England vs Scotland match report: Stuart Lancaster's men keep Six Nations hopes alive after fighting off spirited Scots

England 25 Scotland 13

Fitful and as far from error-free as winners could possibly be, England moved to the top of the Six Nations Championship, which will almost certainly be decided on points difference in next weekend’s triple-header of 'Super Saturday' matches. It will grossly unfair but certanly advantageous to England, who are seeking only their second champions' title since 2003, that they play their game last among the contenders, against France back here at Twickenham. They will know how Wales and Ireland have done in their games away to Italy and Scotland respectively.

As things stand England have a narrow advantage in points (plus 37 ahead of the second-placed Irish on plus 33) after scoring three tries through their backs Jonathan Joseph, George Ford and jack Nowell but that number ought to have been doubled and Scotland briefly threatened an upset by leading at half-time. The Triple Crown and Grand Slam have gone for all concerned in this switchback Championship but Chris Robshaw’s team did at least retain the Calcutta Cup - or at the risk of upsetting the Jeremy Clarksons of this world, shouldn’t it be the Kolkata Cup by now?

“It was really important to us to bounce back from the defat by Ireland,” said Ben Youngs, who combined well with George Ford as England’s half-backs while many things went awry around them, “but there was also disappointment as we left a lot of missed opportunities out there. We need to capitalise on those. We started well unlike the previous games in the Six Nations but when Scotland got their try we felt sorry for ourselves, we beat ourselves up. After a good chat at half-time, we got the opportunities we wanted and we’re happy with the result but in terms if performance there’s a lot more to come.”

England have finished second in the last three Six Nations so would a title be a launchpad to World Cup success on home soil this autumn? That seems a shaky prospect at best. They need a few of their injured heavy-hitters back; although on the flipside to win a Championship without Manu Tulagi, Ben Morgan, Alex Corbisiero, Davey Wilson, Brad Barritt and Joe Launchbury might be a commendable effort.

We had a weird first half of two quarters, to adapt the old phrase, and the opening 20 minutes was a painfully wasteful period for England in which four wonderful chances for tries were wasted. The one that was scored, for a 7-0 lead, showed how easily Scotland could be broken open. Nowell was allowed a clean break after catching a high ball, England’s forwards arrived to give rucking support, and George Ford delayed his pass nicely to force Scotland’s centre Matt Scott into a misjudged rush out of defence. Jonathan Joseph exploited the gap and sidestepped Stuart Hogg to collect his fourth try of the Championship in the fifth minute.

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Jonathan Joseph scored the first try within five minutes

Hogg had to endure a blur of white jerseys coming his way as Scotland’s last line of defence, yet England failed grievously to add to their score;  they had begun in devastating style when from a maul from the first kick-off Luther Burrell was sent away by Ben Youngs and George Ford but the big centre proved unable to exploit a three on two overlap. On 13 minutes, the other side of the Joseph try, another recent injury absentee Courtney Lawes announced his delayed bow in the Championship after recovering from an ankle operation by brilliantly harrying Finn Russell in Scotland’s in-goal area. It gave England an ideal attacking position but after winning a penalty at the initial five-metre scrum, they were penalised themselves at the second for Joe Marler not driving straight (the Harlequin loosehead, much to his annoyance, coughed up a similar offence later in the half). Next, an element of bad luck was involved as again England put a man into clear  water only for Mike Brown, having lost a boot temporarily in a previous play, to have a worthy excuse for not finishing the raid off.  Finally the always up-for-it Nowell made a break, only to lose his footing at the crucial moment.

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George Ford scored 10 points, including an early second half try

Scotland have a dire record in this fixture – since their Grand Slam day of days beating Will Carling’s England at Murrayfield in 1990, they have won just three of the 27 meetings, with one draw, and there has been no Scottish win at Twickenham since 1983 – but they had enough talent to temporsarily exploit their hosts’ failings. After 21 minutes the wing Tommy Seymour made a dent through a line-out on the left, and working across field with quick ball, Scotland’s scrum-half and captain Greig Laidlaw fired a sharp pass off the deck for the centre Mark Bennett to score a try converted by Laidlaw and a scoreline of of 7-7.

Ford’s penalty soon nudged England ahead again, but in this second quarter Scotland did not look a side lying bottom of the Six Nations table. They were in front by the interval after two penalties by Laidlaw, as Dan Cole dived foolishly round a ruck and Russell’s clever probing sucked England offside.

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A spirited Scotland lead at half-time

Forget the World Cup; England were in danger of losing their shout of winning this Championship but Ford at fly-half took a necessary grip early in the second half, running flat to the line and knifing between two forwards for his first Test try on his 10th appearance and adding the conversion and a penalty. But the frustrating mistakes for England were unceasing as Tom Youngs – on at hooker for Dylan Hartley – flung a pass into nowhere in yet another position of rich promise. Brown got away for what he thought was a try but just as Burrell had been disappointed to be pulled back for a forward pass by Ford in the 31st minute, so Brown’s effort was ruled out for the bungled feed to him by James Haskell.

For every bit of impressive close-quarter thundering by Lawes and Billy Vunipola, there were misplaced passes or line-out throws to undo England. Even the estimable Ford hit a post with a 30-minute penalty on 73 minutes but it led directly to the third and concluding England try as Billy Vunipola followed up, and passes by Brown and Ford put Nowell over at the left corner.

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Chris Robshaw raises the Calcutta Cup

England: M Brown (D Cipriani 77); A Watson, J Joseph, L Burrell, J Nowell; G Ford, B Youngs (R Wigglesworth 67); J Marler (M Vunipola 60), D Hartley (T Youngs 51), D Cole (K Brookes 67), D Attwood (G Parling 51), C Lawes, J Haskell (T Wood 67), C Robshaw (capt), B Vunipola.

Scotland: S Hogg; D Fife, M Bennett, M Scott (G Tonks 41), T Seymour; F Russell (S Hidalgo-Clyne 72), G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (R Grant 60), R Ford (F Brown 60), E Murray (G Cross 55), J Hamilton (T Swinson 36-41, 48), J Gray, R Harley (J Beattie 67), B Cowan, D Denton (A Ashe 55).

Referee: R Poite (France).

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