greatest comeback, running in another five tries.

Darcy Graham notched a deserved try, cutting off his wing to beat three defenders and dot down, and if Ali Price had a hand in the score, just three minutes later he made another, gathering his own clever chip, bouncing out of a tackle and putting Magnus Bradbury through and over.

Townsend pressed the gamble button by sending on half-a-dozen replacements at once. And it didn’t disrupt the Scots’ energy as a great move saw Graham go over in the corner for his brace.

That brought up Scotland’s biggest-ever Twickenham score, and they swiftly increased it when Russell read Farrell’s pass and burst onto it to scamper over from halfway.

It was scarcely believable but Laidlaw’s conversion brought the sides level, and when Billy Vunipola spilled the ball, Scotland recycled and Sam Johnson set off up the paddock, eluding tacklers left and right to dot down with defenders hanging off him.

But just as the unlikeliest of wins looked on, George Ford found a way under the posts in injury time and his conversion meant it ended all-square.


England: Daly; Nowell, Slade, Tuilagi (Te’o 77), May; Farrell (Capt)(Ford 70), Youngs (Spencer 74); Moon (Genge 5), George (Cowan-Dickie 74), Sinckler (Cole 51), Launchbury (Hughes 74), Kruis, Wilson (Shields 62), Curry, Vunipola.

Scotland: Maitland (Hastings 68); Graham, Grigg (Harris 57), Johnson, McGuigan; Russell, Price (Laidlaw 57); Dell (Reid 45), McInally (Capt)(Brown 57), Nel (Berghan 57), Toolis, Gilchrist (Gray 57), Skinner (Strauss 57), Watson, Bradbury.