What we learned: How Stuart Lancaster's young guns fared in Twickenham spotlight
Sunday 03 February 2013
Six Nations debutants
This ancient tournament poses unique pressures, but players like Joe Marler and Tom Youngs made light of them. Youngs's concern will be whether, after a couple of obvious errors in loose play, he has done enough to hold off the challenge at hooker of the much more experienced Dylan Hartley, who was given 26 minutes off the bench in the second half.
There were times, too, when Alex Goode looked short of match fitness after a lengthy injury spell, but he is such a clever footballer that he can always add something to England's attacking potential. He also has the maturity to cope with the Six Nations while Marler has clearly been told to concentrate on his primary job and keep his temper in check.
England's scrum just about had the edge but Scotland's regard for Ryan Grant, the loose-head prop, is justified. A bundle of energy in the loose he stuck to a demanding job in the tight while, out on the flanks, Tim Visser will hope for a more generous supply of ball in future matches.
If Scotland thought Joe Launchbury was England's new line-out ace, they will now think again. Launchbury's value was evident as an athletic, ball-carrying forward; England scarcely threw to him at the lineout but his first touch was a catch and pass from a Scottish box-kick which showed how at ease he is, ball in hand.
He should have had a try to celebrate from close range, only for England to be hauled back for a penalty awarded for a high tackle by Tom Youngs. But just watching Launchbury keeping up with a break by the younger Youngs was value for money; the lock, who was the player of England's autumn, is only looking one way – forward.
Otherwise, England's line-out overcame the challenge posed by the giraffe-like proportions of Scotland talisman Richie Gray. Both sides lost twice on their own throw but most of England's variations worked well, including the low throw to the front in the final minute which, ultimately, led to scrum-half Danny Care's try.
Toby Flood may be England's most experienced player but he has a battle on his hands to recover the starting place at No 10. Owen Farrell managed the game with great authority and nothing will have given him greater pleasure than the wide pass which gave Geoff Parling his try.
It helps that he has Billy Twelvetrees in the centre to give greater variety but, after only one international season, Farrell has grown significantly in stature and his goal-kicking keeps the scoreboard ticking over and also places greater pressure on any opponent, be it a Scotsman or a New Zealander.
The new boys: Tries all round
Sean Maitland will think international rugby is easy. The wing scored with only his second touch in Scotland's blue but, compared with Billy Twelvetrees, Maitland was a peripheral figure.
These two young backs, born within two months of each other and making their international debuts in the same game, are set for long careers, but whereas Maitland waited often in vain for possession, Twelvetrees was involved in everything. Within the first five minutes he had appeared twice at first receiver and his running from depth was a clear indication of England's attacking intent. Maitland dealt capably when England attacked down his wing. You could argue he finished ahead on points, since his kick helped set up Scotland's second try, but by then Twelvetrees was off the field having scored a try of his own on a highly successful debut.
Half and half
Scotland tend not to produce multi-purpose half-backs, such as England's Austin Healey, but Greig Laidlaw served them well on his first start at scrum-half. Laidlaw's previous 13 caps came in the No 10 jersey but, on the ground where his uncle, Roy, scored a famous try in Scotland's last win at Twickenham in 1983, he kept a shrewd hand on the tiller.
Laidlaw, rather than Ruaridh Jackson, remains the tactician of the side as well as the goal-kicker. Had his forwards given him a better platform, we might have seen a few testing darts in loose play but Laidlaw sought to bring his bigger backs into play, and the likes of Johnnie Beattie and David Denton, his best ball-carrying forwards.
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