Scotland 8 England 5
STRANGE days at Inverleith, the old Edinburgh ground that is steeped in the proud history and the recent under-achievement of its home club, Stewart's Melville. On Friday, it played host to a Grand Slam by the Scotland A team and yesterday it provided another for Scotland's women, who completed their clean sweep with this battling win over England. Who says you don't see Scottish Grand Slams every day of the week?
Granted, the opportunity for another this afternoon has already been lost, but even if they were small in number, the crowd at this match could still savour their day. Scotland were not flattered one bit by the final scoreline and, from having been among the rabbits of the women's World Cup in 1994, they can now go forward to the next tournament, in Holland in May, with confidence soaring. The spirits of England, the reigning world champions, however, need urgent restoration.
Most of England's problems lay in the pack, where they lacked the co-ordination of their opponents. England's best attacks were ignited by Emma Mitchell, whose all-round excellence at scrum-half compensated for failings elsewhere. Not that Julie Potter, her hooker, would have been particularly appreciative when Mitchell's first kick of the game brought both boot and ball thumping into her midriff, but it would be true to say Mitchell probably kept England in the game during the first half.
Her assuredness was important when Scotland tried to raise the pace following their first try. That arrived in the 12th minute when Linda Uttley knocked on near her 22 and Scotland were awarded a scrum. Paula Chalmers moved the ball left and, although Michelle Cave and Pogo Paterson almost ruined the move with a fumble in midfield, Kim Littlejohn, the Scottish captain, both rescucitated the attack and finished it off, arcing around the defence to the left corner.
With more ball, Scotland might have capitalised further, for there was a wonderful eagerness about their play at that stage. England, by contrast, were leaden, and prone to horrible handling lapses all along the three-quarter line. Yet England took their example from Mitchell and fly-half Giselle Pragnell and it was through their composure that they clawed their way back into the game.
More significantly, they also hauled themselves onto the scoreboard before half-time, levelling the scores with a wonderful try. It came in the 32nd minute when a rumbling charge down the left touchline by Maxine Edwards drew in the Scottish defence, Mitchell switched play to the right and a looping move by Pragnell allowed Pip Spivey to sprint over by the right flag.
Yet the prospect of a punishing England effort in the second half quickly receded as England, so wonderfully aggressive when they won their 1994 trophy, seemed seriously short of appetite. Scotland, however, were ravenous. To the verve of Paterson at outside centre they could add the poise of Rimma Lewis, their stand-off. As the game wore on, moreover, it was clear the Scottish pack, and especially their brittle front row, were gaining the upper hand.
Some people still try to claim that women's rugby is a strange spectacle, but the only truly bizarre sight in this match was that of a Scottish scrum destroying English opposition. The Scots spent much of the third quarter camped on England's line, yet despite a clear advantage in the set piece - they also stole some priceless English lineout ball with the glee of the genuinely larcenous - they could not quite find the extra ounce of power to surge over those last few inches.
Indeed, Scotland seemed more sapped by the experience, as England swept back upfield with determination. Their attacks lacked conviction, however, and the Scottish defence picked them off around the fringes with comfortable ease. Then Gill Burns, the English No 8, was spotted stamping in a ruck and, when Scotland grafted their way back into English territory, it was more Burns footwork that again cost England dear. Foolishly, the English player had this time done the deed on her own 22, and Chalmers swept the penalty home.
The kick secured the win for Scotland and secured the status of a sport that has had more than its fair share of detractors in this part of the world. You could pick critically at some of the quality of the game, particularly the goal-kicking which was next-to abject throughout. But the attitude and spirit of the Scottish side was second to none, and when they travel to Holland in two months time they have every right to believe they could earn the same accolade.
A McGrandles; D Fairbairn, P Paterson, K Littlejohn, M Cave; R Lewis, P Chalmers; J Taylor (L Allsopp 52min), S Scott (A McKenzie 40min), K Findlay, L Cockburn, M McHardy, J Afseth, D Kennedy, B McLeod (J Sheerin 40min).
P George; P Spivey, S Day, S Harris (S Appleby 71min), N Brown (J Molyneux 71min); G Pragnell, E Mitchell; T O'Reilly, J Potter (J Smith 63min), M Edwards, L Uttley, T Siwek, J Ross, G Burns, G Stevens.
Scorers: Littlejohn (T 12min) 5-0; Spivey (T 32min) 5-5; Chalmers (P 69min) 8-5. Referee: P Sleeman (Wales). Attendance: 1,000.
Copyright (C) The Sunday Times, 1998
Reid, Alasdair. "Scots savour grand victory; Rugby Union." Sunday Times [London, England] 22 Mar. 1998