Match Report: Buoyant England sail past stricken Scotland
England 38 Scotland 18: Hosts start their Six Nations campaign with a routine win over a Scotland side 'on the edge of a precipice'.
Without hitting the sensational heights of the historic win over New Zealand last time out here – how could they, really, against a Scottish team belonging to a significantly lower echelon of the world game to the All Blacks – England scored four tries to two to kick off the Six Nations' Championship with few wobbles along the way. A pivotal match in the seven-week tournament looms immediately when England go to Ireland, winners over Wales yesterday, in Dublin next Sunday.
Scotland's interim Australian-English coaching duo of Scott Johnson and Dean Ryan were unable to improve the team's dire record at Twickenham that stands now at four wins in 46 attempts, with none since 1983. Scotland's depressing home defeat by Tonga in November inked in the P45 for the previous coach, Andy Robinson, but the fault lines run deeper.
"Scottish rugby stands on the brink of a precipice," the former captain and totemic full-back Gavin Hastings said yesterday. Somewhere from a thin player base and a pair of professional Pro 12 teams they have to muster a XV of heart, searing skill, size and conditioning. The second of those qualities was there in the full-back Stuart Hogg and others, but the Scots' 30 years of hurt at England's HQ continued with a white-jerseyed pummelling at the breakdown and in contact.
England led with a penalty by Owen Farrell, but "statuesque" was the description for the England defending that followed, in a goose-bump moment for the Scots. A kick by Mike Brown sailed into the Scotland half with little in the way of a chase. A sign perhaps of the dreaded complacency after the heroics of December?
Whatever, Hogg was alive to the possibilities and ran hard and dead straight, about 10 metres from his right-hand touchline, to shoot between Brown and Dan Cole like a high-speed train through a cutting in the Chilterns. It obliged Alex Goode at full-back to be the buffers, and the opportunity looked lost for a second or two as Greig Laidlaw – Scotland's fly-half turned No 9 – and Sean Maitland took the ball. But a quick recycle restored momentum and Laidlaw on the short side popped Maitland over for the converted Kiwi's debut Test try.
Laidlaw's conversion was missed and England, though hardly rattled, suffered fumbles on the move by the debutant inside-centre Billy Twelve-trees, Tom Youngs and Dan Cole, while Geoff Parling had his hands full, or not as the case may be, keeping Richie Grant at bay in an intriguing tussle in the line-out. Youngs's brother, scrum-half Ben, was struggling to locate his runners sympathetically, but Twelvetrees's willingness and ability to launch attacks on the hoof showed what he has to offer England's midfield.
Two penalties by Farrell to one from Laidlaw had England 9-8 up and just a little relieved when their highest current try-scorer, Chris Ashton, added a 17th to his total 30 minutes into his 30th Test. A turnover and multiple phases, including a dart by Twelvetrees wide out and more ground-covering nearer the posts by the bigger brigade of Joe Marler and Joe Launchbury, ended with Ashton, correctly, believing that he had enough of a gap between the defending Hogg and Ruaridh Jackson to reach the ball over the line, left-handed.
Farrell's conversion and another penalty plus Laidlaw's second penalty – England had a few troubles keeping referee Alain Rolland happy with their entry through the gate – made it 19-11 at the interval.
Urgently, England pressed hard at the start of the second half and two minutes in they had a second try. Twelvetrees of Gloucester, once of Leicester, made it for himself with a call and a deliberate run off a red-zone ruck, taking a flat pass from his erstwhile Tigers clubmate Ben Youngs to blast over Dougie Hall, and Farrell converted.
A try by Launchbury was chalked off for a high tackle by Tom Youngs, but England scored within a minute. Ben Youngs broke free, and a tiring Scotland's ineffective work at the tackle allowed the move to go left, where Farrell's sweet, long pass gave Parling a short galumph home.
Farrell, for once and from the touchline, missed the conversion. Not that England, for all the "arrogant" jibes from the former Scotland coach Jim Telfer, would have been thinking of it, but they had 25 minutes at 31-11 up to garner the total of 44 and winning margin of 22 that would have been records against the Scots.
Stoically, Scotland had other ideas. An attack launched from deep included a run by Davie Denton to halfway, a hoof ahead by Maitland and a soft-shoe nudge and scoring finish by the excellent Hogg. The conversion by Laidlaw followed but, anyway, England, with eight bench- men for the first time under the new regulation, were busy using the lot, including a run for Toby Flood – not at fly-half but in place of Twelvetrees – outside Farrell, whose latest performance of assurance ended with a drop-kick conversion of Danny Care's sniping try at the death.
"We were a little loose on occasions, but overall I'm pleased with the start," said England's coach, Stuart Lancaster afterwards.
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