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Farrell’s England defy rancour and rain in Scotland to blow doubts away | Andy Bull | Sport

The forecast was that bad that on the trains north on Saturday morning they were warning passengers to abandon any plans to travel back that way on Sunday. By the time the service reached Peterborough they were promising free passage back to London for anyone who wanted to turn tail already. A couple of England fans on a corporate freebie sitting near me made it as far as York before they gave up. Even the England team rearranged their schedule so they could fly out later Saturday night, as soon as they had done what they had to do. It was one of those nights, one to admire from behind the curtains while you’re beside the fire.

“Worst conditions you’ve ever played in?” they asked Stuart Hogg afterwards. “Definitely.”

The writer Ron Butlin once decided to count how many different words the Scottish have for rain, he made it to 70 before he gave up. Given that the academics from the University of Glasgow who are putting together The Historical Thesaurus of Scots found 421 distinct words for snow, Butlin probably still has a way to go. They do, too. Four years ago they promised they were going to do all the different synonyms for rain next, but they don’t seem to have finished it yet. What would you call the stuff falling at Murrayfield this Saturday, for instance, where it was wasn’t just cats and dogs coming down, but plastic beer bottles too.

One of those flew down from the gantry after the England team bus pulled up and caught one of the support staff on the back of the head. Welcome to Murrayfield. And people wonder why the players talk about how much they hate playing here. Eddie Jones called it “niggle” before the match. That’s a polite description for some of what they had to put up with, the raucous hoots and whistles whenever Owen Farrell lined up a penalty. Murrayfield isn’t the only place where they boo the kicker. But it may be the only place where they boo the stadium announcement asking them not to.

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Niggle’s more fitting for all that pre-match rigmarole. Never mind David Sole’s famous slow walk from the tunnel in this fixture back in 1990, this time it was the Scottish Rugby Union’s patron, Princess Anne, who kept everyone waiting. She, at least, was utterly unruffled by the weather, and took her royal time going out to shake the players’ hands before the kick-off. England (rash decision this) were wearing their shorts and they all stood shivering through their polite grins while she made her way ever so slowly down the line. Behind them, a 30-piece brass band bashed out 500 Miles by the Proclaimers while 60,000-odd Scots sang along.

As soon as she was done the players all started bouncing and jiggling and beating their arms to get the blood flowing again. The Scots, better prepared, were all wearing trousers. Their team made a warm start, too, when Sam Johnson smacked down Jonny May after the kick-off. Another dose of Scottish hospitality. The Scots followed up with three minutes of furious pick-and-go drives, pummelling the English pack. Already then, you could tell the game was shaping up to be a real test of the mettle of this England team, of “their leadership”, as Jones said, and of their spirt, smarts and character.

Kicking conditions were tough for both teams at Murrayfield.

Kicking conditions were tough for both teams at Murrayfield. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

England’s plan became clear as the half wore on. Farrell ran through his entire repertoire of kicks in the space of five or so minutes, a chip to one corner, a grubber to the other, an up-and-under down the middle. It would have been a good plan any day they weren’t playing into the teeth of a gale. Never mind the flags flapping round the top of the grandstands, the posts themselves were blowing sideways. Farrell executed them pretty well in the circumstances. The three penalties he missed, all by a distance, showed just how hard the gusting wind was making things.

There were a whole lot of errors on both sides, “must have been 40 or 50 altogether”, Gregor Townsend said. Kicks that were overhit and flew wildly into touch, others that went up and boomeranged right back the way they came. In between all that slapstick, there was a lot of short, ugly work, two teams throwing body blows at each other. You caught little glimpses of the action among the tumult, limbs popping out of a cloud of dust in a cartoon punch up, Maro Itoje scragging Ali Price, and Tom Curry stripping the ball off Blair Kinghorn.

And at the end of it all, England found it in themselves. The Scots struck hard again at the start of the second half, when it felt, again, that they might overwhelm England. But they held. They showed up better than they had in Paris last week. Particularly the pack. And the bench, too. Ellis Genge was superb again, while Ben Youngs was good as well: cool, calm, and clinical.

“We hung in there,” Farrell said. But they didn’t hang around afterwards. It wasn’t the weather for lingering. It was a hell of a game, in its way, one the team will feel much stronger for coming through. A win they will remember long after everyone who watched has forgotten all about it.

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