The Anatomy of a Penalty Try – Scotland vs England 2022 Six Nations

It can, of course, be a great leveller but it’s very seldom you get a really great game in wet weather. A close game yes but that in itself doesn’t necessitate a good game.

Yet the opening round of the Six Nations saw not one but three fantastic games in the wind and rain. We could take our pick o many moments from the three but I’m going to focus on the Calcutta cup for this week.

My good friend and brilliant Analyst Geraint Davies has produced a sensational video on Ireland vs Wales so I suggest checking that out in regards to that game: 

Here though, let’s keep our focus on some key elements of the Scotland vs England game.

The Penalty try will be talked about at a later stage and I’ve produced a video on it but I want to focus on a couple of things I think were key in the game turning out the way it did. The first is Scotland’s defence and the second is England’s poor game management. They are interlinked for sure but it’s worth starting by looking in isolation at the opening periods of play.

Defensive Dominance

Scotland under Lions defence coach Steve Tandy has developed one of the most intelligent defensive units in World Rugby. World Class gets bandied around a lot and it’s overused in abundance but Scotlands “active zone” defensive system has been developing for the last few years and is undeniably hitting its stride. Alan Dymock from Rugby World wrote an excellent piece on this that you can find here:

I think here is where England got it wrong in regards to underestimating how good the Scottish Defence actually is. 

A key indicator for this was England’s opening two attacks.

Across those two attack’s England played 9 phases and two tactical kicks.

Of those 9 phases:

  • all were played between the halfway and 10m line (two phases crossed the 10m but by about 2-3m so it’s negligible). 
  • Three of those phases lost ground. 
  • All phases played off 10 lost ground.

Both Kicks surrendered possession without contest (long kick to Hogg, grubber kick from Steward that ricochets into touch)

In contrast, if we look at the Scottish defence in this same period we can see they are under no stress.

England’s carries fail to cause any disruption with the Scottish able to absorb the ball in their channels – no one is made to move from their channel to defend. The line is not stretched, pulled or distended in any way. 

In the Third play, England runs almost the same launch play as the 1st, and Scotland again is able to keep them in or around the 10m line, disrupting one phase significantly and then isolating Sinckler on the ground to win a penalty.

So three attacks lost possession twice and conceded a penalty..

The fourth sees England kick long from a penalty, knock on two phases into their attack inside the Scottish 22 and rather than relive pressure Scotland kick long and win around 30m with their defensive press, 4 phases on England kick through and the process starts again.

England kicked 4 times in 5 attacks none of them benefited England in any way.

The general consensus is that England shouldn’t have kicked, but they were running into a brick wall defence. Kicking was the right option against a defence like this – the problem is they were kicking as an afterthought, not as an obvious tactical decision and that is an issue against a team like Scotland.

Subs Strategy

The second criticism of England replacing Marcus Smith with George Ford and both Genge and Sinckler with Marler and Stuart is one of huge frustration for me.

Let’s quickly talk through those substitutions.  

Sinckler goes down right before Smith kicks.

As play stops Sinckler goes down on his knees and gets some treatment as he gets back up he is attended to by both physios and a conversation is had. The kick is taken and both Sinckler and Genge are substituted at the same time.

So 20 minutes to go, a prop is struggling it makes little sense to keep him on. The reason Genge will have been removed will be to keep the front row balanced, with a tired loosehead and a fresh TH the risk of one side becoming dominant at the expense of the other weakening is a risk. That can then destabilise the scrum.

The front row works in units as well, so Genge Sinckler, Marler Stuart so injury aside it makes sense to make dual substitutions. Cowan-Dickie stays on presumably for his lineout throwing.

On Smith, it seems he had been tiring in the previous 5-10 minutes. Sure he kicked a penalty but he’d also missed touch with the scoreboard in their favour. 

In truth since England scored the try through Smith he had touched the ball three times (only once in play) missed a tackle and then missed touch from a penalty.

That’s not to criticise Smith, he was running the pods behind but to me, it seemed like a sensible option to bring on Ford to try and push things away from Scotland with a new set of eyes.

However, Ford comes on and doesn’t touch the ball in play for approx 15 minutes – with momentum swinging drastically back to Scotland from the penalty try and a subsequent penalty goal.

England will be disappointed in their lack of control in the face of an aggressive Scottish defence, but the truth is Scotland are a form team ith backed by an incredibly astute group of coaches and analysts.

If statistics alone won you a game England would surely be the victors. 54% possession,62% territory, 18+ minutes in possession.

But it’s what you do when you have that possession, how efficient you are with it and that ultimately is where Scotland showed the difference between the two teams.



Share This Post On