England through after edging Scotland

England 16 Scotland 12
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The Independent Online

England finally pulled through to beat Scotland 16-12 after trailing for most of this crucial Rugby World Cup Pool B decider.

England booked a Rugby World Cup quarter-final clash with France after Chris Ashton's try sealed a dramatic late victory over Scotland at Eden Park today.

But while England scraped through, Scotland were left contemplating elimination in the group stages of the World Cup for the first time ever.

Scotland need Georgia to beat Argentina in Palmerston North tomorrow - and deny the Pumas any bonus points - if they are to snatch a place in the last eight.

No-one in dark blue will be counting on that.

Scotland had been inspired by a man-of-the-match performance from Dan Parks, who replaced the injured Ruaridh Jackson after just four minutes, and led 12-9 with three minutes remaining.

Parks landed a penalty and drop-goal and Chris Paterson struck two successful kicks from out wide - but England, despite being rattled and second best for long periods, hung in there.

Jonny Wilkinson missed four penalty attempts and failed with two drop-goal efforts - but England hit the front right at the death when Ashton raced onto Toby Flood's floated pass.

Twenty years ago, England beat Scotland 9-6 at Murrayfield in the World Cup semi-final - and Martin Johnson's men could have been forgiven for thinking they were back in Edinburgh today.

A bagpipe band entertained the crowd during the warm-ups, the Auckland heavens opened just before kick-off and all the neutral support in Eden Park was behind Scotland.

Jackson limped out of the action with a hamstring injury after four minutes but Parks made an immediate impact.

The Cardiff Blues fly-half aimed a grubber kick into England's 22 that Max Evans chased down ahead of Ben Foden before aiming a cross-field bomb towards Sean Lamont.

The Scarlets centre spilled the ball under pressure but Scotland won the subsequent scrum penalty after Dan Cole buckled under Allan Jacobsen.

Paterson landed the kick from the left touchline and Scotland soon cranked up the pressure again.

England were struggling in the lineout and they were penalised in the scrum for a third time in 15 minutes, this time Matt Stevens was the culprit.

Mike Blair made a swift break and England conceded another penalty at the breakdown, which Parks landed with a scuffed kick that just crept over the bar.

England gained a foothold when Courtney Lawes pounced quickly to win a penalty at the breakdown but England failed to capitalise as Wilkinson missed three penalties in six minutes.

Parks saw a drop-goal attempt fall short before Wilkinson finally succeeded in nudging England onto the scoreboard with his fourth shot at goal.

But England's set-piece problems continued and Stevens was penalised for a second time, allowing Parks to move Scotland into the red zone.

Scotland won clean line-out ball, drove in-field in textbook fashion and Parks landed the drop-goal to put his side 9-3 up at the interval.

It was a deserved lead. England had to up the intensity and the pace of their game and it was Manu Tuilagi who set the tone.

Tuilagi flattened Lamont with a bone-shuddering tackle and released Armitage down the wing before he was tackled into touch by Parks.

England appeared to have fixed their scrum problems and produced two big shoves in succession, the second to disrupt Scotland ball and they won it against the head.

Ben Youngs attacked the line and offloaded to Mike Tindall but the England centre spilled the ball as he went to ground in the tackle.

England then snatched a turnover inside the Scotland 22 and Wilkinson dropped back for the drop-goal from 10 metres out and right in front of the posts - but, almost inexplicably, he missed.

Parks then succeeded in picking off an interception as England wasted another promising attacking platform and Paterson kicked Scotland 60 metres up-field.

Scotland threatened England with a chip ahead from Simon Danielli which Foden did well to cover but he knocked on in the process.

England's scrum was penalised again and Paterson landed the penalty to move Scotland 12-3 ahead.

Wilkinson reduced the arrears with a right-footed drop goal but then ignored runners out wide to attempt another that was charged down.

England rebuilt and moved upfield, their forwards growing increasingly influential.

Tom Croft stole a Scotland lineout and when Al Kellock dragged the maul down Wilkinson stepped up again and landed the penalty to bring his side back within three.

After Croft had reacted quickly to deny Richie Gray, Wilkinson had the chance to bring England level but his penalty, although on target, was into the wind and fell short.

Flood then took charge at fly-half and one of his first acts was to kick a penalty to touch rather than go for the posts.

England drove the lineout forward, Tuilagi tried to punch a hole in the Scotland defence and recycled the ball quickly and Flood floated the pass wide.

Ashton turned on the afterburners and dived over in the corner to clinch the victory.