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England Saxons 9 Scotland A 12: Second-string set standard

SCOTLAND'S senior players were watching them on television at their team hotel in Surrey, and the country's second-stringers gave their viewers a massive fillip with a voracious and gutsy performance in gruesome conditions, built squarely on defence, but with alacrity in attack as well when the chances arose.

Greg Tonks in action during  during Scotland A's excellent  performance. Picture: Getty
Greg Tonks in action during during Scotland A's excellent performance. Picture: Getty

However, it ended in controversial circumstances, when Scotland A props Jon Welsh and Gordon Reid were sin-binned in quick succession. Ally Dickinson had been injured earlier, so the game went to uncontested scrums, a development that was unquestionably in the Scots' favour at the time. Saxons coach Jon Callard was clearly angered by what happened, but refused to blame that episode for his side's defeat.

"It's my proudest day ever," was Scotland A coach Shade Munro's assessment. "They were absolutely fantastic. We knew they were strong and powerful, what you see is what you get, so you have to stop them getting over the gain line. That's what we wanted to do and we did it."

Munro highlighted the contributions of hooker Steve Lawrie and captain Ryan Wilson – the official man of the match – but stressed that it had been a team performance. With so many of last year's A team winning caps in the last 12 months, further honours could await the heroes of Kingston Park as well, and Wilson must be at the front of that queue this morning.

Saracens' Duncan Taylor may have been a surprise name in the Scotland A team, but he took just a minute to justify his inclusion and cement himself into the affections of the large travelling support from the north. With many still taking their seats, Taylor gathered a weak clearance by Saxons playmaker George Ford, shrugged off Tom Biggs and raced 30 metres for a try.

Tom Heathcote converted well, although the lead was reduced a few minutes later when Ford landed a penalty, albeit with a helpful assist off the crossbar. But England's hopes of kicking on from those first points were quickly dashed, as Heathcote clipped over a penalty soon afterwards to restore the Scotland A's seven-point advantage.

Another Ford strike reeled the Scots in again, but as the rain started to pour down the visitors looked far livelier, with young Sean Kennedy marshalling the effort impressively at scrum-half.

However, Edinburgh full-back Greig Tonks, a former England under-20 player was next to set pulses racing, with a sizzling run down the left touchline that recalled Stuart Hogg's wonder try at Netherdale in the same fixture last year – or would have if he hadn't been stopped a few yards short. In fairness, Scotland had a decent following wind, although Heathcote might have preferred calmer conditions as he missed with his next two penalty efforts. The signs were still favourable, though, and some vigorous rucking gave Scotland a kind of go-forward that their opponents struggled to muster.

What the Saxons did have, however, was a pack of English forwards who might have come from Central Casting, and their powerful mauling game caused the Scots considerable problem. Leicester pair Jordan Crane and Graham Kitchener – how his country needed him – put their physiques to good use at times, but the Saxons lacked the sharpness to capitalise on their muscular efforts and Scotland maintained their 10-6 lead to half-time.

Hopes of a quick English revival were not exactly bolstered by the dreadful restart by Ford. From it, Scotland rumbled possession back upfield and pretty much controlled the game for the next five minutes. A superb sequence almost put Stuart McInally over for a try, and it took a brilliant last-ditch tackle by Johnny May to squeeze Nikki Walker out in the corner. It was no more than Scotland deserved when Heathcote drove his second successful penalty over with 46 minutes gone.

England huffed and puffed to the end, but all they could add was a solitary Ford penalty, in the 73rd minute. Scotland may have been riding their luck at the end, but their victory was still unquestionably deserved.

"It is disappointing," said Callard, who was also in charge when the Scots won 35-0 at Netherdale last year. "We were in a good position to win the game through hard work and effort, but the sin-binnings at the end will probably be looked at and questions will be asked. Though Scotland defended well and punished our errors."

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