Eddie Jones’ bizarre decision to replace Marcus Smith proves he still doesn’t trust him
Still, Russell ultimately delivered the killing blows in the final quarter. It was his perfectly judged kick that first prompted Luke Cowan-Dickie to strike, resulting in a penalty try and a yellow card. His next intervention was even better, threading a grubber into the England 22 from less than 5 yards from the line. No doubt he realized that England had no hooker and Joe Marler’s shot attempt was twisted. England then conceded a penalty from the scrum which Russell converted for what turned out to be the winning score.
For most of the game, Russell was feeding on scraps. From the start, it was apparent that Smith was happy to play the role of bandleader rather than acting solo. There were plenty of pop passes and little nudges that allowed the forwards to come forward. There was a small side step but nothing too fancy, like a fencer probing for weakness rather than going straight to the point.
With Scotland’s defense so far up to snuff, Smith has stepped up with a frequency that would have raised criticism from Owen Farrell. It wasn’t just him, Elliot Daly attempted a grubber as England overlapped down the left side.
For all of England’s dominance they had just one penalty, after Jonny Gray breached a ruck to show effort which Smith converted rather inelegantly. Smith’s best opportunity in the first half came when Youngs took a break in the middle. Scotland breached the ruck and with a penalty advantage burning a hole in his pocket, Smith tried to spot Henry Slade with a cross kick. It was the type of kick Smith did 9 out of 10 times in a Harlequins jersey, but on this occasion he overcooked it by a few yards.
Russell, meanwhile, had to do almost all of his work on the back foot in a half in which Scotland had just 28 per cent possession. He played this role superbly, clearing his lines in the face of considerable English pressure. This being Russell, he couldn’t resist a minor flourish that would have caused a wave of palpitations among Scottish fans, when he nonchalantly avoided Maro Itoje on his own line.
The pattern of the game continued early in the second half with England dominating possession but the Scottish defense were up to snuff, although Smith added his third penalty to close the gap to a single point . But at some point the pressure was going to come on too much and in the 53rd minute the barrage finally burst. The English maul thundered into the Scottish 22, yard by yard, further sapping energy from the home side’s legs. Smith bided his time, studying both the movement of the maul and the Scottish defenders. Then came the call. Youngs escaped the maul and gave Smith the perfect pass executing a diagonal line that meant he was never going to be caught. The conversion wide on the left was difficult and Smith was no match for the task to leave England with a four-point lead.