10 punch the air Scottish rugby moments in 2021 – number 1

OTOTM’s biggest moment for Scottish rugby in 2021. It had to be at Twickenham.

(Part 1, counting down numbers 10 to 4, is here. Part 2, featuring Duhan Van Der Merwe crashing over against France, is here. Part 3, Lisa Thomson putting Chloe Rollie in versus Ireland, is here.)

1. Hamish Watson v England

A lot can happen in 38 years – but, seemingly, not a Scotland victory at Twickenham. While the world had changed drastically since 1983, the dark blues inability to come back from London with a win remained constant. The draw in 2019 will live long in the memory but many fans would have felt that George Ford’s late, late try had snatched away Scotland’s best ever chance of breaking their decades-long hoodoo. How many years would it take to get that close to the English again on their own turf?

Well, just two as it turned out. Scotland opened their 2021 Six Nations campaign looking for a third consecutive away win (having only won away from home three times in the previous decade). England were the reigning champions. Scotland, yet again, the dark horses for whom it might just be their year (see previous Six Nations’ buildups ad nauseam).

What followed was a game that may have ebbed and flowed less unbelievably than the 2019 encounter – but was no less stressful for Scottish fans. By pretty much every possible metric bar one the dark blues were completely dominant. Possession, territory, metres made, line breaks, penalty count, etc. – it was all heavily in Scotland’s favour but the scoreboard showed that, somehow, England were clinging on.

Camped out in the hosts’ half, there were missed kicks at goal (a conversion, two penalties and two drop goals) and near misses close to the tryline. Time after time a burst into the English 22 just couldn’t quite be converted into a score other than when George Turner went flying down the wing before feeding Duhan van der Merwe to bulldoze multiple English tacklers over the line.

There is a certain pessimism inherent in the nature of Scottish sports’ fans. A tendency to assume the worst, that nice things just don’t happen. This functions as a kind of suit of armour, providing protection and dulling the pain when things (inevitably – in the mind of the Scottish rugby supporter) go wrong.

Late in the game when Finn Russell’s drop goal was charged down or when Scott Steele’s ship through ran agonisingly into touch in goal, only the rare optimistic Scotland fan would have been thinking anything other than – England are going to find a way to score. Fortunately, the current Scottish side are rather more resilient! They stuck in, forced England back and kept them in a position where it would take something incredible to bag a try.

Then came the moment that clinched it, delivered by the player who was a talisman for so much of what Scottish rugby achieved in 2021. Hamish Watson spent the year continuing his remarkable record of not missing tackles for Scotland (currently at 279 and counting). It was his work at the breakdown that so often made the difference for the dark blues though – he had been a menace at ruck time all afternoon.

As one of England’s own talismans, Courtney Lawes, drove into contact, Watson was primed and ready. In the blink of an eye he had not only got his hands on the ball to slow it or maybe win a penalty, but he’d actually ripped it clean away from one of England’s strongest and most aggressive carriers.

38 years of pain just evaporated as Hamish ran off like a kid in the playground to hoof the ball into the empty Twickenham stands. The excitement may not have been a directly communal experience but it was as visceral as ever and something shared among Scotland fans, even within their own bubbles.

Maybe it will never feel as good as that outpouring after nearly four decades of waiting – but undoubtedly every Scottish supporter would welcome the opportunity to test how close they can get to that level of happiness by beating England more regularly on their own patch!

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