Scotland. . . . .12
SO THE man from Tring rugby club was right. 'It'll be less a case of 'Flower of Scotland',' he said, 'than 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?' '. Yet again the Scottish blooms which had flourished in northern climes wilted in the intense heat of Twickenham, although for much of the game it was a curiously subdued performance by England. Having failed to slay the dragon in Cardiff, they did, however, succeed in clubbing the lion into submission in their own back yard.
As the Scots had feared, their forwards, hard though they strove, were unable to deliver the kind of swift, clean possession which they had showered on their backs at Murrayfield a fortnight ago. England's forwards were much too strong and wily for that.
Furthermore, the selection of Stuart Barnes, a gamble without a doubt, turned out to be an inspired move. On those wondrous occasions when England's machinery ran with silken efficiency, Barnes inevitably was at the centre of events. After an understandably hesitant and nervous start when he was slicing his kicks to touch and passing fractionally off line, he found his range and more spectacularly his feet.
The try which Rory Underwood scored 10 minutes into the second half, and which effectively ended the Scottish challenge, was of imperishable quality. The England fly-half slipped from Iain Morrison's grasp, his scuttling run upfield making room for Jeremy Guscott. Guscott, whose extravagant talent has for so long this season been concealed from the public gaze, split the defence with a run of such dazzling pace that the Scots appeared as statues. He had covered 50 yards in what seemed to be no more than a second and before our blurred vision could catch up with him, he had slipped the ball to Underwood for the try.
Five minutes later England scored again. It was less spectacular this time but very nearly as good in that it was a masterpiece of collective understanding and precision. Two long passes in midfield, Jonathan Webb in the line and Rory Underwood, with a clever jink inside, made five yards of room from what had appeared to be no more than half an inch for his brother Tony, flying in from the other wing, to score England's third try.
Earlier, it was Barnes's acceleration which unleashed Rory Underwood as far as the Scottish line but not far enough for Brian Stirling to award the try. Minutes later it was brother Tony who was sent clattering into touch a yard short of the try-line after Barnes again had worked a sublime loop with his centres.
Barnes, of course, was greatly assisted by the fact that his forwards seemed more attuned to the new laws than they have been in previous matches this season, thereby giving their half-backs a more comfortable passage. Barnes was therefore at his most chipper when the Scots were at their most vulnerable.
Having dominated so much of the early play through the combative energy of Gary Armstrong and some appetising line-out possession, principally from Doddie Weir, which had enabled them to keep ahead of England, the Scots suffered a misfortune, losing Craig Chalmers. The Scottish stand-off broke both bones in his right forearm and is now out of the Lions' tour to New Zealand this summer. He was replaced by Gregor Townsend who came on in the centre with Graham Shiel switching to fly-half. Later Scott Hastings went off with an ankle- ligament injury, but his Lions' chance should not be affected.
The Scots, thanks to a penalty by Gavin Hastings and a drop goal from Chalmers, seemed comfortably in control at this stage. But with the departure of Chalmers they lost not only their momentum but also some of the spirit which had sustained them during those passages of play when England's forwards had been able to break free.
As the Scots' game became more shapeless so England grew in confidence. It was the turning point of the match. England won a ruck in midfield and Martin Bayfield, appearing as an elongated centre, galloped into space before passing to Barnes who in turn sent Guscott hurtling through a yawning gap for England's first try.
Jonathan Webb, having earlier kicked a penalty to equalise Hastings's first success, then proceeded to kick a second from very much the same range which, a month ago in Cardiff, he had considered beyond his scope. The ball was still rising as it crossed the bar and with it went England's spirits.
Their 11-6 half-time lead was no more than they deserved, but perhaps on recent form more than they had dared hope for. Having taken the initiative England then proceeded to demonstrate how lethally effective they could be, their tries being priceless mementoes to take away from a game which, without them, would have been a strangely passionless, often untidy and unskilled encounter.
Although they lost out in the final count, England's line-out worked better and with greater consistency than in Cardiff, and several names which had all but dropped off the Lions' selectors' list may now be reappearing for consideration, Winterbottom, Dooley and Webb among them. The fact that England were unable to sustain their level of performance into the final quarter will not unduly worry them, but it did at least save Scotland from what had threatened at one stage to be humiliation. It also allowed Gavin Hastings to kick his second and third penalties in between a third success for Webb.
It is the ninth time that the Scots have failed in their attempt to win the Triple Crown at Twickenham. But bearing in mind those encounters in the past when the Scots could claim to have been the victims of outrageous misfortune, this was a convincing defeat.
Twickenham has never been the happiest of grounds for Gavin Hastings, who yesterday had a less than 50 per cent success rate with his goal kicking (three penalties out of seven attempts) and his general play was not quite up to the usual standard. Whether this has affected his position as favourite for the Lions' captaincy is open to question, particularly in view of the fact that Will Carling, once again, gave a curiously distracted performance in England's midfield.
He is undoubtedly a player of world class, who at present appears to be weighed down by the burden of responsibility and it may be no bad thing for his well- being in New Zealand if he were to be released from the chores of captaincy.
But in the short-term England can reflect on a job well done. Their victory has stretched their unbeaten home run in the Five Nations to more than five years. More importantly, they now have a championship to go for at Lansdowne Road in a fortnight as consolation for missing out on the season's other prizes.
ENGLAND: J Webb (Bath); T Underwood (Leicester), W Carling (Harlequins, capt), J Guscott (Bath), R Underwood (Leicester); S Barnes (Bath), D Morris (Orrell); J Leonard (Harlequins), B Moore (Harlequins), J Probyn (Wasps), M Bayfield (Northampton), W Dooley (Preston Grasshoppers), M Teague (Moseley), B Clarke (Bath), P Winterbottom (Harlequins).
SCOTLAND: G Hastings (Watsonians, capt); A Stanger (Hawick), S Hastings (Watsonians), G Shiel (Melrose), D Stark (Boroughmuir); C Chalmers (Melrose), G Armstrong (Jed-Forest); P Wright (Boroughmuir), K Milne (Heriot's FP), P Burnell (London Scottish), A Reed (Bath), D Cronin (London Scottish), D Turnbull (Hawick), G Weir (Melrose), I Morrison (London Scottish). Replacements: G Townsend (Gala) for Chalmers, K Logan (Stirling County) for S Hastings.
Referee: B Stirling (Ireland).
Scores: G Hastings (pen, 6 min, 0-3); Webb (pen, 14 min, 3-3); Chalmers (drop goal, 17 min, 3-6); Guscott (try, 28 min, 8-6); Webb (pen, 31 min, 11-6); R Underwood (try, 50 min, 16-6); T Underwood / Webb (try / conv, 55 min, 23-6); G Hastings (pen, 72 min, 23-9); Webb (pen, 75 min, 26-9); G Hastings (pen, 82 min, 26-12)
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content