England 38-38 Scotland: Scots retain Calcutta Cup after stunning fightback at Twickenham

They say that truth is stranger than fiction and this Calcutta Cup thriller was the match to prove it. England and Scotland are the game’s oldest foes but rarely in the 140 years of this ancient rivalry have the pair offered us drama as compelling as this mind-boggling display of sport at its superlative best.

Saturday, 16th March 2019, 7:36 pm
Updated Saturday, 16th March 2019, 11:02 pm
Captain and try-scorer Stuart McInally with the Calcutta Cup. Picture: Getty Images
Captain and try-scorer Stuart McInally with the Calcutta Cup. Picture: Getty Images

Scotland stank out the old stadium in a hapless first half when they could scarcely put one foot in front of the other without falling flat on their faces. It was probably the worst defensive display we have witnessed all tournament from any team. The visitors barely took part, passive onlookers as England ran in four tries and raced into a 31-0 lead while scarcely breaking sweat.

Just before the break the Scots enjoyed a tiny sliver of good fortune. Stuart McInally charged down an Owen Farrell kick and the Scotland skipper won the race to the tryline. That score started the fight back and gave the drowning Scots a lifejacket to cling on to.

The transformation that Scotland underwent at half-time was jaw dropping and this time, unlike the Wales game, the Scots carved England open, scoring four tries in the third quarter alone, with Finn Russell at the centre of the storm and Darcy Graham showcasing his finishing skills with a brace. The transformation was complete, the visitors could do no wrong, England’s players couldn’t spot the ball let alone get hands on it.

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When Russell scored his interception try on 59 minutes, the scores had gone from 31-0 to 31-31 and this encounter had been turned on its head with one of the most astonishing Six Nations comebacks of all time.

The score stayed that way until the match entered the nervy final five minutes. Another no-look pass from man of the match Russell sent Sam Johnson through a huge hole in the England line. The centre stepped inside Jack Nowell, fended off another tackle and carried two more Englishmen over the line for Scotland’s sixth try of the afternoon.

There were three minutes left on the clock and it proved enough on the day for England to strike once more to deny the Scots a victory as precious as it is rare.

England won a penalty in the middle of the field, kicked to the corner and put the Scots under intolerable pressure on the right and then on the left until a crack appeared in the middle of the blue line and George Ford scooted under the posts. His conversion almost four minutes after the 80 was up, levelled the scores at 38-38 and brought this breathless match to a somewhat unsatisfactory end for both teams.

It was scant consolation for the Scots but the draw means that they retain the Calcutta Cup for the first time since 1984 in what was the highest ever draw between two

tier-one teams.

The first half gave zero indication of the drama that was to unfold. England scored their first try after 67 seconds and they appeared at embarrassingly regular intervals thereafter. For the first half hour the home side were scoring at the rate of one point every minute. Nowell scored first and he was followed over the line by Ben Curry, from a clever lineout drive, Joe Launchbury, following a run by Kyle Sinckler, and Johnny May, with Henry Slade playing provider.

The Scots barely landed a punch but if they were playing the old rope-a-dope trick it worked wonders. McInally charged down Farrell’s kick around the halfway line and showed the England fly-half a clean pair of heels over half the length of the field to get the Scots on the board just before the break with England enjoying a 31-7 lead.

Cometh the hour and the smallest man on the field grabbed the spotlight with Graham claiming two tries in only his second international start. His first came after good approach work by Ali Price, Johnson and Sean Maitland. His second owed everything to Russell’s long, miss pass to Maitland who fed Graham for the winger to beat Daly to the corner.

In between times Magnus Bradbury scored after Price had collected his own chip kick and when Russell intercepted Farrell’s pass and raced under the posts from the halfway line the Scots had astonishingly levelled the scores at 31-31 when Greig Laidlaw’s conversion dissected the posts. The comeback was Lazarus like and no one was more surprised than the English players who looked shellshocked. The drama had only just started. Johnson scored his second try of the tournament and signalled his ability at the highest level. Laidlaw converted but Fraser Brown was pinged with the clock in the red and England had one last chance.

A penalty, a lineout drive, a series of advantages and then a half gap in an exhausted Scottish line which was all the invitation that Ford needed. The little fly-half jumped off the turf to kick the conversion and end hostilities with honours even.