England flatten the grand occasion

England 24 Scotland 12
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The Independent Online
One Grand Slam - let alone three in five years, the finest Five Nations achievement since the Twenties - is worth a joyous celebration but, in the glum and grouchy aftermath of a sixth successive defeat of the Scots, England contrived to look and sound more as if they had lost.

So much so that it was the losers who somehow sounded the cheerier. "Let's not forget that Scotland have contributed enormously to this Five Nations season," Gavin Hastings, their iconic captain, said. Too right: it is in rugby's wider interest that England do not become so dominant that the championship ceases to be a contest.

Thank goodness there is no chance of that as long as the Scots continue to contribute - which is meant as a compliment both to their staggering improvement and to the bravura with which they have sometimes moved the ball. The additional fact that they stopped England playing by any and every means at their disposal is merely a statement of the obvious.

That England should have been frustrated, and found it so utterly frustrating, when Scotland went offside or over the top and conceded penalties rather than tries may be understandable but Brian Moore's outburst against "such negative opposition" missed the point entirely.

First, England are such a good side that they should really take it as a compliment when opponents resort to negative defensive tactics. Second, it is both shameless and sanctimonious for Moore to complain when, if England were ever to be placed under a similar sort of pressure, they would undoubtedly respond in precisely the same way.

We need look back no further than 1988 and one of Moore's earliest internationals, when England squeaked a 9-6 victory at Murrayfield in a considerably direr match than this and were promptly accused by Derrick Grant, then Scotland's coach, of the very illegalities of which Moore accuses Scotland now. Needs must . . .

"I feel a bit sorry for the spectators because it was set up for such a good game and, to be frank, we were consistently stopped by a side who just wanted to kill the ball all day," Moore said. "They just spoiled the game, really. They did what they came to do and that, quite frankly, wasn't very much."

The pity of it is that by his remarks Moore diverted attention from the doing of the Grand Slam, the taking of the Triple Crown and the winning of the Calcutta Cup. Hastings, while allowing that Moore was "entitled to his own opinions", suggested his former Lions colleague should have been celebrating instead of slagging.

Will Carling, the England captain, stayed out of the contretemps by saying Moore's perspective was bound to vary from his. "He plays in a different position from me and might see things differently," Carling said.

The captain looked more relieved than enraptured and there is a hard reality for England that more of the same - though the brilliant exhibition by Mike Catt makes him an exception - will not win them the World Cup. However it was done, Scotland bogged them down so completely that England were seldom able to sustain the best of their rugby.

In the end the Scots had almost as many narrow misses as England but were at such a territorial disadvantage for most of the game that the margin could well have been considerably wider. Peter Wright's footwork made him the first Scot to be shown the yellow card and, though Doddie Weir flourished for 40 minutes in the line-out and Rob Wainwright was a trojan figure, Scotland were confined far more to their holding operation than to striking out boldly for victory.

Thus Hastings had only three penalty kicks, landing two of them to augment the two drop goals with which Craig Chalmers had started Scotland's scoring. Rob Andrew, by contrast, was given ample opportunity by the Scots' persistent infringement, his 24 points from a drop goal and seven penalties taking him beyond Jon Webb's England record of 296 and on to 317, and also equalling Sebastien Viars's championship record.

It could not happen to a nicer bloke, but Andrew looked less at ease with England's flat-passing game than at any time this season. Indeed the forwards tied the ball in so much that there was actually very little flat-passing and too little passing of any kind, making it too much of a throwback to the static but successful forward grind of previous seasons.

And that, as Jack Rowell is uncomfortably aware, will be inadequate if England are to turn themselves from European champions into world champions. "The disappointing thing was that England didn't play the ball early enough and therefore clear the rucks, so we didn't get the momentum we needed to exploit our pace and skill," the manager said.

"We worked very hard on making sure we didn't play into their hands but on occasion our forwards took the ball too far. We have to get into this way of playing early ball if we are to do ourselves justice." This was said specifically with the World Cup in South Africa in May in mind and Rowell is already pausing for thoughts about whether any change is necessary if this justice is to be done.

Strange as it may seem, it is still an unanswered question whether the needs of continuity are best served by the bulky back row who have taken England through the championship or whether a subtler, less overwhelmingly powerful, element might not help. On this evidence, England must give themselves the alternative option by taking Neil Back to South Africa, even if he still ends up out of the team.

And, the Scots already being history, it is the World Cup to which Rowell has already turned his attention, with the squad to be named next Monday and a critical appraisal now required - even on a Grand Slam team - with Wallabies, All Blacks and Springboks lying ominously ahead.

"I don't think England were near being able to sit down down at the same table as the big players," the manager reflected. Rowell may be well known for being hard to please but this was also an agreeable and timely humility. Never mind Scotland - Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are just as likely to use every trick in the book.

England: Penalties Andrew 7; Drop goal Andrew. Scotland: Penalties G Hastings 2; Drop goals Chalmers 2.

ENGLAND: M Catt (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); R Andrew (Wasps), K Bracken (Bristol); J Leonard, B Moore (Harlequins), V Ubogu (Bath), M Johnson (Leicester), M Bayfield, T Rodber (Northampton), D Richards (Leicester), B Clarke (Bath). Replacement: S Ojomoh (Bath) for Richards, 50. Temporary substitutes: D Morris (Orrell) for Bracken 15-22; G Rowntree (Leicester) for Leonard, 65-78.

SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); C Joiner (Melrose), G Townsend (Gala), S Hastings (Watsonians), K Logan (Stirling County); C Chalmers, B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Wright (Boroughmuir), G Weir (Melrose), S Campbell (Dundee HSFP), R Wainwright (West Hartlepool), E Peters (Bath), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacement: J Manson (Dundee HSFP) for Hilton, 44.

Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).


POSSESSION Ball won Possession Territory

set loose 1st 2nd 1st 2nd

England 52 43 24 28 24 21

Scotland 34 22 17 11 18 20

SCRUMS Award Won Ag head Per cent

England 12 8 0 57

Scotland 8 6 0 43

LINE-OUTS Award Won OT Per cent

England 25 21 18 57

Scotland 17 16 13 43

PENALTIES Award Tap Punt Per cent

England 19 0 11 68

Scotland 9 0 6 32

HALF-BACKS Rec Run Kick Pass

Kyran Bracken 44 2 1 41

Bryan Redpath 29 2 2 25

Rob Andrew 35 2 17 15

Craig Chalmers 18 1 9 8

Source: Unisys Information Services For Sport


P W D L F A Pts

England 4 4 0 0 98 39 8

Scotland 4 3 0 1 87 71 6

France 4 2 0 2 77 70 4

Ireland 4 1 0 3 44 83 2

Wales 4 0 0 4 43 86 0


21 January: France 21 Wales 9; Ireland 8 England 20.

4 February: England 31 France 10; Scotland 26 Ireland 13.

18 February: France 21 Scotland 23; Wales 9 England 23.

4 March: Ireland 7 France 25; Scotland 26 Wales 13.

18 March: England 24 Scotland 12; Wales 12 Ireland 16.