James Lawton: A caretaker of courage, but bravery is not enough to return to the elite

What happened at Murrayfield is unlikely to be repeated when the opposition stiffens

Owen Farrell didn't have a storming game but he brought something that in all the circumstances had to be weighed in gold. He looked as if he would soon enough pull his chair up under the table, settle down and before anyone might have imagined start shouting the odds.

The big question is, of course, to do with which coach will benefit from a touch of such life-giving gravitas: interim boss Stuart Lancaster, the man who has been given the mother of all clean-up jobs by Twickenham, or someone much further along his career path, such as South African Nick Mallett?

It may sound less than generous to the man who delivered England's first win in Edinburgh for eight years but if ever a team looked in need of the attention of a man much more familiar with the demands of the international game it was the one who profited from Scotland's chronic deficiency in the coup de grace department. England won, which considering the way they had been pieced together since the nightmare denouement in New Zealand was probably as much as anyone could expect.

Still, it was largely a mess – and the more so it looked while coming to it from the impressive evidence that France's new coach Philippe Saint-André has the kind of nascent fire-power about which Lancaster, with just two more games in which to underline his claims on a permanent appointment, for some time can only fantasise.

As Scotland's coach, Andy Robinson, almost choked with frustration while discussing his team's failure to exploit vast advantages in territory and possession, Lancaster chose to dwell on the spirit of defiance displayed by his young team. There weren't, in all honesty, too many other places to go. Charlie Hodgson reminded us that he is a finely gifted footballer who before his decisive swoop on the hapless clearing kick of Dan Parks had never been quite able to seize his moments.

Brad Barritt tackled like a fiend, suggesting that he might have been born for the job of nailing flying Scotsmen. Chris Robshaw's debut as captain, on the slender base of one cap, naturally enough was a little short of authority but he is plainly the kind of abrasive scrapper most coaches would be happy to have in a tough situation. There are going to be quite a few more of these, and perhaps not later than the next game in Rome, where the Italians under their new French coach, Jacques Brunel, will surely be waiting with increased expectations after the promising glimmerings they showed at the Stade de France.

Yes, England had a few such flashes of light in a mostly blue tide. Ben Foden and David Strettle had moments of illumination in the back line and Chris Ashton at times looked like someone who might be emerging from the throes of delayed adolescence. The progress of Ben Youngs, such an exciting possibility in his first few big-stage entrances, continues to be stalled but there are still moments when he looks like a potentially serious article.

When you put all the positives together this was still an extremely raw England, a conclusion that could only be deepened by the flashes of quality later displayed in Dublin, where Wales and Ireland looked at least one notch above. England, to be fair to Lancaster, were bound to look unformed after the convulsions of the World Cup misadventures, and far more able squads have dwindled under the force of a Scottish onslaught.

What Lancaster might fairly claim is an impressive degree of resistance to the idea that the Scots, even with their desperate inability to finish off any argument, were simply piling up too much pressure. The trouble is that he is in charge not of some aspiring member of rugby's third world but a failed behemoth with huge commercial opportunities and a playing population of more than a million. When you remembered this, England's showing was – it has to be said – another chapter of an ongoing scandal.

Lancaster can talk as long as he likes about the need to put down new building blocks and the Rugby Football Union is obliged to react patiently. But this can only be for so long. In this case a thousand good intentions are far from guaranteed to cover all the required ground.

England produced a brave win but they couldn't promise any swift return to the elite. What happened at Murrayfield is unlikely to be repeated when the opposition stiffens.

Lancaster has tackled the years of decline and indulgence with considerable courage but there is a huge divide between someone who troubleshoots and another who knows how to make a team at the highest level. For the new man the chasm still yawns.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Powdered colors are displayed for sale at a market ahead of the Holi festival in Bhopal, India
techHere's what you need to know about the riotous occasion
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable