Scotland’s comeback to retain the Calcutta Cup was a great moment of Rugby history, and it was no accident. The Scots used a combination of clever tactics and phenomenal individual skills to stay in the contest and claw back 31 points to draw the game. Here are the England v Scotland tactics you need to know.

This first tactic would jump-start Scotland’s comeback.

Finding Space Behind the Halfback | England v Scotland Tactics

Gregor Townsend must have noticed this small weakness in England’s defensive structure. As their no. 9 defends up in the line instead of sweeping in behind, there is a gap between the defensive line and the backfield defence.

Scotland tried to find this gap a few times, but Youngs was able to track back.

Youngs gets to the kick on this occasion
Youngs gets to the kick on this occasion

By the time the second half rolled around, Scotland would take their comeback up a notch by finally making this tactic work. This time the kick comes from their own no.9 Ali Price, leaving England with little time to react.

Price exploits the space successfully
Price exploits the space successfully

Bradbury then charges onto the ball from nowhere to score. This try signified that Scotland’s tactics were working, and they would score 4 tries within the next 11 minutes.

Bradbury finishes the move
Bradbury finishes the move

These 11 minutes would be dominated by Scotland’s no. 10, Finn Russell.

How Finn Russell Gained Control of the Game | England v Scotland Tactics

This piece of skill doesn’t require a whole lot of analysis. Russell flicks a cut-out pass over the English defence, creating unexpected space.

Russell floats a lovely pass
Russell floats a lovely pass

From a different perspective, we can see Jonny May was supposed to be covering. But he wasn’t expecting that pass, and he is in a very poor position. Even his pace can’t save a try now.

Jonny May catches his man, but it's too late
Jonny May catches his man, but it’s too late

The next try would come soon after and would bear an eerie resemblance to another Finn Russell play during this tournament. England try to throw the ball to a pod, but it’s far too predictable. Russell has seen it all before and moves in for the intercept.

We all know a player with a natural knack for intercepts, and Finn Russell is one such player. You can check out his effort from a very similar position against Italy. It was so good, it’s almost like he’s playing in slow motion.

How Finn Russell is Playing in Slow-Motion

The comeback would be finished off by a skill that Scotland are bringing back in a big way.

The Dangerous Double-Pump Pass | England v Scotland Tactics

Making defenders hesitate is becoming increasingly important in this age of rush defences we are in. Scotland have developed an interesting way to do this, and they would use it with frequency against England.

The skill is a double pump pass. It’s just a dummy pass to a player, followed by an actual pass (usually to the same player). Below Russell dummies to Johnson, then looks behind him like he’s about to flick a pass out the back. The English defenders believe this lie fully.

The double pump bamboozles England's defence
The double pump bamboozles England’s defence

Johnson receives a real pass and is shot into space. He then does what can only be described as a Jonah Lomu impression by bumping off multiple players to score. An incredible try.

Johnson somehow manages to score
Johnson somehow manages to score

The double-pumps continued below as Russell this time fakes a pass before throwing one wide.

Russell fakes before throwing the pass wide, causing defenders to hesitate
Russell fakes before throwing the pass wide, causing defenders to hesitate

And it wasn’t just limited to Finn Russell. Much of the Scottish team was using the double-pump pass to hold up the English defence.

Below Price gets in on the act with a dummy pass that causes hesitation in the English line. Johnson benefits again and takes advantage of the half-gap that was created.

Ali Price throws a double-pump pass
Ali Price throws a double-pump pass

We have now seen a few antidotes to the rush defence during this 6 Nations. Wales decided not to face it at all and instead beat up the English defence with pick & go’s. Now Scotland are using these subtle passing skills to keep defenders guessing.

Do you think Scotland were brilliant in the second half? Or were England at fault for letting this game go? Leave your thoughts below.


  1. Hi Henry Great insights as ever.. Clearly Scotland were able to execute, some subtle plays which foxed England and created very telling line breaks, leading to trys. And for that they deserved credit. England however failed to adapt, or react. As much as it was a train wreck to watch as an England supporter, Their main undoing as this all unraveled was an inability to control their own ball in a low risk manner. As the Scots started to get the score board rolling, England should have started to tighten the plays and initiate a possession dominated game plan. Rolling mauls, pick and go, regardless of field position. Slowing down the Scots should have been the objective. Stringing together more phases, would have slowly quelled the uprising. This England team is all about strength and size, but when it came to shutting up shop and starving the Scots of the ball, they went lacking.

  2. Hi Neil, I absolutely agree regarding England. All it should have taken was some calm heads out there to shut up shop, and the game could have been won.

  3. Henry, thanks for the article. As a Scotland supporter, I was very proud of my teams comeback but can’t help feeling that England took the foot off the accelerator, as much as Scotland won it.
    England have brilliant athletes but seem to be lacking in leadership and some rugby smarts.
    My dream would be for Scotland to get Shaun Edwards in to work with Gregar, what a combination that would be!

  4. Interesting article but one aspect it doesn’t touch on was the way Scotland and Russel changed the shape of the game by not kicking to touch. By my count, there were only 7 lineouts in the second half versus 18 in the first and only 3 scrums. It actually reduced the opportunities for England to get solid first phase ball and start building their driving, power game. I agree they should have adapted better but it was in part because Scotland took the structure out the game.


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