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England’s win over Scotland was ugly yet beautiful.


There is a scenario familiar to most of us when we play snooker on a full-size table where the game appears so ludicrously difficult, so cursed by impossible physics, that the winner is simply the one who hits the fewest foul shots.

England’s 13-6 win over Scotland at Murrayfield was a classic, in that no-one could remember a match quite as grotesque. It was a game where the maximum break was five. It was all cue balls into the middle pocket and ripped baize.

You could understand much of that. This was weather that a thousand years ago would have led to widespread sacrifices to appease the obvious fury of the gods.

As if awaiting its call from the wings, Storm Ciara held off all day in Edinburgh until the moment the two teams walked out onto the pitch, at which point it went kitchen sink.

First came the wind, snatching at the flags on top of the grandstand, stretching them out straight and then trying to tear them from their moorings.

The posts began to sway drunkenly. George Ford tried a high kick and watched it stop, turn around and come barrelling back towards him.

It was only a day to play rugby if you didn’t want to play rugby. It became a black evening when the only sensible thing to do was hunker by the hearth, possibly with tinned foods stockpiled.

Kicks came back as if they were on bungee cords. Others sailed wildly long, like astronaut Alan Shepard’s famous six-iron on the moon. Line-out throws fell off the fingers of the hookers or went sailing on gaily while the second rows underneath waved them past like spectators at a fly-past.

First you felt sympathy for the players, professionals at the elite end of their sport reduced to stooges in some mad meteorological circus. Then you felt genuine concern that some might not make it through the frozen 80 minutes alive – the outside centres, lonely and blasted; the wings, all numb fingers and dizzy from kick-chases.

Scotland fly-half Adam Hastings lost the 10 from his back, the number scoured by wind and rain. Supporters in the lower tier of the East Stand, handed complementary plastic ponchos that the wind immediately tried to remove, eroded in front of your eyes.

All the time the errors kept coming.

There were seven Scottish handling errors in first half-hour. By half-time the home side had lost five of their 10 line-outs and turned over possession 10 times.

At this point it was 3-0 to England, when at the same stage in this fixture a year ago a cumulative 38 had been scored. One of the reasons was that neither fly-half had any chance of calibrating their kicks.

Owen Farrell missed one in the first half from 25 metres that began dead straight and ended heading for Leith. When Hastings landed one from half the distance in the second half it was as if he was taking aim from halfway.

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