Parks and Flood kick against a rising tide of mediocrity
Scotland 15 England 15: Neither side draw comfort from a penalty-ridden stalemate
Sunday 14 March 2010
You will have to take this on trust, but there were many press pundits and doubtless paying punters who were talking beforehand of the probability of a draw, and after that very result in a mediocre match enlivened mostly by the ancient enmity, there were few claims of an injustice done. Scotland made the greater territorial gains but were never hammering at England's line. The obdurate visitors might have won it with a couple of second-half kicks by their replacement fly-half, Toby Flood, but the Scotland No 10, Dan Parks, hit a post twice too. In very many ways, including a dearth of a world class cutting edge, each cancelled the other out.
Flood had the chance to make a lasting name for himself when Jonny Wilkinson, pictured right, made a groggy exit during the second half but he was left with a hollow regret after the final three minutes, when he saw a 50-metre penalty fall just short and a less well-struck drop-goal attempt charged down to safety for Scotland. The wildest celebrations would have been in France, where Les Bleus need only to beat Italy today to all but make sure of a fifth Six Nations Championship title in nine years. If they beat Italy, as they should, they will not be caught by England. They also have a much superior points difference to Ireland.
Martin Johnson wisely avoided any "we wuz robbed" claims for himself or his team. Johnson, whose playing days included nine wins out of nine against Scotland, is finding the role of England manager an all together more fiendish business. He summed up the Six Nations thus: "We've played four and could have won all of them. We could have lost most of them as well." His team have beaten Wales and Italy, lost to Ireland and now drawn in Scotland. All very so-so.
England's challenge began with a fumble by Ugo Monye and a feeble cross-kick from Wilkinson and as an immediate admission that Scotland need not fear their opponents revealing any hitherto missing panache, it was as piercing as the sound from the lone piper perched atop the East Stand. The Scots contained the English backs comfortably until Flood and another replacement, Ben Foden, stretched them in the latter stages. In attack Scotland relied on launching Graeme Morrison over the gain line and combining with a back row much better balanced than their opponents. It worked, up to a point or 15.
Bearing in mind that the Scots had lost their three Six Nations matches and had been tryless in four of their previous five outings, they were never going to be fussy where their points came from. Parks, on the occasion of his 50th cap, began with two penalties to one by Wilkinson, whose kicking was accompanied by catcalling which would surely have saddened the late, great Bill McLaren, much eulogised in these parts and many others since his recent passing.
Just before the half-hour, a hurried flipped pass from Wilkinson to Delon Armitage was spilled and it was symptomatic of almost all England's back play: tentative support and little sign that one man is empathising with the next. Armitage, having sat out the autumn Tests with a shoulder injury, has yet to recover anything like the attacking brio which marked him out last season as the best option at the back for England since Jason Robinson. They could do with a linkman in the old Neil Back mould too. Not Joe Worsley, whose best mate would not rave about his handling capability.
Back and Robinson used to turn grotty ball into gold, but today's England are stuck in a bronze age, and not only because they may well finish third in the table. Woundingly, in the first half, they were twice rucked off the ball. The ancient forager in the Scotland coach's booth would have liked that, even if he was English. At other times, Andy Robinson was seen raging at referee, Marius Jonker, but the South African official was even-handed in ruthlessly penalising both sides again and again after the tackle.
A penalty by Wilkinson and a drop-goal from Parks – who had missed with two previous attempts – had Scotland 9-6 up at half-time. Wilkinson levelled for the third time when Jim Hamilton doltishly stepped through a ruck in the opening minute of the second half. As the dogfight unfolded with too many reset scrums and a tremendous tussle in the line-out, it started to become rugby by Fred Karno. A headlong clash with Max Evans' hip removed Wilkinson after 46 minutes, and on came Flood. Another head-to-head collision forced off Kelly Brown and Monye. Though all concerned were said to be essentially fine afterwards, they would not have seen the funny side of the stretcher cart not starting and Nick Easter steering it away over the dead-ball line like an AA mechanic.
Flood's penalty put England 12-9 ahead; Parks equalised when James Haskell tackled Al Kellock and at no stage released his man; a heinous act under the new IRB directive to give the tackled player leeway. A long-range miss by Flood was followed by him going for touch deep in the Scottish 22 when three points were on offer from around 35 metres. That was questionable and so was England sending Steve Thompson and Lewis Moody on just was they were about to put in to a scrum deep in the Scottish 22. Valuable fresh legs, or two forwards asked to instantly pick up the pace of the game? Take your pick. In any event, Easter was slammed back by John Barclay. The near inevitable penalty soon followed, though, and with 64 minutes gone England were in front thanks to Flood's kick.
Parks had hit a post with a penalty around the time Wilkinson went off, and he did so again after 68 minutes. England snoozed, Kellock pounced and an offside allowed Parks to tie the scores. The first of Flood's late shots came from a harsh-looking call against the replacement hooker Scott Lawson, for holding off the ball then, as most of the crowd shrieked at the thought of a kick in the guts, all they saw was his half-cocked drop. "As a collective we're just gutted," said Flood, and he might have been speaking for everyone here.
MAN FOR MAN MARKING
HUGO SOUTHWELL 5/10
Took turnover ball at pace and steamed towards the English line and passed it along the ground and into touch. Appropriately, given the quality of the game.
SEAN LAMONT 5/10
Ummm... he was playing, wasn't he? An utterly blank notepad, which probably means he wasn't as visibly average as everyone else.
NICK DE LUCA 5/10
Caused some bother for Tait with his direct running, though he couldn't cause anything more after Tait had fallen off him, which was a shame for everyone.
GRAEME MORRISON 5/10
Broke a few tackles when he had the ball and broke a few heads when he was making tackles, as per. And... nothing.
MAX EVANS 6/10
His attempted sleight of hand was, sadly, slightly dodgy, but he looked as dangerous as anyone with the ball in hand.
DAN PARKS 6/10
A 50th cap for the fly-half – a first penalty from close to 50 metres. Two close-to-50m drop-goal attempts didn't work... one a bit closer in did. Kicked his penalties when they came until the posts decided to make things a little more interesting.
CHRIS CUSITER 6/10
Sharp round the rucks, prompting and passing and looking more like creating something than Care, but not quite sharp enough in some of his kicking play. One lovely break in the second half nearly led to something, but didn't.
ALLAN JACOBSEN 5/10
Must have thought he was playing in a vets' match, faced by the grizzled Cole. Gave away the odd ruck penalty and the odd scrum one too.
ROSS FORD 5/10
Had a couple of amusing tangles with Hartley as scrum after scrum broke up, only where Tomas O'Leary milked penalties from English retaliation the other week, he couldn't prompt enough of it.
EUAN MURRAY 5/10
Spent just as much time with his nose in the turf as the other front-rowers – the first full penalty was against him, for not binding properly. The one for 15-12 England was for something in the loose.
JIM HAMILTON 6/10
A very big lump to lift but the Scottish line-out has been very good all season and it was again here – his presence might have been why England went short a few times. Gave away an utter numbnuts of a penalty for 9-9.
ALASTAIR KELLOCK 6/10
Line-out work worked very well and he showed up in the nasty stuff – one bit of it crocked him, but he got up from being treated to catch the ball and get stuck back in.
KELLY BROWN 6/10
One of the 'Killer Bs', who were marginally less bumbling than their opponents. Clashed heads with Monye at the end of a second-half attack.
JOHN BARCLAY 6/10
Go on then – has become Scotland's banker for the back-row hard yards. Gave away the penalty for 12-9 England for being offside – thoroughly accidentally, but there you go.
JOHNNIE BEATTIE 6/10
Said Scotland would watch 'Braveheart' before the match – presumably to find out how an Australian would go about beating the English. By playing fast and loose? The No 8 tried to do the former in a game that was, sadly, very much the latter.
Nathan Hines On for Hamilton for half an hour. Alan MacDonald On for Brown. Rory Lawson On for Cusiter. Scott Lawson On for Ford. Simon Danielli On for Southwell. Geoff Cross On for Jacobsen. Phil Godman On for Parks.
DELON ARMITAGE 5/10
Said before the game he had expected to be dropped, thus proving himself in concert with much of press and public opinion. After this one he should probably pop down the bookies and have a bet against his own survival.
UGO MONYE 5/10
Steamed off Wilkinson's shoulder and... dropped the ball. Steamed into the Scots a few times after that before steaming into Brown, who was at full steam himself.
MATHEW TAIT 5/10
Missed tackles in the first half, which should probably have proved more costly. Sort of half looked like making something, some of the time.
RIKI FLUTEY 6/10
Hurled Evans to the ground to stop a dangerous attack, using his curiously elongated arms as a kind of slingshot. Oh for him to occasionally get the mitts at the end of them on the ball in attack – when he did, he flickered, briefly.
MARK CUETO 5/10
Hardly saw the ball, just like Flutey, and when he did he had few chances to take himself or to set up others.
JONNY WILKINSON 5/10
Started looking like he might spark something – or, equally, pass the ball into touch. Had treatment for what looked like a 'stinger' on his shoulder, kicked well, and then, to use the technical term, 'cabbaged' himself in a tackle.
DANNY CARE 5/10
Took a quick penalty at 6-3 down that wasn't so bad a call, though the three points might have been handy. Ended up as one of three No 9s on the field.
TIM PAYNE 5/10
Got to spend a fair bit of time studying the Murrayfield earthworms – whose fault all the scrum collapses were I have absolutely no idea. Popped up in the loose, showing reasonable hands.
DYLAN HARTLEY 5/10
'Not straight' called on a trick line-out in a rare first-half attack. Bit dull. Not too sharp to have a swing at Ford either. Got away with it.
DAN COLE 5/10
Conceded the first penalty and the first points, at a ruck. Then spent as much time as anyone else forcibly chewing the cud after scrum collapses.
LOUIS DEACON 5/10
Not the man you want at first receiver, standing still and on his own. If there is one in the world. Which I doubt. Didn't stop him turning up there more than once – other than that he did reasonably well.
STEVE BORTHWICK 5/10
Called for a scrum with 20 to go and had Thompson and Moody fresh on for it. A big call which created... a penalty for 15-12, eventually, though not from the scrum.
JAMES HASKELL 5/10
Gave away the penalty for 12-12, a minute after Flood had given England the lead. Had a sort of crushing inevitability about it, that did.
JOE WORSLEY 6/10
Selection suggested England expected a battle and as usual, what England expected from him they got – tackles upon tackles upon tackles, usually scudding in at ankle height.
NICK EASTER 6/10
Took the first kick-off very well, defusing a potentially tricky situation, and ranged around reassuringly for the rest of the evening. England's man of a dispiriting match.
Toby Flood On for Wilkinson early, with a chance to prove all the writers right by offering more of a threat. Sort of did. Ben Foden On for Armitage on 50 minutes. Looked sharp-ish. Ben Youngs A first cap, for Monye. Lewis Moody On for Haskell. Steve Thompson On for Hartley. Courtney Lawes On for Deacon. David Wilson On for Cole very late.
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