Plymouth duo relish special night at home in Six Nations
THE match might not have been the most memorable, but Jack Arnott and Henry Slade won't forget Friday in a hurry.
They started for England against Scotland on the opening weekend of the 2013 Under-20s Six Nations Championship at Brickfields in Plymouth, the place both call home. And they won.
England prevailed 15-6 to begin their defence of the Under-20s Six Nations crown they have clinched in the last two campaigns. No one has ever made it three in a row.
They now prepare for Ireland and a trip to Dubarry Park, Athlone this Friday (7.35pm) in their second test in this season's championship. Ireland narrowly lost their opener in Wales 17-15.
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Neither England nor Scotland's performance on Friday was as consistent as the swirling wind, driving rain and heavy, sapping pitch at Brickfields, but no matter.
That's not what Arnott and Slade, both 19 and dual-registered with Plymouth Albion and Exeter Chiefs, will remember in later years.
"To get my first (under-20) cap in Plymouth is something special," said Arnott, who started on the wing in front of a healthy 4,719 fans at Brickfields. "I had family and friends down supporting me, and the crowd were phenomenal.
"There was an incredible buzz around the ground. On the pitch that helped get us through."
Fly-half Slade, who kicked a penalty and conversion, said: "It was really nice to get out for England in front of a home crowd. I'll probably never get the chance to do it again so close to home.
"There was a great atmosphere. The crowd got into it. That helped us."
Scotland, with the wind at their backs, narrowly lost the first half 7-6 before England took relative control after the break.
Scotland led 3-0 through an early Tommy Allan penalty after England and Albion prop Luke Cowan-Dickie was penalised for collapsing a scrum.
The turning point arrived late in the first half when Scotland, down to 14 men after flanker Ruaridh Leishman was sin-binned for killing the ball, conceded a penalty try underneath their own posts.
England's scrum was too strong for Scotland, who paid the price after pulling down one too many. Slade added the easy conversion.
Allan responded with a tough penalty from out on the right wing before half-time.
Slade, whose kicking out of hand helped England pin Scotland back after half-time, said: "We were on the backfoot a little in the first half and needed to come away with some points. We did that with the penalty try.
"It was a tough night. We didn't get a lot of ball, but when we did we managed to do enough with it."
Arnott said: "We knew it was going to be hard. Scotland are such a passionate team and play with such enthusiasm.
"We knew they would be organised, but we wanted to make this game about ourselves. That's what we focused on.
"Training had gone really well and we knew if we stuck to our gameplan and put the graft in, we could get a result."
Slade added a penalty from the left wing, which to his credit was the wrong side for the left-footer, early in the second half to make it 10-6.
Slade then had two penalty attempts to put England a converted try up, but missed both, including one which smacked the left upright from the right wing.
"I was disappointed with my goal kicking," said Slade, who kicked 2/5 penalties. "That was tough, but on the whole I was pretty pleased with my performance."
Cowan-Dickie, who alongside Slade was England's stand-out player, carried the fight to Scotland fiercely and tirelessly up front after half-time.
He crashed into Scotland's defensive line time after time until, finally, the pressure he applied told.
Cowan-Dickie broke down the left touchline, smashing through a disciplined Scotland defence.
He was tackled and looked like he might fall short, but in a terrific second effort, which encapsulated his relentless spirit, Cowan-Dickie reached forward and grounded the ball to make it 15-6. Game over.
"Luke Cowan-Dickie's phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal," said Arnott. "You can't fault his work-rate and effort around the pitch. It was the same with all the other boys."
Arnott added of going 3-0 behind: "The nerves had set in.
"It was the first game of the championship, but we regrouped, made it about us again and we got what we wanted.
"The forwards were exceptional. They scrummed really well and gave us, the backs, that platform."
Slade said: "When we kept the ball and didn't make mistakes, we reaped the dividends.
"We talked about doing that at half-time and not trying to force silly offloads."