Scotland caused a major upset this evening as they beat fierce rivals England at Twickenham for the first time in 38 years on the opening day of the Six Nations.
They had to celebrate the rare away victory in a virtually empty stadium as lockdown continues to ban spectators at sports matches.
Rugby fans instead watched from their homes as Scotland took first blood in southwest London and held on to close out a narrow 11-6 win.
Duhan van der Merwe crashed over the whitewash for the first try of the game before England captain Owen Farrell slotted two penalties to close the gap.
But two clinical penalties from Finn Russell edged victory for underdogs Scotland over the defending champions – only the fifth win ever for the side on England’s home turf.
The fixture between England and Scotland has traditionally been a fiery clash, with fraying tempers leading to dust-ups in the past. But the absence of Twickenham’s 80,000-strong crowd appeared to cool tensions today.
Ahead of kick-off, both teams lined up to mark the Rugby Against Racism campaign. The majority of England players took the knee, while the majority of Scots remained standing.
The gesture, which has been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement, continues to divide players across the sporting world.
Twelve England players and four Scotland stars took the knee at Twickenham while the rest remained standing.
Billy Vunipola was in the minority of England players who chose not to kneel. The No8, of Tongan descent, was also one of three England players who refused to take the knee in England’s 40-0 win against Georgia last year.
Speaking at the time, he told The Good, The Bad And The Rugby Podcast: ‘A similar situation happened with the Black Lives Matter movement last week when we were asked if we want to take a knee or not.
‘What I saw in terms of that movement was not aligned with what I believe in. They were burning churches and Bibles. I can’t support that. Even though I am a person of colour, I’m still more a person of, I guess, Jesus.’
Second row Courtney Lawes and hooker Luke Cowan Dickie also remained standing during the game tonight.
Players are free to decide whether to kneel or not. Concerns have been raised that the BLM movement, especially in the US, has become associated with the political left.
Professional sport continues to be allowed to happen despite the strict third national lockdown still in force.
Last year’s tournament was abandoned ahead of the final round of matches as the pandemic started spiralling out of control. The remaining games were finally played in late 2020 and England were crowned champions.
An eerie silence descended on Twickenham today, devoid of the fans and chants of Swing Low Sweet Chariot that usual ring round the stadium.
Yet the muted atmosphere did not stop the Scots from celebrating their historic win, with players punching the air and embracing at the sound of the final whistle.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon was also quick to gloat, tweeting: The Calcutta Cup is coming home!! Massive congratulations to Scotland – what a performance and a truly historic win!’
Both sets of players would have been hoping to catch the eye of one of the few permitted spectators – Warren Gatland, head coach of the Lions, who is considering his selection picks for this year’s tour to South Africa, if it is not axed.
Today’s win was all the more crushing for England as the fixture marked the 150th anniversary of the first ever rugby Test, which took place on March 27, 1871 in Edinburgh.
Prince Harry, the patron of English rugby, today commemorated the anniversary ahead of the game in a video from his Los Angeles home.
The Duke of Sussex said the ‘passion and enjoyment’ of sport can bring comfort to people in the ‘isolated’ times we live in earlier today.
The game will mark the Harry, who was sporting a beard, appeared in a video posted on the England Rugby Twitter account on Friday night.
Dressed in a navy blazer and white shirt with the top two buttons open, Harry said: ‘Rugby union has brought joy to millions of people with teams full of great characters and special players.
‘In these isolated times, the sheer passion and enjoyment that sport offers can bring great comfort to many.
‘As proud patron of the Rugby Football Union, I join millions of supporters across the entire world in celebrating 150 years of England Rugby.’
Earlier France trounced Italy by a stonking 50 points to 10 at a similarly quiet contest at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by Jack Elsom, Joe Davies, and Ross Ibbetson