Rugby Union / Five Nations Championship: Cracks in the facade of the fortress: Clem Thomas comments

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The Independent Online
THAT this match was not the foregone conclusion that many people had forecast proves one of the great charms of the Five Nations' Championship where nothing is cut and dried until the final whistle.

There were, however, doubts among the more cynical critics, who could sense cracks in the English facade. First there was the loss of Jeremy Guscott's magic and ability to inject pace into the midfield; fitness doubts concerning a number of players including Martin Bayfield and Kyran Bracken; the loss of the rapidly developing Tim Rodber, and, above all, the absence of that English colossus Dean Richards, who is such a rallying point for the English pack. And how they could have done with him yesterday.

It was all about England starting at full power and seeming to have the capacity totally to over-run the hapless Scots. Like dragoon guards crushing infantry, they brushed Scotland aside in the opening minutes but only achieved a paltry penalty goal.

That was until the underdogs, goaded by such insulting conjectures that 50 English points were possible, suddenly reverted to that well-tested Scottish ploy of hoisting the ball high into the soft underbelly of the English forwards.

Consequently, England's composure vanished and their confidence melted like snow as they allowed the ball to bounce madly among them.

You could see the effect of the strong arm and coaching of Jim Telfer, and the marvellous return of the prodigal son Gary Armstrong.

However, in the end, those old English virtues of tenacity and indomitable spirit got them out of jail. In a game in which the lead changed hands a remarkable seven times for such a small scoreline, England made four American football-style drives into the Scottish half which enabled Jon Callard to kick four of his total of five penalty goals. Otherwise, they were desperately holding out as the Scots attempted to run them ragged.

England go homeward with great relief while Scotland rekindled their pride in this extraordinary but, in the final analysis, indifferent game of rugby football.