LONDON (Reuters) - The Six Nations came to an exhilarating, extraordinary finale on Saturday as George Ford rescued England with an 83rd-minute converted try, securing a 38-all draw with Scotland after the visitors had fought back from 31-0 down to take the lead into the final seconds.
Wales had already secured the championship and a Grand Slam by beating Ireland earlier in Cardiff and England, who had started the day still in the hunt, looked to be taking out their frustrations on their oldest rival at Twickenham as they ripped them apart in a one-sided opening half-hour that delivered four tries.
Incredibly, Scotland somehow regrouped and looked on course for their first win at Twickenham for 36 years when centre
centre Sam Johnson sliced through four defenders to deliver their sixth try in the 76th minute, a score coach Gregor Townsend described as one of the best in Scottish rugby history.
England, however, stirred themselves for one last push at 38-31 down and replacement flyhalf Ford eventually found a way through under the posts at the death.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend described it as the most unusual game he had been involved in as coach or player. “I’m really happy with the draw but the players are absolutely gutted – which is incredible from where they were in the game,” he said.
England coach Eddie Jones said that England had a psychological issue after yet again letting a dominant position slip. “Unfortunately it’s a recurring problem we’ve got,” he said. “We took our foot off the gas and let them in and couldn’t get it back. It’s going to take some digging deep into the team psyche but I think it’s a good lesson for us before the World Cup.”
England finished second in the Six Nations standings on 18 points, five behind champions Wales.
Scotland, who won only one game, against Italy, finished second-last, but did have the consolation of retaining the Calcutta Cup after their win in Edinburgh last year. It was also the most points they have ever scored against England, beating their 33-6 victory over England in Edinburgh in 1986.
If there was any feeling of flatness at Twickenham after Wales’s win it was blown away within 56 seconds as Henry Slade advanced into acres of space to send Jack Nowell over in the corner in a template of most of the first half.
A lineout catch and drive pushed Tom Curry over for the second in the ninth minute, a bullocking run by prop Kyle Sinckler opened the way for Joe Launchbury to grab the third before a brilliant one-handed offload by Slade gifted Jonny May the fourth and his sixth of the championship.
Scotland had barely been in the game but got on the scoreboard when hooker Stuart McInally charged down Owen Farrell on halfway and somehow evaded May to trundle 50 metres over the line.
To say it galvanized the visitors would be a monumental understatement. Some nice passing fashioned a gap for winger Darcy Graham to burst through some soft tackles and score in the corner and then a break by scrumhalf Ali Price set up number eight Magnus Bradbury.
Townsend sent on five replacements in one go after 56 minutes and, 30 seconds later and with England’s defence in disarray, Graham scored again. Almost unbelievably, a fourth try in 13 minutes made it 31-31 as Russell picked off an Owen Farrell pass on the halfway line and gleefully ran in under the posts.
England were all over the place, missing tackles, dropping the ball in contact and, just as in the latter stages of their defeat by Wales, unable to stem the tide and change the game’s direction.
A misfiring Farrell was replaced by Ford but it was Scotland who struck again after Billy Vunipola dropped the ball in the tackle, enabling Johnson to hammer towards the line then cut back through two defenders to score a fantastic try.
Ford saved the day when he scored under the posts and landed the simple conversion to send the 82,000 crowd into the night trying to comprehend exactly what had just happened.
“I’m gutted,” said man of the match Russell. “For us to come out and have a second half like that shows the character the boys have. We had nothing to lose and we played our rugby. We played good Scottish rugby the second half.
“The whole campaign has been frustrating. We’ve had close games and not played at our best sometimes, but it’s a good way to finish with the Calcutta Cup back in Scotland.”
Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Tony Lawrence