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Scotland 20 England 17: Penalty try turns Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield decisively in Scotland’s favour

Scotland's Ben White scores the opening try.
Scotland's Ben White scores the opening try.

Scotland rode their luck and a timely penalty try to retain the Calcutta Cup just as it seemed English power was telling a familiar story at Murrayfield.

Luke Cowan-Dickie’s intentional knock-on with 15 minutes remaining turned the contest completely on its head. England had dominated possession, recovering from a smash-and-grab first half Scottish try to lead 17-10.

The English maul was starting to assert itself in creating a try for Marcus Smith and a penalty from the young stand-off to take the visitors out to a seven-point lead. It seemed inevitable that they would close out the win as they have so many times.

The match hinges on one moment

But few Calcutta Cup games have hinged so blatantly on one single moment. With the Scots toiling for a foothold in the game, they finally won some serviceable ball for Finn Russell to probe the English flanks.

The stand-off’s first pinpoint cross kick almost released Duhan van der Merwe on the left, but the wing was corralled. Undeterred, Russell immediately cross-kicked to the other wing where Darcy Graham was only marked, surprisingly, by hooker Cowan-Dickie.

The diminutive wing looked the favourite against the Lion, who leapt in desperation and blatantly pushed the ball forward to stop what looked like a sure Scottish score.

Sure enough, referee Ben O’Keeffe took a long look at the replay, but yellow carded Cowan-Dickie and awarded Scotland the penalty try.

That tied the scores at 17. With the extra man, the Scots probed forward again with a fine Russell touchfinder.

Without their hooker, England had prop Joe Marler throw the lineout and it predictably went awry. Scotland scrummed the free-kick, won a penalty, and Russell booted the winner.

The usual nervy final moments

Finn Russell’s kicking was the key to the comeback.

There were the usual few nervy moments in the dying minutes. The Scots thought they had an easily kickable penalty with four minutes left but it was reversed for an illegal clearout.

Scotland forced three turnovers in the dying seconds. But only after a series of a reset scrums, did they get the ball to Hogg to boot it into the stands.

England will wonder how such a dominance of possession led to defeat. They kicked away too much possession in aimless fashion in the first half. Scotland had just five seconds with the ball in the English 22 in the first 40.

Those five seconds were replacement scrum-half Ben White, on for an HIA, running in a try. Hogg’s brilliant off-load to Graham and a slicing run by the wing opened up the score on Scotland’s only real incision of the half.

Russell’s penalty just before half-time had them leading 10-6, a barely believeable scoreboard on the balance of play. The Scottish defence was magnificent for the most part, until Smith went in too easily after a maul just before the hour mark.

After the penalty that followed, any veteran of Calcutta clashes this century wouldn’t have bet anything on Scotland coming back. But this Scottish team is much more resilient than any of the last two decades, and they found a way.

Att: 67,144

The teams

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Exeter Chiefs, capt); Darcy Graham (Edinburgh), Chris Harris (Gloucester), Sam Johnson (Glasgow Warriors), Duhan van der Merwe (Worcester); Finn Russell (Racing 92), Ali Price (Glasgow Warriors); Rory Sutherland (Worcester), George Turner (Glasgow Warriors), Zander Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors); Grant Gilchrist (Edinburgh), Jonny Gray (Exeter Chiefs); Jamie Ritchie (Edinburgh), Hamish Watson (Edinburgh), Matt Fagerson (Glasgow Warriors).

Replacements: Stuart McInally (Edinburgh, for Turner 52), Pierre Schoeman (Edinburgh for Sutherland 52), WP Nel (Edinburgh for Z Fagerson 52), Sam Skinner (Exeter Chiefs for Gray 64), Magnus Bradbury (Edinburgh for Ritchie 60), Ben White (London Irish for Price 64), Blair Kinghorn (Edinburgh), Sione Tuipulotu (Glasgow Warriors for Johnson 60).

England:  Freddie Steward (Leicester); Max Malins (Saracens), Elliot Daly (Saracens), Henry Slade (Exeter Chiefs), Joe Marchant (Harlequins); Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Ben Youngs (Leicester); Ellis Genge (Leicester), Luke Cowan-Dickie (Exeter Chiefs), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol); Maro Itoje (Saracens), Nick Isiekwe (Saracens); Lewis Ludlam (Northampton), Tom Curry (Sale, capt), Sam Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs).

Replacements: Jamie George (Saracens for Cowan-Dickie 75), Joe Marler (Harlequins for Genge 65), Will Stuart (Bath for Sinckler 65), Charlie Ewels (Bath for Isiekwe 76), Alex Dombrandt (Harlequins for Ludlum 65), George Ford (Leicester for Smith 65), Jack Nowell (Exeter Chiefs for Marchant 80).

Ref: Ben O’Keeffe (NZ)