EDINBURGH, Scotland (AP) — England made less mistakes than Scotland in stormy weather at Murrayfield to finish a 13-6 winner and revive its Six Nations title hopes on Saturday.
The filthy conditions had a huge impact on the match, which was played in relentless freezing rain driven by gusts of more than 80 kph (50 mph). Storm Ciara, said to be the strongest to land in Britain in seven years, made the goalposts sway, flags snap, and the teams commit a ton of errors.
England deservedly led 3-0 after the lowest scoring half since 1988. Scotland drew even and the score remained tied for nearly 20 minutes until the 70th, when another error by Scotland captain Stuart Hogg proved fateful.
Hogg was letting a long chip by George Ford roll to his posts, and appeared to have it well covered, until it wickedly bounced up off his chin and he had to touch it down with his tummy. Instead of receiving a 22-meter dropout, Hogg conceded a five-meter scrum to England.
The previous weekend, Hogg spilled the ball over the try-line as Scotland lost to Ireland 19-12. That was careless. This time, he was unlucky.
England’s first attack off the scrum was stopped by flyhalf Adam Hastings, but off the ruck replacement prop Ellis Genge charged over the line with helpful pushes from Maro Itoje and Tom Curry. Owen Farrell converted for 10-3, and England had the win as good as clinched in the conditions.
Hogg said he was devastated by another pivotal mistake.
“It was a huge chance for us to exit and get down the right end. The ball just didn’t sit up and it was tough to take,” Hogg said. “I put the boys under a wee bit of pressure and, unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get out of it.
“I’ll take that on my shoulders. I’m not going to shy away from it. Unfortunately I made a mistake — and these things cost us.”
Coach Gregor Townsend absolved Hogg.
“There was about 40 or 50 errors out there today,” the coach said. “Stuart was an inch or two away from making a brilliant decision. It’s very tough to play in those conditions.”
Scotland edged possession and territory and, naturally, made the most errors. It started the match with 14 phases only to give away a soft penalty. It was deja vu from the Ireland game, but with a storm thrown in. The Scots made eight handling errors in the first half hour, 15 for the match.
England forced many of the errors — hooker Jamie George and Itoje led the tackle counts with 19 and 18 — but struggled to take advantage. Without barely threatening the Scottish try-line, England relied on Farrell to kick the points. Aiming into the wind in the first half. He did well to slot one of three attempts. Ford tried a dropped goal that was just wide.
Unable to hold the ball for long, the teams resorted to kicks — 37 in the first half, 50 in the second, more than one per minute.
“In those conditions, you are often better off not having the ball,” Townsend said. “We haven’t had a game in the rain for years and it’s hard for players.”
Scotland waived off potential penalty kicks to go for lineouts and tries, only to lose eight throw-ins. England lost two.
Hastings nailed his first penalty kick in the 46th minute to level the score. He landed his second in the last minutes to give Scotland a deserving bonus point. But Scotland’s second loss from two matches ended faint hopes for the title.
England, however, gained some confidence, if little else from a match in which the weather was an overbearing factor. After being humbled by France in the first round, England and coach Eddie Jones were just happy to get out of a hostile Murrayfield having regained the Calcutta Cup.
“There’s a lot of growth for us,” Jones said. “I under-prepared the side for the first game but we’ll get stronger as the weeks go on.”
Jones also praised the thick skull of his assistant Neil Craig, whom he claimed was hit by an empty plastic beer bottle as they arrived at Murrayfield. The Scottish Rugby Union said a staff member apologized to Jones but added there was no evidence the bottle was thrown or hit anyone.
England has two weeks to prepare for the arrival at Twickenham of unbeaten Six Nations front-runner Ireland. Scotland has the same time to contemplate another wooden spoon showdown with Italy in Rome.
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