Waiting by the statue of Doddie Weir, the men and women with the worst jobs in rugby this weekend. The Whitburn Band’s motto is Forward and they stuck tenaciously to it as they waited for the bus to appear, raised the Cross of St George and then marched the England team through the massive rows of Scottish fans to Murrayfield.
Much has been made of these moments in recent weeks, of how the pipers who have led the English teams in this slow parade in previous years have proceeded at a deliberately funereal pace to prolong the discomfort of the visiting players at being exposed to all the strength of football. Scottish feud.
Some England players have spoken of how they felt they had missed out on the Calcutta Cup before setting foot on the pitch after they were bewildered to see three levels of balconies towering above them, filled with booing and booing Scottish fans. They booed while the pipers entertained themselves. towards the point where the bus disembarks the players.
The atmosphere was hostile as the band’s musicians played England towards their destiny, but it was no potboiler. Anyone who has seen the Manchester City bus crawling along Anfield Road, surrounded on all sides by Liverpool fans, flares turning the air red, boos and worse raining down, would think it relatively benign.
The English players seemed determined to assimilate it too. They got off the coach and waited alongside it for a while, looking up at the galleries of Scottish fans above them, in no hurry to make their way to the sanctuary of the changing rooms. There was a certain good humor in the reception they were receiving and they seemed to be enjoying it.
Scotland continued their long winning streak against England and became champions of the Calcutta Cup.
Steve Borthwick’s side have lost their last four games in rugby’s oldest international rivalry.
The intensity increased before the match as the crowd rose to sing Flower of Scotland and Murrayfield was spellbound. Scottish national team Grant Gilchrist had tears in his eyes as the Scottish anthem played throughout the stadium and it was clear that the first few minutes would be a test of the mettle of this new England team, under the command of captain Jamie George.
“We expect more hostility,” Joe Marler had said last week, “and we can either run away from it or run toward it.” If we run from him, as we have done at times, especially at Murrayfield, they will pull down our pants and do a job for us.
As the match began and more hostility cascaded from the stands, England looked as if they were running towards him. Forward. They started off brilliantly. They seemed to be playing without fear, free from intimidation. They took the lead within five minutes with a wonderfully skilful try, orchestrated by George Ford and finished off by George Furbank.
JK Rowling was in the crowd and even if she doesn’t possess the star power of Taylor Swift at a Super Bowl, her presence hinted at the possibility of magic. Then along came Duhan van der Merwe, who had broken English hearts with a magnificent try at Twickenham last year to seal Scotland’s third successive Calcutta Cup victory.
Duhan van der Merwe was furious when Gregor Townsend’s team triumphed on Saturday
There was much talk in the build-up to the clash about the possible intimidating effect of the Murrayfield crowd.
England simply could not cope with Van der Merwe. They couldn’t deal with his pace. They couldn’t deal with his class. They could not cope with his invention. England don’t have a player like him and once again, like last year, he tore them to shreds.
Midway through the half, Huw Jones burst into the heart of the English defence. Trailed by two pursuers, he had the presence of mind to flick the ball towards Van der Merwe, who broke through what remained of the English defence, beat Ford and crossed the line.
Their second try was even better, a result that began with a clever dart around a desperate tackle attempt and ended with a stunning sprint from the Scotland 22 to the England try line. It was a world class attempt, a privilege to watch.
Five minutes into the second half, he scored his third try after a glorious lay-up from Cameron Redpath and a cross-field kick that bounced off Van der Merwe’s arms to give Scotland a 24-13 lead. England never came close to closing that gap. Any suggestions they made are little more than a whistle to keep spirits up.
It was at that time that a hard truth became evident. England do not consistently lose to Scotland in the Six Nations because men and women playing bagpipes or bugles march slowly ahead of their coach on the way to the match.
But in reality, England’s defeat can simply be attributed to Scotland being a better team made up of better individuals.
They are not losing to Scotland because Scottish fans boo them from the balconies outside the West Stand when they get off the coach. They don’t lose to Scotland because they are baffled by the reception from the home fans. They did not flee the hostility. They just couldn’t deal with rugby.
The reality is that this idea of the hostility of the reception and the disabling effect it is supposed to have is a smokescreen. It’s an excuse and it’s a bad excuse. England are not losing to Scotland because Scottish fans are loud and proud. They are losing to Scotland because Scotland is a better team than England.
They are more imaginative than England. They are more athletic than England. In terms of ambition, they are braver than England. England don’t have a player like Finn Russell, who dictated Scotland’s play and took six penalties and conversions in six attempts, and they don’t have a player like Van der Merwe. England are a weaker team, both individually and collectively.