Rugby Union: England burst free of concrete foundations

Click to follow
The Independent Online
England (16) 41 Scotland (10) 13

Penalty try, Gomarsall, Carling, Tries Eriksson

De Glanville

Grayson 3 Cons Shepherd

Grayson 5 Pens Shepherd 2

By jingo, the English know how to enjoy themselves. The Rugby Football Union promised some razzmatazz to mark the first fully professional Calcutta Cup match and so it came to pass. Six days after Luther Vandross and James Brown wowed America at the Super Bowl, the stout-hearted yeomen of Twickenham found themselves being richly entertained by...the Essex Dog Display Team. That's showbiz, as they say in Chelmsford.

In fact, the decision to let loose half a dozen pooches on the hallowed turf of Rugger HQ looked well justified for the first hour of the main event, during which England had more than a hint of the dog's breakfast about them. Phil de Glanville may have had 14 fellow countrymen on his side, but his most valuable allies were a referee from New Zealand and a full-back from Edinburgh.

Paddy O'Brien's decision to award England a penalty try for persistent Scottish infringements after 15 minutes was a shocker - hopelessly premature, it merely served to underline the inconsistency of approach that leaves defending sides hostage to capricious officials.

Then there was Rowen Shepherd's missed close-range penalty 10 minutes into the second half. An absolute sitter for any kicker with pretensions as an international marksman, it would have taken the Scots to within three points and increased a hundred-fold the degree of neurosis under which England's key decision-makers had already been labouring for some time. When Shepherd's nerve faltered, so did the resolve of his colleagues.

Of course, the English will prefer to re-live the events of the final quarter, when the Scottish dam cracked in two for the second Five Nations game in succession and Rob Wainwright, their admirable captain, found himself swept away by a tidal wave of points. As against the Welsh a fortnight earlier, the Scots conceded three tries in five minutes. When Wainwright leads out his men to face Ireland in March, his blue shirt will probably be obscured by a lifejacket.

Jack Rowell, the England coach, had been as edgy as anyone could remember in the week leading up to the encounter, and it was hardly a surprise when he started distributing superlatives like so much confetti. He talked about "shrugging off cobwebs", of his "delight with the flow and the spontaneous responses of his players", of "turning a tired, obsolescent spring into a coiled spring" as his side emerged from a state of "psychological bondage".

Big words and big sentiments from Big Jack, many of them justified by events on the field. Once again, the English pack laid victory foundations of reinforced concrete: the front row, in which Mark Regan produced a genuine Test performance at hooker, had their opponents by the short and curlies from the word go and there was plenty to admire from a loose trio in which Richard Hill, the new cap, took up permanent residence in the face of Gregor Townsend, the Scots' attacking talisman, and Lawrence Dallaglio looked rejuvenated by his move to the blind-side flank. "Loved it," the Wasps captain said. "I felt as though I knew what I was doing."

Rowell concurred. "The back-row performance changed entirely," he said, well pleased with a bold selection that bore ample fruit. "Hill, Dallaglio and Tim Rodber complemented each other extremely well. I'm particularly pleased for Hill; you just don't play against a more dangerous opponent than Townsend, who is world class, but the new boy didn't miss a trick."

By the same yardstick, there is not a side in the world who can afford to ignore the threat posed by England's back three. Tim Stimpson kicked like a drain on Saturday, but the sheer muscularity of his running game marked him out as a class act. Jon Sleightholme looked every inch a Lions right wing, Tony Underwood a hungry and threatening handful on the left.

But if England are to survive the furies of Dublin on Saturday week, they need to sharpen up at half-back and in midfield. Same old story? With a record 40 points on the Calcutta Cup scoreboard? Afraid so. If Rowell and De Glanville ignore that the Scots were, for long periods, the more enterprising of the combatants, they will be guilty of delusion on the grandest of scales.

Both De Glanville and Will Carling, captain and forerunner, claimed tries during the Scots' 302 seconds of utter capitulation between the 67th and 72nd minutes. Good tries they were, too. Pats on backs for both. But against strong sides capable of going the full 80 minutes - New Zealand, say, or France - the road to the try-line is marked by hazard lights, not by a red carpet. The two centres wasted any number of opportunities in the first half and, on any other day, might not have been given an opportunity to redeem themselves.

Certainly, Wainwright put down the late avalanche of points to Scottish incompetence rather than English wizardry. "Unlike Wales, who rode their luck against us, England scored well-constructed tries," said the Watsonian, more depressed after this defeat than at any time in his five years at the top level. "But they were still the direct result of us letting ourselves down. We've got to take a long, hard look at things and ask why the effort and the discipline has evaporated in both of our Five Nations games. It's not good enough. We can't go on like it."

Too true. Wainwright remains in the frame for the Lions captaincy, but he is intelligent enough to realise that two consecutive five-minute calamities might easily be construed as failures of leadership. The Scots may no longer have a Five Nations title to play for, but so many reputations are now on the line that the next four weeks of soul-searching could make or break some very high-profile careers.

ENGLAND: T Stimpson (Newcastle); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), P de Glanville (Bath, capt), T Underwood (Newcastle); P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), L Dallaglio (Wasps), T Rodber (Northampton), R Hill (Saracens).

SCOTLAND: R Shepherd (Melrose); D Stark (Melrose), A Stanger (Hawick), R Eriksson (London Scottish), K Logan (Stirling County); G Townsend (Northampton), B Redpath (Melrose); T Smith (Watsonians), G Ellis (Currie), M Stewart (Northampton), G Weir (Newcastle), A Reed (Wasps), P Walton (Newcastle), R Wainwright (Watsonians, capt), I Smith (Gloucester). Replacement: S Hastings (Watsonians) for Eriksson, 71.

Referee: P O'Brien (New Zealand).



ENGLAND 48 mins

SCOTLAND 33 mins





ENGLAND won 50%

Awarded 18, Won 15, Void 1

SCOTLAND won 50 %

Awarded 17, Won 15, Void 4


ENGLAND won 45%

Awarded 8, Won 10, Won own 7

SCOTLAND won 55 %

Awarded 16, Won 12, Won own 11



Tap 7, Punt 4, Goal 5 Miss 3


Tap 4,Punt 4, Goal 2, Miss 1

BALL WON (set play)

ENGLAND 46 times


BALL WON (loose play)

ENGLAND 62 times



Andy Gomarsall 62

Run 3, Kick 9, Pass 50

Bryan Redpath 35

Run 0, Kick 5, Pass 30


Paul Grayson 33

Run 6, Kick 8, Pass 19

Gregor Townsend 25

Run 5, Kick 6, Pass 14


P W D L F A Pts

England 1 1 0 0 41 13 2

France 1 1 0 0 32 15 2

Wales 2 1 0 1 59 45 2

Ireland 2 1 0 1 41 57 2

Scotland 2 0 0 2 32 75 0

Remaining fixtures

15 February: Ireland v England (Lansdowne Road); France v Wales (Parc des Princes).

1 March: England v France (Twickenham); Scotland v Ireland (Murrayfield).

15 March: Wales v England (Cardiff Arms Park); France v Scotland (Parc des Princes).