Richards slams door

Five Nations: Scotland's grand ambition is stifled as Grayson kicks England to a grinding victory
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The Independent Online
Scotland 9 England 18

Pens: Dods 20, 43, 57 Pens: Grayson 10, 13, 22,

36, 61, 80

SO ENGLAND were as good as their word. They had come to Murrayfield with the express intention of spoiling the party and how well did they succeed in their aim. They had come, in the cringingly inadequate jargon of the day, "to get a result" and will doubtless seek to justify the means by which they achieved their short-term end.

They may also see in this result a vindication of their strategy, but the repercussions for the sport in the long-term are too terrible to contemplate.

If England's present style of play is not technically destructive - and given the lamentable quality of their back play it very possibly is - it is certainly aesthetically ruinous.

Once again the penalty kick exerted a disturbingly disproportionate influence on the play as the Scots, squeezed in the scrums and out-manoeuvred in the line-outs, sought by fair means and foul to extricate themselves from the tight.

Paul Grayson punished them, mercilessly kicking six penalties to the three converted by Michael Dods, who had fewer opportunities but missed critically with three attempts.

Most crucial, perhaps, was his miss shortly after the interval when the Scots were seeking to repair the damage inflicted by a testing first half.

Gregor Townsend, who had until this point been lying dormant, exploded through a gap with such whiplash acceleration that he not only outstripped the English defence but left his own support gasping in his wake. Scott Hastings was far behind on his left, but on his right and unmarked, had he but seen him, was the ever-attentive flanker Ian Smith. Cruelly, Townsend was turned in the tackle and the chance of a try had gone.

But as compensation of sorts, the Scots were awarded a penalty. Dods missed and, even though he was successful 10 minutes later with his third penalty, one sensed the game had slipped beyond the Scots.

England's grip thereafter was as tight as their control of the forward exchanges and had Grayson not completely lost his rhythm shortly after kicking his fifth penalty, when he missed with two drop-kicks and two penalties, all from relatively short range, the game would have been put beyond Scotland's reach much earlier. Then it would have been even more of a non-event.

The decision to restore Dean Richards to the England side and to install him as pack leader and master tactician was, as the Scots had feared, the decisive factor. A gigantic presence, he bestrode the game, taking everything at his leisurely yet ferociously competitive pace.

Wherever he stood, whether it was behind the new cap, Garath Archer, in the line-out, or, hands on hips, at the back of the scrum, England prospered. Once he even appeared magically behind Jeremy Guscott to buttress England's defence.

Richards saw to it that the Scots were denied the freedom they had enjoyed in their previous games with the result that they were too often ensnared and consumed behind their own gain line.

Not only that, but Scotland lost priceless possession in the tackle and it was almost invariably Richards who appeared to be the stumbling-block. When he went off the field two minutes from the end, to be replaced by Tim Rodber, there was grudging applause from the fiercely partisan crowd. His work had been done. The Scots had been stifled into submission, their continuity, if not their spirit, broken.

The Scots, though, had contributed hugely to their own downfall. Not only were they profligate in the number of times they presented the opposition with possession, when it came to the 50-50 ball they were wiped out. Given their problems in the tight, this was the killer blow, especially when so much of their time was spent in playing catch-up rugby.

They were never ahead, nor in truth did they look capable at any time of assuming command. They were clearly finding it difficult to live with the pressure up front. Three times were the Scots penalised for collapsing the scrummage and elsewhere on the field they tightened up, tried too hard and pressed for gaps that were not there. England may not be much of an attacking force at the moment but no one can doubt their appetite for defence.

The realism in the Scottish camp prior to this match was well-founded. The sense of wellbeing which comes from skilful adventure had to be carefully balanced against the brooding uncertainty about the quality of Scotland's tight forwards and yesterday they met their match.

Imperceptibly, England began to turn their domination into points. Grayson kicked two penalties in the opening 15 minutes, the first for offside, the second when the tight-head prop Peter Wright ludicrously challenged the referee not once but twice and then charged blindly through the line- out in an offside position. In all, it was not a good day for Wright.

Grayson kicked two more penalties before half-time to the one by Dods. If the Scots were to make an impact on the match, their only chance was immediately after half-time. It was their best spell, yet it lacked the conviction and self-belief of true champions.

Dods with two penalties brought them to within three points, as close as they were allowed to come. Grayson kicked his fifth penalty before the collywobbles overtook him, but with the last kick of the match he put the result beyond doubt with his sixth penalty. It was to secure England's seventh successive victory over the old enemy.

Irrespective of the result, the Scots have, by their previous deeds this season and by their adventure in defeat yesterday, surpassed their own expectations and those of their supporters. But for England, booed from the field for the second successive match, there remains a problem of image as much as of tactics.

Scotland: R Shepherd; C Joiner (both Melrose), S Hastings (Watsonians), I Jardine (Stirling County), M Dods (Northampton); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); D Hilton (Bath) K McKenzie (Stirling County), P Wright (Boroughmuir), S Campbell (Dundee High School FP), G Weir (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), I Smith (Gloucester), E Peters (Bath).

England: M Catt; J Sleightholme (both Bath), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); P Grayson, M Dawson (both Northampton); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), G Archer (Bristol), B Clarke (Bath), L Dallaglio (Wasps), D Richards (Leicester). Replacement: T Rodber (Northampton) for Richards (79).

Referee: D Bevan (Wales).