Expansive game put second to short-term gain

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The Independent Online
The ghost of Murrayfield 1990 has been exorcised once and for all. England have won a handful of games since then on Scottish turf, but not since 1990 was the ultimate prize at stake. The consequence of that defeat was to completely alter the outlook of England rugby. Just as Scotland have breezed through this Five Nations, playing a most entertaining brand of rugby, so had England in 1990. One hopes that Scotland do not let this defeat afflict them as greatly.

England, though fielding a side containing 10 players who would only have experienced that March day on television, still had enough old boys present. One felt their will prevailed, and with good reason. A steady ship the England team has not been, and for a side going through such turbulent seas, a win is a win.

Central to this mission for stability was the return of the mercurial Dean Richards. A rock is not ordinarily the saviour of many a ship, but this one was on board and sparkling like a diamond.

To compensate for this, the early season hopes for expansive rugby had to remain on the back burner. The decision obviously was that Murrayfield was not the time or the place. Instead, the audience had to be content with individual skills such as Martin Johnson's supremacy in the line- out and Paul Grayson's line-kicking. But then, such is the ability of these two teams to kill the ball, it is no surprise that expansion is so hard to accomplish - even if the desire were greater. Greater it was, last year at Twickenham, from an English point of view and believe me, frustrated is not the word. I know how the Scots feel today.

Instead, the free spirited among us only had a few gems to cheer. From the Scots it was provided by Gregor Townsend and a 70-yard run up the middle of the park. For the move to have concluded in a try it needed one of the Scottish centres to outpace Guscott and Carling in support. Perhaps if they were Atlanta-bound this summer they might have.

For the English, the running was provided by Carling, but the catalyst was Mike Catt. Having decided to run a kick back to set up a ruck he adopted a stand-off role while Grayson was otherwise engaged. Taking the ball on the right where the defence was at its strongest he threw a 20 yard pass to his left with great precision, providing Carling with an opportunity to outpace a lock forward. Again, however, the cover defence proved too strong.

No trophies then for the Scots this year, and a close-season tour to New Zealand to test their mettle. For the English, a home game against the Irish to finish this troubled season. A Five Nations triumph would be hard to achieve should France, as expected, win in Cardiff. However, a greater goal stands to be gained. The long- term progress of this side.

Saturday will be viewed as a step backwards in most circles by England reverting to type. A step backwards then, but one that will hopefully allow them to take two forward in a fortnight's time. This is a young side and the Irish match provides it with a great opportunity to find out where it really stands.

A prolonged absence from the squad means that you adopt a different attitude to the team's performances. I can still understand the view from the team's perspective, but slowly you begin to wear the hat of the non-playing supporter. Towards the end of Saturday's game that hat was over my eyes.