The Maddest of Rugby Matches

What. A. Test. Match.

On Saturday England and Scotland met in the last round of the 2019 Six Nations to compete for the annual Calcutta Cup. From a Scottish perspective the outlook leading up to this final competitive game before the world cup wasn’t looking too bright.

A Scottish team savaged by injuries and coming off the back of three disappointing defeats had been tasked with winning at Twickenham for the first time since 1983. Ah, ’83, a long, long time ago. So long ago in fact, that my now balding dad would have been but 12-years-old.

Since then it had been a parade of losses (and one draw) at the home of the red rose. However, lets return to the less distance past. Specifically 5.30 pm on Saturday. A time when many Scottish fans, like myself, sat covering their eyes or had switched of the telly. Half-an-hour in and England led 31-0. It looked as if the Scots would be travelling back up the A1 after going down to a cricket score.

England were desperate to win this game and who could blame them. A defeat in a epic game against Wales had put their hopes of a grand slam to bed. And just before kick-off in West London, a Welsh victory meant the title was now out of their reach. The English had shown their aggression in the last round of games, tearing apart Italy after crushing victories in their first two games against Ireland and France

It also became obvious over the entirety of the Six Nations, that the English were even more desperate to beat the Scots. They had not enjoyed a raucous Murrayfield last year and were quite rightly riled up by the unsavoury behaviour of some Scottish fans after last year’s thrilling Scotland win.

For me, the humble and long suffering Scotland fan, it had been a difficult tournament. The lads had definitely shown moments of brilliance, but this had been compounded by poor discipline and an inability to actually get across the try line.

Scotland began the Championship with a good win over Italy, but had followed it up with two games which they had lost after dominating for large periods against Ireland and Wales. The French had also put the Scots away after there had been some hope we could stop a rotten 20-year Paris losing streak. It wasn’t to be.

So now, an injury ravaged Scotland found themselves on English soil, the 61-21 defeat of 2017 acting as a hellish reminder of what could happen if we didn’t turn up. Surely for Scotland the key would be game management and damage limitation. The odds were certainly stacked against us but there was some hope. This was quickly banished.

Within the first two minutes England were 7-0 up, poor Scottish defence contributing to a training ground move which Jack Nowell gladly finished off. Not a good start but I tried to convince myself it would get better.

Nope. Within 13 minutes the hosts led 21-0, Billy Vunipola and Joe Launchbury powering over. This wasn’t good.

The blistering Jonny May followed up on this lightening start and made it 31-0 on 29 minutes. During the week I had been happy, for lack of a better word, to comment on how we would be reflecting on a convincing English victory after the weekend. I hadn’t however expected it to be this bad.

Tempted to switch the TV off I continue to watch with a couple of flatmates, almost daring England to keep scoring. Scotland looked hapless and perhaps lazy in defence. My friend messaged me saying they didn’t deserve to be wearing the jersey. Perhaps a little harsh, but he had also just switched his telly off, not willing to experience anymore of what had become almost masochist viewing.

Then in the 34th minute the Scottish hooker and captain, Stuart McInally, charged down an Owen Farrel kick and scored an epic try, out-gassing two English backs as he rampaged down the pitch like a man possessed. Was this the key turning point just before half-time.

It certainly made me decide to keep watching as it showed there was still spirt in this side. Perhaps we could peg back another score or two while shipping less tries in the second half? That didn’t seem to unrealistic to hope for.

Kicking off the second half, Scotland looked brighter and the young Darcy Graham, a player full of potential, touched down in the corner in the 46th minute. That’s better Scotland, I thought, joking this was the start of a famous comeback as I considered getting the Saturday evening boos in early.

Then three minutes later, a superb chip and run by Ali Price set up Magnus Bradbury. I suddenly sat up and stopped scrolling through the endlessly boring world of social media. Perhaps something special was happening, as with 30 minutes remaining the Scots had pulled it back to 31-19 with three unanswered tries.

Then in the 56th minute Graham scored again and all hell broke loose in the flat. Well, I got excited and so did my German flatmate, who I’m happy to report is seemingly backing Scotland in the rugby. Maybe not his best decision but something a bit special seemed to now be happening at Twickenham. The score was now 31-24.

A few minutes later and I got very excited as eventual man of the match Finn Russel brilliantly intercepted Farrel’s pass to score again. We were now level and I was desperately looking for a stress ball of sorts as I struggled for breath. An old coat hangar would have to do. Could Scotland hold out for a draw?

Surely victory was still just beyond our grasp in this surreal rollercoaster of a test match. But then in the 75th minute, Sam Johnson produced a moment of magic, finding a gaping hole in the English defence and beating several white shirts to the try line. Scotland were in the lead and I’m not sure anyone could quite believe what they were seeing.

Could Scotland be heading for victory at Twickenham for the first time in 36 years? The answer? No.

An epic defensive effort from Scotland as the clock went red couldn’t keep out George Ford as England scored a converted try to tie the most epic rugby match I, and many neutrals, have surely watched. Fortunately the old coat hangar didn’t go through the window or cause my flatmates any injury as I flung it in frustration.

Although in truth I didn’t know how to feel. For a few wonderful moments it had seemed as if an unprecedented Scottish victory was in the offing. But then it all came crashing down, as for no lack of trying the Scottish defence couldn’t prevent the hosts from crossing the whitewash. This being after they had spent 40 minutes trying to regain their first half composure which had put them 31-0 ahead.

However, disappointed I felt when Ford scored, there remained a sense of pride in this Scottish performance. In the face of adversity after a dire 30 minutes, they had shown immense amounts of flair and character to put themselves in a winning position with five minutes remaining.

Perhaps, more importantly though, it had reminded me why I love rugby. What. A. Game.

FT: ENGLAND 38-38 SCOTLAND

 

 

 

 

 

 

Six Nations 2019 Preview

With the Six Nations only a week away we interviewed armchair expert and former Deeside RFC Under 8’s legend Finn Nixon…

What is the Six Nations?

The Six Nations is an annual rugby tournament contested between the best international sides in the Northern Hemisphere and Wales.

Who are the Six Nations?

England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales.

And who is most likely to win? 

Last years’ Grand Slam winners, Ireland will enter the 2019 championship as favourites after an incredible victory over New Zealand in the Autumn. With three provinces in the European Champions Cup and an awesome starting XV they are surely the ones to watch.

Ireland are however likely to face a tough challenge from Wales who are on an unbeaten run of 11 games after a strong Autumn. An Autumn in which they ended their 13 game losing duck against Australia. Defensively they look very strong.

England are also likely to challenge for pole position after a disappointing campaign last year in which they finished 5th. Eddie Jones has begun the mind games in earnest but it will be interesting to see how the English perform in Dublin on the 2nd February after mixed performances in the Autumn.

What about the other nations?

France will have to improve massively if they are to challenge for the Six Nations trophy after losing to Fiji in Paris in their last game. Overall, they have been notoriously poor in recent years, last finishing in the top half of the table when they were winners in 2010.

Meanwhile, Scotland will be underdogs to win the title and would probably be pleased if they won three games. They would hope to beat Italy and should probably be aiming to beat France in Paris for the first time since 1999.

Italy won’t win the Six Nations but are improving under Conor O’Shea who will be hoping his side can cause some upsets. Perhaps at  Murrayfield where they have had success in past years but also maybe in Rome against the always unpredictable France in the last round.

What will likely happen?

The Six Nations are always unpredictable and it would be wrong to suggest that anything is set in stone before any rugby is played. We could perhaps predict Italy will finish with the Wooden Spoon though, an unwanted award they have been given since 2016.

As always the only prediction we can make about France is that Jacques Brunel’s side will be unpredictable. Prepare yourself for an incredible one-off performance in which they dismantle England, Ireland or Wales before being beaten by Italy or Scotland in a dismal performance.

From a Scottish perspective it pains me to say we are highly unlikely to beat England, having not beaten the Auld Enemy at Twickenham since 1983. Though you never know eh?

Also expect fireworks in post-match press conferences as Eddie Jones plays mind games, Warren Gatland looks eternally grumpy and Joe Schmidt seems far to nice (apparently he is terrifying on the training field!)

So what are your predictions for the final standings?

My predictions? Well thanks for asking!

  1. Ireland – 4 wins
  2. Wales – 4 wins
  3. England – 3 wins
  4. Scotland – 3 wins
  5. France – 1 win
  6. Italy

Ooh interesting so it comes down to bonus points and no grand slam?

Yes. I think Ireland will score more tries than Wales. This would make for an exciting final day as Wales and Ireland would be playing for the championship. I predict the Welsh will win that game but that won’t be enough for them to take home the Six Nations trophy.

And how would you want the table to finish?

  1. Scotland
  2. Ireland
  3. France
  4. Italy
  5. England
  6. Wales

What is your problem with Wales?

It is with a certain amount of guilt that I admit my dislike of the Welsh rugby side. Since becoming a Scottish fan they have caused me a great amount of pain. I have never forgotten that horrendous game which Scotland threw away in the dying minutes in 2010. Damn you Lee Bryne and that football-esqe dive!

Which games are you looking forward to the most?

Games in which England, Ireland and Wales are going to head to head are likely to make great viewing. From a Scottish perspective I would like to see us beat France in Paris, something I think we are finally able to achieve. It will also be fascinating to see if Scotland can challenge Ireland at Murrayfield.

And which games are you least looking forward to?

Scotland’s trip to Twickenham looks ominous as always, particularly after the 61-21 blowout in south-west London two years ago. I’m also anxious about the Welsh game at Murrayfield. My heart says Scotland while my head says Wales.

Thanks for your concise and intelligent expertise. I’m looking forward to a Scottish grand slam.

Anytime. That’s the spirit!

(Don’t worry I haven’t totally lost my marbles – Ed.)

Six Nations 2018 Preview

Including hopes as a massive Scotland fan, the form of the other nations and predictions for results and the final standings.

A bit of history

With the annual showdown between the six best teams in the Northern Hemisphere rolling around next Saturday there is a spring in my step as a rugby fan. As a Scottish rugby fan there is a slightly more positive feeling going into this year’s round of matches, coming of an arguably successful 2017 which included the first Six Nations since 2006 in which the men in blue won three matches….

The 2006 tournament was really my first experience of watching rugby, and a remember as seven year old being enthralled in the five weekend’s of coverage as Scotland recorded victories over France, England and Italy finishing third. After this first experience of moderate success I thought this was the status quo and couldn’t wait for the 2007 championship. This excitement came to a crashing halt a year later after a drive to Murrayfield on misty, wet roads resulted in a 37-17 defeat the Italians. Conceding three tries in the opening ten minutes was not a great introduction to a sporting arena which had played host to many highs, just not in my lifetime.

From there it seemed to go down hill every year as a Scotland fan. Most years we would usually either struggle to beat the Italians or spring the occasional surprise on England (2008), Ireland (2010, 2013) while losing to Italy. This often meant we were awarded the dreaded ‘Wooden Spoon’, the award given to the bottom team after the Scots had only managed one victory or even finished without.

Every year we would turn our attention to the other nations, watching jealously as the likes of France, Wales, Ireland and England competed for the trophy. Thought this was still entertaining from the perspective of a rugby fan there is a growing desperation to play part in the top half of the tournament. With no memory of the Five Nations victory when I was all but several months it has been rare to experience much in the way of Scottish success.

Recent Scottish hope

However, following an encouraging (and perhaps unlucky – don’t worry I won’t o into detail) performance in the previous year’s World Cup, where our hopes were ended by Australia and referee Craig Joubert in the Quarter Finals, the Scots had a relatively strong campaign in 2016 ending a nine Six Nations game rot with  a convincing win in Italy before beating the French at home. The campaign also included close encounters with England and France before being outmuscled by Ireland after a plucky performance. Things looked to finally be on the up under the tuition of Vern Cotter and as mentioned the Scots went one better a year later.

After beating a tough Japanese side that Summer before victories over Argentina and Tonga were followed by a agnosing defeat by Australia, (this seems to have become bit of a grudge match) the men in blue recorded three victories in the 2017 championship winning every home game. These included impressive victories against Ireland and Wales either side of a disappointing defeat in Paris by a brutal French side. However, the only let down was a massive 61-21 defeat at Twickenham to the ‘Auld Enemy’, a loss which a comprehensive last round defeat of Italy couldn’t make up for. This loss was comprehended by a 4th place finish as our points difference took a battering after the England game.

As ‘Big Vern’ packed his bags and made his way to the French ‘Top 14’ and Montpeillier, there was a wide sense amongst Scottish fans that he had taken the national side a long way. There was confidence that the entrance of successful Glasgow and former Scottish international, Gregor Townsend, would result in the continuation of this progress. In the following months it became obvious that the SRU’s appointment hadn’t been based on false evidence as Scotland travelled to Australia and gained revenge for the two previous defeats after a convincing victory over Italy in Singapore.

A loss to Fiji down there was the forgotten after it rained tries at Murrayfield in a 44-38 victory over their Pacific neighbors, Samoa. This seemed to back up the Townsend mentality of playing chaotic rugby with a focus on scoring lots of tries even if it meant the opposition crossed the whitewash a lot too. This victory was followed by a narrow defeat by New Zealand in which some awesome defensive work by the class act which is Beuden Barret stopped Stuart Hogg meters from the line in the 80th minute. ‘Hoggy’ was spot on when he said it was “bloody close” post match. A 22-17 defeat in the end.

I don’t think anybody predicted what was going to happen next. After the frustration of not quite getting across that whitewash in the previous Hogg was ruled out in the warm up for the Australia game. He likely didn’t think he would watch the Scots score eight tries against the Wallabies in a scintillating display against the 14 man tourists. In an amazing display the Scots put down a marker for this year’s Six Nations and that just about brings us up to date.

Form and Expectations

Many armchair experts in the media seem to be putting the Scots up there with England and Ireland but I would be cautious, figuring that we don’t suit the tag of being semi-favorites very well. First of all England enter this tournament with one defeat in their last 24 games under the masterful leadership of Eddie Jones with only a game against New Zealand surely providing a benchmark of whether they are the best team in the world (they haven’t met in England’s last 24 games). Despite criticism off some areas of they’re performance, you can’t argue that they aren’t hugely clinical.

Ireland, the only side to beat a Jones led England, should probably be seen as the joint or second favorites for the championship. After a disappointing campaign last time round, (defeats to Scotland and Wales rendered the victory over England as a consolation for not being in the running for lifting the trophy)  they should be following a successful Autumn with the hopes of treating the last game away against England as the decider this time round.

Moving onto Scotland’s other Celtic cousin, it has been well remarked in the media that Wales seem to be going through a transitional period. Their performances in the Autumn didn’t exactly set the rugby community alight, even if they were slightly more plucky against New Zealand and South Africa after a shocking display against Georgia at the Millennium. Though it must be said that a poor Autumn often doesn’t mean a poor Six Nations for the Welsh. Last year’s championship was mixed for them as well. Impressive wins over Ireland and Italy along with a perhaps unlucky defeat to England, went hand in hand with defeat to Scotland and France in a farcical 100 minute game in Paris.

It is my opinion that as we head towards the North Sea there unfortunately isn’t anything to get to excited about this year. The French who for long periods of time have dominated who gets their hands on the trophy, have been out of sorts for at least the last five years, winning it last in 2010 and rarely finishing in the top half of the table since. The cliché of them being massively unpredictable seems to have been altered to them either being very poor or pretty mediocre in their performances, a missed conversion saving their blushes in a 23-23 draw against Japan in the Autumn. Incredulously though, it is the French and I am therefore not willing to quite write them off yet.

Last but not least there is Italy, the long term minnows of the tournament who will be hoping to improve this year. Although I think an improved Italy would be good for the championship I don’t want to seem them beat Scotland like they managed to in on multiple occasions in previous years. There is a hope that former Harlequins coach, Connor O’Shea can work some magic after improvements in the Pro 14 and Europe by Treviso and Zebre. Can they avoid the Wooden Spoon? We shall wait and see.

The Predictions

With the bonus point system of last year in place this adds slight complication but I will try my best and look forward to seeing how wrong I am.

Round 1

Wales Vs. Scotland –  Hardest one to predict, but I think Scotland will break their duck of losses in Cardiff in a close match where Wales will get a losing bonus point.

France Vs. Ireland – Ireland started slowly last year and I think the same will happen in Paris with the exception that they will win in a game likely dominated by penalty goals. Victory by ten points or so for the visitors.

Italy Vs. England – The hosts will put up a fight for the first half but England will pull away for a convincing BP win after an hour at the most.

Round 2

Ireland Vs. Italy – Not unlike last year, Ireland likely to win this one convincingly with a BP.

England Vs. Wales – Won’t be as close as last time round but plucky Welsh performance will earn them a losing BP.

Scotland Vs. France – France will want to make amends for Irish loss but will be beaten in close high scoring encounter by Scots. Losing BP for French.

Round 3

France Vs. Italy – This may be the game the Italians target the most and I predict a close affair in Marseille. Losing BP for Italy.

Ireland Vs. Wales – Wales have often acted as Ireland’s bogey with last year being no exception. This year however I think Ireland will win by 15 points or more.

Scotland Vs. England – Hopefully closer than last year’s demolition. England to win tense encounter at Murrayfield. Scotland get losing BP.

Round 4

Ireland Vs. Scotland – Huge prediction but reckon Ireland will come unstuck in lively affair in Dublin. Irish to gain losing BP though.

France Vs. England – England to win in unconvincing style in a poor game. France to get losing BP.

Wales Vs. Italy – Welsh to blow off steam after plucky first half performance by Italians to get BP win.

Round 5

Italy Vs. Scotland – With championship hopes on the line Scotland to win by narrow margin in Rome. Italian losing BP.

England Vs. Ireland – Ireland beat English at Twickenham narrowly to take championship on points difference on dramatic last day. Losing BP for England.

Wales Vs. France – Wales to finish disappointing campaign with narrow victory over flat French side. Losing BP to French.

Final Standings

  1. Ireland – 18 points (4 wins)
  2. England – 18 points (4 wins)
  3. Scotland – 17 points (4 wins)
  4. Wales – 11 points (2 wins)
  5. France – 7 points (1 win)
  6. Italy – 2 points