Section: Scotland

Six Nations: England 25-13 Scotland

England set up a climatic final day to the 2015 Six Nations but only after toiling to a 25-13 victory over Scotland.

Two weeks after succumbing to champions Ireland, Stuart Lancaster’s men were forced to draw on their reserves of character to see off opponents searching for a maiden win of the Championship and a first triumph at Twickenham for 32 years.

Only George Ford’s 44th-minute try separated the rivals for most of a second half controlled by England but also containing moments of high anxiety as Scotland, sensing a special result was theirs for the taking, ran with intent and ingenuity.

They deservedly led 13-10 at half-time after Mark Bennett crossed to help overhaul Jonathan Joseph’s early try, the outside centres exchanging scores, but they lacked the firepower to finish the job.

The 12-point win against the Six Nations’ bottom team, combined with Wales’ 23-16 victory over previously unbeaten Ireland earlier in the day, has created a three-way shoot-out for the title.

England, Wales and Ireland can each be crowned champions next Saturday, but the 2015 World Cup hosts know they squandered a glorious chance to place themselves in the driving seat.

As many as five try-scoring opportunities were left on the Twickenham turf, most of them in a dominant opening quarter, and it took Jack Nowell’s try with five minutes left to place them at the summit of the table with one round remaining.

France visit London in the final match of Saturday’s triple-header and with the outcome of the title likely to be decided by points difference, England’s four-point advantage over Ireland is a poor return from an afternoon that began with such promise.

The dismal starts that had blighted their Six Nations appeared to be a distant memory as Ben Youngs and Ford combined to set Luther Burrell free, and although the inside centre butchered the chance, the Scots’ line soon cracked.

Hard yards from Billy Vunipola and James Haskell softened up the visitors and Joseph needed no second invitation to jink over from 10 yards out after being given a sniff of the whitewash by Youngs’ distribution.

Scotland were being over-run, with a one-booted Mike Brown unable to outstrip Stuart Hogg in a race to the line, obviously impeded by having to run with only a sock on his left foot.

Finn Russell was flattened by Courtney Lawes behind his own line and Nowell dashed into space as the pressure continued, but chances were being wasted at a worrying rate.

Any thoughts of a cricket score quickly evaporated as Scotland ran in a try launched from a line-out but born out of the vision of Greig Laidlaw, whose rapid miss pass enabled Mark Bennett to step inside and dive over.

Ford and Laidlaw exchanged penalties, the Scots’ three points coming after they were held up just short of the line, before Anthony Watson correctly had a try disallowed following a forward pass from Ford to Burrell.

England invited pressure on themselves when Joe Marler was penalised at the scrum for a second time and the visitors were now the dominant force, running the ball with intent.

Wide open space greeted revitalised Scotland, who were denied a try when wing Tommy Seymour was brought down by Brown before failing to create a clear overlap, but they at least finished the passage of play with a Laidlaw penalty.

England started the second half with purpose and were rewarded when Ford dummied his way over from close range, but it had been the hard running of wing Nowell that made the real yards.

Holes continued to appear in the blue wall as England wrestled back control, Ford underlining their growing authority with a penalty. England’s ability to self-destruct remained intact, however, as substitute hooker Tom Youngs flung out a wild pass having charged through a gap.

It became Brown’s turn to see a try chalked off for a forward pass – Haskell’s ball was at least a metre in the wrong direction – but the reward for their late superiority came in the 75th minute when Nowell darted over in the left corner.

The try had a hint of good fortune about it as a penalty by Ford struck the left upright and fell for England to launch an attack that has placed them at the summit of the table.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Scotland 19-22 Italy

Scotland slipped to a third successive Six Nations defeat as they fell to a battling Italian side at Murrayfield.

Mark Bennett ran in his first international try for the Scots before Joshua Furno and Giovambattista Venditti replied for Italy.

Greig Laidlaw’s 14 points with the boot kept them in front until the final minute.

But Vern Cotter’s side were undone by a last-gasp penalty try, which was converted by Tommaso Allan.

The result leaves Scotland bottom of the Six Nations table as the only team without a victory to their name while Italy secure their first championship win since 2013.

Scotland’s performances in defeats by France and Wales had offered some signs of encouragement, but there will be no crumbs of comfort in losing to Italy, who celebrate a first win in Edinburgh since 2007.

With matches against title contenders England and Ireland to come, the Scots are staring at the very real prospect of a Six Nations whitewash.

They started the match in positive fashion. Captain Laidlaw kicked Scotland in front with barely a minute on the clock after an Italian infringement, and it was immediately obvious the Scots were aiming to play a more expansive game than in those opening two matches.

The Scots’ ambition was helped by some sloppy Italian play, fly-half Kelly Haimona’s wayward pass an open invitation for Mark Bennett to intercept and coast under the posts unchallenged.

The visitors were not about to crumble though. A driving maul from a line-out on the Scotland 22 carried the Italians over the try line, with lock Furno the man grounding.

Two Laidlaw penalties either side of Haimona’s three-pointer extended Scotland’s lead to 16-8, but they conceded just before half-time through a slice of bad fortune.

Haimona’s penalty attempt came back off the post and the ball bounced favourably to wing Venditti, who managed to force the ball down through a ruck of bodies to make it 16-15 at the break.

Allan, on for Haimona, spurned a good chance to put Italy in front for the first time on 54 minutes, sending a fairly straightforward penalty attempt wide of the posts.

For the second match running the home side had a try ruled out, though in this instance there was no controversy; Sean Lamont’s off-load to Stuart Hogg a blatant forward pass.

Laidlaw nudged Cotter’s men four points ahead with a routine penalty 13 minutes from time, but the Italians would not lie down.

They forced a succession of line-outs and scrums deep in Scottish territory, and with the home defence desperately trying to halt a rolling maul, referee George Clancy deemed they were doing so illegally and awarded a match-winning penalty try, which was converted by Allan to seal a desperately disappointing day for the Scots.

Read more at BBC Sport

Six Nations: Scotland 23-26 Wales

Tries from Rhys Webb and Jonathan Davies guided Wales to a 26-23 win over Scotland in the Six Nations at Murrayfield.

Nine days after being silenced on home soil by England, the dragon rediscovered its roar to an extent as tries by scrum-half Webb and Jonathan Davies consigned Scotland to a second Six Nations defeat in a row. Full-back Leigh Halfpenny, who delivered an immaculate performance in attack and defence, kicked 16 points, while Scotland replied through a breakaway Stuart Hogg score and substitute lock Jim Hamilton’s late touchdown, plus three Greig Laidlaw penalties and a conversion, and a Finn Russell conversion.

The Scots again showed obvious signs of their improvement under coach Vern Cotter, yet Wales looked a more dangerous team with ball in hand and possessed outstanding runners in Webb, Davies and Halfpenny. Wales, though, still have to do it the hard way if they have any realistic aspirations of Six Nations silverware.

Sam Warburton’s men know they cannot afford another defeat, and their next two games are against France in Paris and at home to reigning Six Nations champions Ireland. For Scotland, it is far from a case of going back to the drawing board, as they again displayed some high-class rugby to confirm a feelgood factor that has surrounded them since Cotter took charge last year.

Both sides showed two changes from contrasting opening round Six Nations defeats as they faced a make-or-break game. Sean Lamont replaced injured Scotland wing Tommy Seymour and prop Geoff Cross took over from Euan Murray, who does not play on Sundays for religious reasons. Wales, meanwhile, opted to rest powerful wing George North, who took took two heavy blows to his head during the 21-16 defeat against England last week, so Liam Williams deputised, with Ospreys forward Aaron Jarvis replacing concussed tighthead prop Samson Lee.

And the visitors made a bright start, moving deep into Scottish territory through some precise phase-play. Halfpenny opened their account with a short-range penalty after six minutes. Wales, though, pressed the self-destruct button just three minutes later when Scotland lock Richie Gray stole turnover possession 10 metres inside his own half, and Hogg outsprinted a shell-shocked Welsh blindside defence to claim an opportunist try that Laidlaw converted.

Scotland should have punished Wales again shortly afterwards when Russell broke with menace, but centre Alex Dunbar’s pass failed to find his midfield partner Mark Bennett and a glorious chance went astray. A Laidlaw penalty then put Scotland 10-3 ahead, but that strike was quickly cancelled out by Halfpenny’s second successful kick as Wales cut their arrears at the end of a breathless opening quarter.

Wales continued to look dangerous with ball in hand, and it looked as though Halfpenny would complete his penalty hat-trick from inside Scotland’s 22, but skipper Warburton opted for a kick to the corner and an attacking lineout instead, only for his team to then be penalised. There was no obvious pattern to the match, but Wales gained a numerical advantage nine minutes before half-time when Russell received a yellow card after a mid-air challenge on his opposite number Dan Biggar.

And Scotland were punished almost immediately as Wales launched a flowing attack highlighted by Davies’ surging run, before Webb collected Williams’ inside pass and posted his second try in successive Six Nations games this season. Halfpenny landed the touchline conversion attempt, taking Wales into a 16-10 lead, but the numbers were then evened out when Davies saw yellow for a poor tackle on Scotland number eight Johnnie Beattie.

And that was a cue for Scotland to put Wales on the back foot as half-time approached, with the visitors requiring some frantic last-ditch defending to preserve their advantage and troop off six points clear at the break. Scotland immediately cut the gap after Russell returned through another Laidlaw penalty when Wales centre Jamie Roberts was punished for not releasing, but a more ominous-looking sign for Wales was a scrum that creaked with worrying regularity.

Halfpenny’s fourth successful penalty then made it 19-13 to Wales, before a Laidlaw strike cut the gap, but Wales should have moved clear when they broke Scotland’s defence midway through the second period. Williams dived gleefully to score in the corner, yet referee Glenn Jackson consulted the television match official and then rightly ruled out the try following obstruction by two Wales forwards during the immediate build-up.

But Wales were not to be denied, and they effectively made the game safe 16 minutes from time when Davies crashed through a couple of weak tackles, touching down between the posts for a try that Halfpenny converted. Hamilton touched down with the game’s final attacking phase, with Russell converting, but Wales prevailed and collected two vital points.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: France 15-8 Scotland

France battled to a hard-earned victory over Scotland in Paris in a contest that offered much encouragement for new Scotland coach Vern Cotter in his first Six Nations match in charge.

Three penalties from Camille Lopez had France 9-3 ahead as the clock ticked towards half-time, only for Dougie Fife to complete a sweeping move by diving over in the corner for a well-deserved try for Scotland.

The intensity did not let up in the second half, with only a Lopez penalty adding to the score, even with Scotland being reduced to 14 men when John Beattie was yellow-carded. Lopez finally rounded out the win with a penalty in the final minute, much to the relief of the home crowd.

There was little in the history books to give Scotland hope ahead of their opener in Paris, but there was a definite look of confidence about Cotter’s men.

With largely the same side which did so well against Argentina, New Zealand and Tonga in the autumn, the new coach aimed to sack the French capital for the first time in 16 years.

However, Philippe Saint-Andre’s hosts felt they have shaken off the difficulties which have plagued them for the last three years, even if they did lose to the Pumas last time out.

The Scots handed tournament debuts to Blair Cowan, Finn Russell and Mark Bennett but were without the injured duo of Sean Maitland and Matt Scott, while Les Bleus – wearing a red kit for the first time in 56 years after ditching their traditional white change attire – gave South Africa-born scrum-half Rory Kockott his first cap.

There was barely a minute on the clock when Cowan gifted the hosts an early penalty and Lopez punished his indiscipline as he knocked his kick over with the help of a post.

But the Scots did not look fazed by the London Irish forward’s mistake and dug in to repel a couple of French surges.

Russell settled well, selling Lopez a lovely dummy, while Richie Gray took the initiative with some decent carries before a collapsed scrum allowed skipper Greig Laidlaw to level things with Scotland’s opening penalty.

Les Bleus – or Les Rouges as they have been dubbed – swarmed back up field from the kick-off and claimed another penalty as they stretched Cotter’s men one way then the other, with Lopez making no mistake with his kick.

With devastating power and some clever off-loads from the likes of Mathieu Bastareaud and Damien Chouly, the Scots, who replaced wing Tommy Symour with Fife after a hip injury ended his game after 17 minutes, were forced to scramble more than once as they held on.

In the face of such impressive attacking talent, Cotter’s men knew it was imperative they took their chances when they came along. Stuart Hogg tried with a penalty from two yards inside his own half while Russell went for a drop goal, but neither could slot through the posts.

The Scots were growing in confidence, though. Alex Dunbar sent a grubber through for Hogg after a catching out Wesley Fofana, but Yoann Huget came to the hosts’ rescue, but another indiscretion at the breakdown by Rob Harley allowed Lopez to boot over again.

The visitors’ response was first class. They muscled up field and, after pushing to within a yard of the whitewash, kept their composure to feed the ball wide for Bennett and then Euan Murray, who kept it simple as he made sure Fife dived over in the corner.

Laidlaw’s conversion hit the upright as the French clung on for a slender half-time lead.

The French steadied themselves as the game restarted and were able to extend their lead when Scotland’s try scorer suffered a rush of blood to the head.

Fife tried and failed to keep Lopez’s kick for touch in and after slumping to his backside petulantly threw the ball away. Welsh referee Nigel Owens was not amused – neither was Fife as Lopez nailed the penalty given against him.

Rob Harley was replaced by Alasdair Strokosch after 53 minutes – but was called back into action moments later as Cowan suffered a bump to the head.

France swept forward again but some brave Scottish resistance held them up a yard from scoring, while Lopez missed for the first time with his boot soon after.

Scotland hopes of overhauling the four-point deficit were hit, though, when they lost Beattie to the sin-bin with just under 20 minutes left.

The Castres No.8 was punished for clattering into the side of a ruck as France pressed into the Scots’ 22. It was the last thing Cotter’s team needed as they chased a historic win in the French capital.

Another Lopez penalty then put daylight between the teams and ensured Scotland would have to wait until the summer – when they return in World Cup warm-up action – to put right their Parisian track record.

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: France v Scotland

Scotland coach Vern Cotter has handed out three Six Nations debuts to Finn Russell, Mark Bennett and Blair Cowan ahead of Saturday’s match against France in Paris.

The team shows just two changes from the team that saw off Tonga in November with Bennett and Euan Murray starting. The back five features four Glasgow players with Edinburgh’s Tim Visser the fifth.

Greig Laidlaw skippers the team at scrum-half with Finn Russell at fly-half. Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford and Murray pack down in the front-row with Richie Gray partnering Jonny Gray in the locks. Rob Harley, Cowan and Johnnie Beattie make up the back-row.

“Seeing the passion and desire among our players in the build up to the tournament has been special,” Cotter said. “The players really enjoy the atmosphere of these big occasions, and the pressure of having to perform for their country, in front of huge crowds.

“They’re looking forward to getting out there. France will be tough. They played well in the autumn series but remain frustrated with past results in the Six Nations. They will be very difficult to contain so we’ll have to stay tight as a unit, work hard for each other and try to apply some pressure. It’ll be a very tough start to the championship, but we’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Scotland:

Stuart Hogg, Tim Visser, Alex Dunbar, Mark Bennett, Tommy Seymour, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw (captain); Alasdair Dickinson, Ross Ford, Euan Murray, Richie Gray, Jonny Gray, Rob Harley, Blair Cowan, Johnnie Beattie

Replacements: Fraser Brown, Gordon Reid, Geoff Cross, Jim Hamilton, Alasdair Strokosch, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Peter Horne, Dougie Fife

Read more at ESPN

Six Nations: Duncan Weir ruled out after arm surgery for Scotland

Scotland will be without fly-half Duncan Weir for the Six Nations due to an arm injury.

The 23-year-old Glasgow Warrior has undergone surgery to repair his right biceps and will be out of action for up to four months.

Weir started every Six Nations match last year, kicking an 80th-minute drop-goal to secure the solitary victory over Italy in Rome.

He won the last of his 18 caps as a replacement against Tonga in November.

Weir was understudy to club-mate Finn Russell during the Autumn internationals, coming off the bench in all three matches.

In September, Wasps and Scotland fly-half Ruaridh Jackson was ruled out for between six and nine months with an anterior cruciate ligament tear.

Glasgow have also announced that loose forward Tyrone Holmes will be out for up to six weeks as he recovers from a fractured eye socket.

Read more at BBC Sport

Rugby Union: Scotland 16-24 New Zealand

Scotland pushed world champions New Zealand close before going down 24-16 at Murrayfield on Saturday night.

Victor Vito gave the All Blacks an early lead as he powered home with the opening try 12 minutes in before Tommy Seymour’s intercept score gave the delighted hosts an immediate response.

Kickers Dan Carter and Grieg Laidlaw kept the score close with three penalties apiece but a successful effort from the boot of Colin Slade nudged New Zealand in front.

Jeremy Thrush’s late score finally put daylight between the sides as New Zealand claimed their 28th win from 30 Tests against the Dark Blues.

Laidlaw did have the chance to put Scotland ahead with quarter of an hour remaining but tugged his penalty wide.

Yet Scotland can take huge credit from a performance that saw them come within 10 points of the Kiwis for the first time since 1991.

The home side’s head coach Vern Cotter claimed in the build-up to the second autumn Test that the youthful side sent out by All Blacks boss Steven Hansen was packed with “stars of the future”.

But it was the Scotland defence which shined brightest as they soaked up phase after phase of New Zealand pressure for much of the second half.

The performance of Cotter’s men in their five-try win over Argentina last week highlighted Scotland’s growing attacking threat.

But against a side as dangerous from anywhere on the pitch as the Kiwis, they knew they would have their defensive resolve tested to the limit.

Their first serious examination came after just 12 minutes and the result was not good. New Zealand scrum-half TJ Perenara threw Vito a mongrel of a pass but the back-rower did brilliantly to scoop it up and march into a strong stride.

Stuart Hogg and Laidlaw both tried to haul him down but there was no stopping the Hurricanes forward as he powered into the corner for the opening try. Carter, though, pulled his conversion.

But like last week against Argentina, Scotland responded to an early set-back both immediately and impressively.

Seymour – the scorer of an intercept try against the Pumas – repeated the trick as he pounced on Richie McCaw’s loose pass and ran in unopposed for the equalising score before Laidlaw stuck over the extras.

Yet New Zealand’s attacking surges refused to relent. The Scots were working hard to keep them at bay but more than a few times their graft over-stepped the mark, meaning Carter could add three penalties to the scoreboard against the lone shot at the posts managed by Laidlaw.

Even escaping their own 22 was a feat in itself for the Scots as the Kiwis put some huge hits on anyone brave enough to run the ball.

With huge figures like iconic All Blacks skipper McCaw and flanker Sam Cane to penetrate, Scotland simply could not find a way through.

But after a pumped-up start to the second period, they were happy to accept another three points as centre Malakai Fekitoa was caught offside inside his own 22.

At the other end, the All Blacks looked to turn the screw but both at the set-piece and the break-down, Scotland stood up boldly to the challenge.

Carter’s departure as he was replaced by Liam Messam was a welcome sight for Scotland but gaining ground was proving to be an almost Herculean task.

With Carter off, Slade took over New Zealand’s kicking duties and finally added to the All Blacks’ tally 26 minutes into the second half. But Laidlaw again trimmed the world champions’ lead back with his third penalty.

When Wyatt Crockett blocked Laidlaw’s attempt to spread the play from an offside position, Scotland were handed the chance to nudge themselves in front with another penalty. But as the excitement grew, the sold-out Murrayfield was suddenly hushed as the skipper missed with his boot for the first time.

A streaker lightened the mood briefly but Scotland were not laughing as New Zealand pushed forward again.

Again the Scots were having to defend desperately but the pressure finally told as Thursh found a gap in the home rear-guard to squeeze over from close range, while Slade put the Kiwis out of sight with the conversion.

Read more at ESPN