SCOTLAND skipper Stuart Hogg hailed his team’s ability to play “heads-up rugby” which helped them pick up a third win in five years against England, as the national team got this year’s Six Nations off to a flying start at wind and rain-swept Murrayfield yesterday.
Although not a classic encounter in the style of Scotland’s iconic 2018 win over the Auld Enemy, when Finn Russell’s free-wheeling style tore the visitors apart, the Scots managed to adapt to the conditions better than their opponents, and ruthlessly took the few chances that came their way to secure a narrow 20-17 win.
“We got ourselves into good positions and had a clinical edge at times,” said Hogg. “We had to absorb a lot of pressure from England – credit to them for that as they were outstanding at times.
“We stuck to what works best for us and thankfully we’ve come out with the perfect score-line for us.
“The biggest thing for us is that we’ve been able to absorb pressure for a long time,” he continued. “It’s now about flipping that on its head and applying pressure and I think we did exactly that at times in this game.
“I don’t think England got through multiple phases very often and we managed to stand firm. I don’t think there were very many penalties against us and that’s something we can be chuffed to bits about. But, as I say, the challenge now is to back that up next week.”
Hogg made a point of singing the praises of stand-off Russell, who is often characterised as a loose cannon but harnessed the conditions brilliantly yesterday to frustrate the visitors, and who also orchestrated the crucial second half penalty try which swung the game back towards the Scots just when it looked like England were going to pull away.
“I think it was just playing heads-up rugby,” he reflected. “Our set-piece starter didn’t quite go according to plan, but we managed to adapt on the move and get on with it.
“It was two absolutely perfect kicks from Finn. It led to a line-bender with one and then a penalty-try with the other. That was spot-on for us. It’s something that Finn likes to try and doing so keeps everybody guessing. He executed it to perfection.
“We just played a lot of heads-up rugby,” he reiterated. “For the first try, Darcy [Graham] hit a lovely line off me and managed to get through with great feet against Joe Marchant then made the offload, and Ben [White] picked up a great support line to dive over for his first try in international rugby, which was absolutely quality.
“Darcy was absolutely quality out there. He’s a little pocket rocket and he seems to get everywhere. He’s a brave little bugger. To go in for that last turnover and get it was absolutely outstanding.
“That tackle and turnover from Darcy thanked the forwards for digging in for four minutes or whatever it was just before that when they were under real pressure at the scrum. It was an outstanding performance from the little fella and hopefully he will back it up next week.”
It wasn’t only the flying backs who came in for praise from the effervescent captain.
“The back-row were absolutely outstanding,” he added. “For us, we like to spend as much time in the tackle as we possibly can. The forwards were absolutely outstanding, and they didn’t let England gather much momentum.
“They got in positions to win jackal turnovers and that’s exactly what we are about. The challenge for us now is seeing what Wales are going to put up against us. Hopefully, we can do the exact same.
“As I say, we planned to get ourselves into good positions and we managed to execute. If you do that then you are going to put yourselves in positions to win big matches, as we did today.”
Hogg added that he was always confident Scotland would be able to secure the win, even when the team gathered behind their own posts following the Marcus Smith penalty which moved England into seven-point lead with 17 minutes left on the clock.
“We were in a position where we had backed up error on error, which was a bit frustrating, and gave them easy field position and easy avenues into the game,” he surmised. ‘Fair play to England – they managed to create a score – but it was all stuff that we could control.
“The message was to stay in every moment and maximise everything we did. I felt we regrouped really well.”