England shrug off distractions to scuttle Scots

Scotland 13 England 35
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The Independent Online

These days, the big production comes before the main event. In Rome, the preliminary entertainment featured an Italian rock band so fabulously over the top that they made The Darkness look like Brotherhood of Man. At Murrayfield, the assault on the senses was led by 300 bagpipe-wielding dragoons, a Scottish bard in love with the sound of his own iambic pentameter and a pyrotechnician hell-bent on setting the stadium ablaze and transforming it into a set-piece battle scene from The Lord Of The Rings, complete with added orcs. At least he had a match. Everyone else had to do without.

These days, the big production comes before the main event. In Rome, the preliminary entertainment featured an Italian rock band so fabulously over the top that they made The Darkness look like Brotherhood of Man. At Murrayfield, the assault on the senses was led by 300 bagpipe-wielding dragoons, a Scottish bard in love with the sound of his own iambic pentameter and a pyrotechnician hell-bent on setting the stadium ablaze and transforming it into a set-piece battle scene from The Lord Of The Rings, complete with added orcs. At least he had a match. Everyone else had to do without.

For the second week running, England won a Six Nations fixture on the road without betraying the slightest hint of vulnerability. At the Stadio Flaminio, the issue had been settled inside half an hour; here, the world champions were home and hosed within an identically brief period. Having scored 11 tries in 160 minutes of Six Nations rugby that managed to be both fully contested and semi-competitive at one and the same time, they are odds-on favourites to win next month's home matches with Ireland and Wales before heading to Paris in search of a second consecutive Grand Slam. The tournament badly needs someone to give them a game.

Clive Woodward, the England coach, was profoundly underwhelmed by the exaggerated display of pomp and pageantry before this latest Calcutta Cup shindig, and he had a point. When Lawrence Dallaglio led the visitors out of the tunnel, he could barely see the grass for kilted bandsmen - "I took what I thought was the best line, straight through the bagpipes," he said afterwards - and big as the Londoner is, he immediately disappeared from view. His colleagues spent an embarrassing few seconds trying to locate him, and then hung around for the best part of five minutes, waiting for the Scots to show up. Some days later, after the royal procession and the anthems, a game of rugby broke out. It did not last long.

"It's meant to be a sporting event, not a pop concert," Woodward complained. "It should be a case of the two teams running out together, a couple of anthems and the kick-off, with no mucking about." But England are partly to blame for all this, for the pre-match ritual at Twickenham has been grotesquely inflated for years. Not so very long ago, the Rugby Football Union's idea of a spectacle was an appearance by a dog display team from Essex, who had to be dropped after their star performer did a whoopsie on the 22-metre line in front of the North Stand.

Nowadays, the "holistic experience" at Twickers embraces everything from light opera to legalised arson. Some detect an obvious similarity between this and the dog.

Then again, England's matches against the Celtic nations have become so utterly one-sided that distractions, however ridiculous, are almost welcome. Scotland played pretty well on Saturday; so well, indeed, that their new coach from Australia, Matt Williams, described himself as "elated".

Jason White, recalled to the back row after his inexplicable omission from the starting line-up against Wales seven days previously, buried both Dallaglio and Trevor Woodman with tackles measuring 9.8 on the Richter Scale; Simon Taylor reinforced his reputation as one of the most potent loose-forward talents in the international game; Tom Philip, the new boy in the Scottish midfield, hunted Jason Robinson from the first minute to the last and gave old twinkle-toes all the grief he could handle. Yet in the final analysis, it counted for nothing.

This was partly Scotland's own fault. They contrived to score three "own tries" - hardly the optimum approach to beating a team of world champions with confidence levels at an all-time high - and allowed their line-out, the acknowledged strong point of their game, to be ransacked by the English jumpers. But even if their line-out had been on the button and they had not dispensed free gifts worth seven points a time, England would have found their way into 30-point territory.

Dallaglio's forwards were terrific, none more so than Danny Grewcock, an old hand with points to prove, and Chris Jones, a Johnny-come-lately with ambition oozing from every pore. Acutely aware of the public bandwagon rolling along in support of Simon Shaw, the outstanding footballing lock from Wasps, Grewcock produced his best international display since 2001, when he nailed down a Lions Test place alongside Martin Johnson.

It is precisely his similarity to the great man from Leicester - all that dark-eyed intensity and general unpleasantness - that earns him the nod over the more conciliatory Shaw, and it was he who stared down the Scots at the weekend.

Jones, on the other hand, is like nobody on earth; even Dallaglio, who prides himself on possessing all the talents, describes the youngster from Sale as "unique". He can play like Scott Murray in the line-out, and run like Hennie Muller, the grand old "windhond" of Springbok rugby, in the loose. England knew that before they picked him for his first Test start. What they did not know was whether he could mix it with the heavy hitters in the bump-and-grind department. Two wonderful tackles in the space of three seconds at the start of the second half - Taylor first, Chris Paterson second - answered the question.

Paterson, the Scotland captain, compared his team's games with Wales and England as "night and day". England represented the after-dark half of the equation.

Three points adrift to an early penalty, the visitors took the lead on 11 minutes when Ben Hinshelwood slipped as he covered Robinson's unthreatening chip, knocked the ball deeper into his in-goal area and conceded the touchdown to Ben Cohen.

More defensive errors midway through the second quarter - Simon Danielli and Chris Cusiter were the guilty men - gave Iain Balshaw an equally soft try, and when Paterson himself was charged down by Josh Lewsey five minutes after the interval, the favourites were out of range at 25-6.

As all three scores had stemmed from almighty cock-ups, England decided to enter into the spirit of the occasion. Danielli, all at sea as an emergency full-back but admirably committed none the less, punted the ball towards the opposing 22 after a run down the left and saw the bounce elude Balshaw, who had flicked out a nonchalant arm on the assumption that nothing could conceivably go wrong.

At 25-13, the Scots were within sight of respectability. That vision was snatched away from them 16 minutes from time when the English scrum surged forwards and sent Grewcock thundering over at the posts.

As a summation of England's performance, it was just about perfect - stern, muscular, businesslike. But the champions could have won this game in a dozen different ways, despite the Scots' attempt at an uprising. The Murrayfield hierarchy may have gone the Tolkien route by turning the pitch into something resembling Helm's Deep, but had they cast their minds back to their opponents' victory over New Zealand in Wellington last summer, they would have recalled the description that accompanied it: "White orcs on steroids."

Scotland 13
Try: Danielli
Con: Paterson
Pens: Paterson 2

England 35
Tries: Cohen, Balshaw, Lewsey, Grewcock
Cons: Grayson 3
Pens: Grayson 3

Half-time: 6-20 Att: 67,500

SCOTLAND: B Hinshelwood (Worcester); S Danielli (Bath), T Philip (Edinburgh), B Laney (Edinburgh), S Webster (Edinburgh); C Paterson (Edinburgh, capt), C Cusiter (The Borders); T Smith (Northampton), G Bulloch (Glasgow), B Douglas (The Borders), S Murray (Edinburgh), S Grimes (Newcastle), J White (Sale), C Mather (Glasgow), S Taylor (Edinburgh). Replacements: A Henderson (Glasgow) for Philip, 15-22, and for Hinshelwood, h-t; A Hogg (Edinburgh) for Mather, 18; G Kerr (Leeds) for Douglas, 46; M Blair (Edinburgh) for Cusiter, 52; N Hines (Edinburgh) for Grimes, 54; R Russell (Saracens) for Bulloch, 64; D Parks (Glasgow) for Danielli, 74.

ENGLAND: I Balshaw (Bath); J Lewsey (Wasps), J Robinson (Sale), W Greenwood (Harlequins), B Cohen (Northampton); P Grayson (Northampton), A Gomarsall (Gloucester); T Woodman (Gloucester), S Thompson (Northampton), P Vickery (Gloucester), D Grewcock (Bath), B Kay (Leicester), C Jones (Sale), R Hill (Saracens), L Dallaglio (Wasps, capt). Replacements: M Dawson (Northampton) for Gomarsall, 54; S Shaw (Wasps) for Kay, 56; H Paul (Gloucester) for Greenwood, 74.

Referee: D McHugh (Ireland).

SIX NATIONS TABLE

P W D L F A Pts
England 2 2 0 0 85 22 4
France 2 2 0 0 60 17 4
Ireland 2 1 0 1 53 50 2
Wales 2 1 0 1 38 46 2
Scotland 2 0 0 2 23 58 0
Italy 2 0 0 2 9 75 0

Remaining fixtures: Sat 6 Mar: Italy v Scotland (Stadio Flaminio, Rome); England v Ireland (Twickenham). Sun 7 Mar: Wales v France (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff). Sat 20 Mar: Ireland v Italy (Lansdowne Road); England v Wales (Twickenham). Sun 21 Mar: Scotland v France (Murrayfield). Sat 27 Mar: Wales v Italy (Cardiff); Ireland v Scotland (Lansdowne Road); France v England (Stade de France, Paris).

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