Tony Diprose was shunted over the Scotland line two minutes into injury-time to score the winning try in this exciting and always unpredictable A international at Goldenacre last night.
To some extent Scotland had only themselves to blame, as they had Don Mackinnon yellow carded for persistent infringing as England laid siege to their line in a desperate attempt to save something from their lacklustre season. But though they were profligate to squander a 15-point lead, England never gave up, even when the Scots had built towards a thunderous finish and twice stolen the lead.
With Ireland having taken the title on Friday evening by beating Wales at Donnybrook, the best either of these teams could hope for would be to finish as runners-up. To do so, England needed to win by 27 points, while Scotland required a winning margin of 29.
England made a sparkling start and their enterprise was rewarded when Spencer Brown latched on to a well-judged chip by Paul Grayson to cross in the left corner. Grayson then added a penalty before Chris Catling jinked his way through some disbelieving Scottish defence to send Brown over for his second try. Grayson converted and England were looking full value for their 15-point advantage built up in just 13 minutes.
The Scots, however, were far from downcast, and hit back with a try from a line-out by Iain Fullarton, who had replaced the injured Andy Lucking. Mark McKenzie converted and exchanged penalties with Grayson before Craig Joiner grabbed Scotland's second touchdown with a neat piece of opportunism. McKenzie converted, so the Scots were able to turn round just a point adrift at 17-18.
By then, England were reduced to 13 men as David Flatman and Danny Grewcock were sent to the sin-bin for fighting, along with the Scotland lock Stewart Campbell. McKenzie and Grayson continued to swap penalties with the England captain keeping his side in front. But the Scots were building towards a grandstand finish and their hooker Steve Scott brought it to the boil with a try. Grayson banged over another penalty to put England back in the lead. McKenzie replied in kind, then David Officer dropped what seemed the winning goal which made it 31-27, before Diprose's killer blow.
Scotland A: D Lee (Edinburgh Reivers); C Joiner (Leicester), D Officer (Harlequins), R Shepherd (Glasgow Caledonians), A Murdoch (Bedford); M McKenzie (Bourgoin-Jallieu), G Beveridge (Glasgow Caledonians); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh Reivers), S Scott, B Stewart (both Edinburgh Reivers), S Campbell (Glasgow Caledonians), A Lucking, C Mather (Both Edinburgh Reivers), S Holmes (capt), D Mackinnon (both Northampton). Replacements: M Proudfoot (Edinburgh Reivers) for B Stewart, 69; I Fullarton (Edinburgh Reivers) for Lucking 14; K Milligan (Edinburgh Reivers) for Joiner 52.
England A: C Catling (Gloucester); L Botham (Cardiff), F Waters, M Denney (both Wasps), S Brown (Bristol); P Grayson (Northampton, capt), S Benton (Leeds); D Flatman (Saracens), A Long (Bath), J White (Saracens), M Cornwell (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Saracens), R Winters (Bedford), A Gardiner (Bath), T Diprose (Saracens). Replacements: G Chuter (Saracens) for Long, 70; W Green (Wasps) for White, 32-38, for Holmes, 39-49; E Pearce (Gloucester) for Winters, 70; M Wood (Wasps) for Benton, 56
Referee: C Giacomel (Italy).