Six Nations 2014: Owen Farrell and Co lead Scots on a merry dance
Stuart Lancaster's boyish band bounce back to prove they have what it takes to call the tune
Sunday 09 February 2014
At Super Bowl XLVIII last Sunday they got the Red Hot Chili Peppers miming Give It Away. In the pre-match build-up to Calcutta Cup CXXXII we got the Red Hot Chilli Pipers giving the skirl and drone treatment to Avicii's Wake Me Up. There were not just the pipers piping, but also a group of singers delivering the chorus: "So wake me up when I get older, when I'm wiser and I'm older."
In the 80-minute show that followed, the big question was whether Stuart Lancaster's boyish band would give it away again, as they had done after manoeuvring themselves into the box seat against the All Blacks at Twickenham in November and against France in Paris the previous Saturday. Or, seven days on, would they be wiser for having fallen asleep when it came to reel-in time in the Stade de France bowl and let the big fish off the hook?
As it happened, when the pipers departed and Chris Robshaw led his team out on to the worm-infested pitch, England had little trouble in landing opponents who were more of the minnow variety.
Routine wins against Scottish sides on Caledonian soil are not supposed to be easy to come by for players from the south side of Hadrian's Wall. Just ask the trio who served as England head coach before Lancaster. Martin Johnson, Brian Ashton and Andy Robinson all failed to guide England to victory here.
But then they were all pitted against Scottish sides who had considerably more about them than the home team that turned up yesterday evening – Scottish sides who actually managed to get points on the Murrayfield scoreboard.
This was a second win in two visits to the home of Scottish rugby for Lancaster, the Cumbrian farmer's son who played age group rugby for the land of his Scottish mother.
In 2014 the former Scotland Under-21 flanker launched his international coaching career with a somewhat fortuitous 15-6 success in Edinburgh, blooding seven debutants in the process. This time, however, there was no luck involved.
Owen Farrell was one of those given a baptism two years ago, cushioned in between his Saracens colleagues Charlie Hodgson and Brad Barritt at inside centre. Yesterday evening, playing at outside-half, the assistant coach's son had a curate's egg of a game but, in the general sweep of things, combined with his half-back partner, Danny Care, to give the visitors a controlling influence.
He did not get off to the best of starts, slipping in the Murrayfield mud and pushing wide an early penalty attempt. Still, after Care had seized the initiative and the lead with a drop goal (the sparky scrum-half's second in two games), the young Farrell fixed that sinister Travis Bickle sideways stare of his before putting the boot into a conversion that gave England a 10-0 lead on the quarter-hour.
That particular opportunity came after Luther Burrell, the one-time West Indies Sevens star from Huddersfield, had breezed past Duncan Weir and Greig Laidlaw en route to his second try in two matches for England – courtesy of a slick Care feed from a five-metre scrum in the right corner.
Having succeeded on the penalty front at the third time of asking, Farrell fed a silver platter of a flat pass to Burrell in the last knockings of the opening half that begged to get England home and hosed by the interval. He might be a bright young thing but the Northampton centre showed he remains far from the finished article, blowing the open goal of a chance in front of the home posts.
Not that it mattered. Thirteen unanswered points in the opening 40 minutes proved more than sufficient for Lancaster's men to get a 2014 Six Nations win on the board ahead of the sterner Test against the unbeaten Irish back at HQ on Saturday week.
Not since 1978 had Scotland failed to trouble the scoreboard operator on Calcutta Cup day, a 15-0 defeat. This latest nil was their second in three home matches, following the 28-0 loss to the Springboks in November.
It was a nil very much of the desperandum variety, too. As Scott Johnson, Scotland's caretaker head coach, felt obliged to reflect after a one-way second half in which Farrell converted a Mike Brown try to wrap up the scoring: "The scoreboard flattered us."
It did that. For a fourth match in succession Scotland failed to register a try. Indeed, they have not crossed the English whitewash at home for 10 years, since Simon Danielli's consolation score in a 35-13 loss against Clive Woodward's recently crowned world champions.
Not that the Scots are entirely bereft of a cutting edge. Before heading to Rome the week after next, they may have Euan Murray back in action. The Worcester tighthead prop has been out of commission since cutting a thumb at a Warriors' team-building barbecue.
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