James Lawton: Banahan's punch revives English Grand Slam hopes

Talk of a serious World Cup challenge later this year seem nothing more than wild optimism

Despite some rather emphatic death notices, Scottish rugby is, after all, still alive and showing rather too many vital signs for the serene health of England's Grand Slam pretensions.

Rugby revolutions are, like most any other sort, rarely seamless. However, the one England's Martin Johnson has been fashioning since last autumn threatened to do more than shed a stitch or two at Twickenham yesterday. But for the rather harsh dismissal of Scottish flanker John Barclay to the sin bin at a pivotal stage, there might have been a wholesale unravelling.

As it was, Ireland, no doubt still raging at the iniquity of Wales's illegal winning try in Cardiff, can only have had their appetite for action at Lansdowne Road next week raised to a lipsmacking level. England may hope to return from Dublin with the Grand Slam but on yesterday's evidence their first task is to stop a horrible slide back into futility.

Zara Phillips did not seem amused by the withdrawal of her fiancée, England captain Mike Tindall, especially before it was clear that the move was provoked by injury, but the arrival of his understudy, Matt Banahan, certainly sharpened England's capacity to attack with serious purpose.

He was a source of genuine power and penetration – something England had cried out for as Scotland reached half-time in a 9-9 deadlock and with plenty of reasons to believe in their chances of pulling off one of the true shocks of modern rugby.

In the end, England did manage to cross the tryline but the breakthrough came in the last seconds of Barclay's exclusion. And if the execution was provided by an unstoppable substitute, Tom Croft, we again had a moment of less than rugby perfection with a strong suspicion that the vital pass was forward.

But Scotland were not done – and certainly not prepared to concede that as a serious rugby nation they were about to disappear down the dusty high road of history. Earlier, Chris Patterson had made this point with a magnificent tackle at the corner on a speeding Ben Foden and then when Barclay returned to the action Scotland came within three points of the unlikeliest triumph.

Max Evans scored a try filled with craft and wit and it required super-sub Jonny Wilkinson to boot England into a six-point lead that gave them just enough breathing space.

Johnson looked relieved but then to be fair to him he has shown some dogged resistance to the idea that England's chariot had been acquiring some irresistible properties. Yesterday the wheels squeaked too often to make talk of a serious World Cup challenge later this year seem anything more than wild optimism.

No doubt England have made some significant strides in the last six months but it is idle to think that mere fine-tuning will smooth out the worries sure to rise out of this performance. Some serious re-structuring is also required.

It should start in the midfield, where Banahan's arrival signalled a sharp leap in potency. He also put out of the game one of Scotland's best players, number eight Kelly Brown.

He stepped into the Bath juggernaut's path and paid with a worrying spell on the ground until being taken off on a stretcher. Reports that he was conscious and that he had free movement no doubt lifted rugby hearts all the way to Scotland.

The good news was that Brown and his team-mates will surely make a bonny fight another day. For England there was that unequivocal warning. It says that to beat Ireland they must rediscover the best of themselves. Certainly the search at Twickenham was not encouraging.

Man for man marking

England

Ben Foden - Flashes of form. Took a brilliant tackle by Paterson to stop him from scoring 6

Chris Ashton - More room after break but lassoed by Paterson when got a sniff of the line 6

Mike Tindall - Hampered by ankle problem. Struggled to make an impact before making way for Banahan 5

Shontayne Hape - Vitally ran the ball when England made mess of defensive line-out 5

Mark Cueto - Brilliantly drew two defenders before feeding scoring pass to Croft 6

Toby Flood - Carrying ankle problem and not at his sharpest. Still, kicked four penalties 6

Ben Young - Spent most of first-half trying to locate Chris Ashton. Not his most fluent performance 5

Alex Corbisiero - Steady again on the loosehead side. Becoming a rock in the front row 7

Dylan Hartley - Another solid display. Subtle pass almost put in Wood for a score 7

Dan Cole - Another sterling shift at the coal-face by the tighthead 7

Louis Deacon - A typical Ronseal performance from the no-nonsense Tiger 6

Tom Palmer - Helped to undermine Scots at line-out time. Conspicuous in the loose too 6

Tom Wood - Almost got in for a try before half-time6

James Haskell - England's stand-out performer. Typical charge almost put Ashton away 8

Nick Easter - Great out of side-door feed almost put Ashton in early in second half 7

Best off bench

Tom Croft - In right place at right time for the try 6

Scotland

Chris Paterson - Try-saving tackle on Foden and another one on Ashton. Fine display 7

Simon Danielli - Former England schoolboy wing worked hard in defence and tirelessly about the field 6

Joe Ansbro - Lively and hungry for the ball. Shored up midfield impressively with Lamont 7

Sean Lamont - Put himself about in defence and attack. Tidily too. Looking part at centre 7

Max Evans - Great wedge chip and collect for the try from the former golf pro 6

Ruaridh Jackson - Struggled with his kicking out of hand early on but landed fine 35-metre drop goal 5

Rory Lawson - Sharp and assured. Might have broken his try duck but for a knock-on 6

Allan Jacobsend - Not the best of days at scrum-time 5

Ross Ford - Badly wayward with his throwing 4

Moray Low - Endured a hard shift at the coal face 5

Richie Gray - Set tone with clattering tackle on Tindall. Tireless worker 7

Alastair Kellock - Captain tackled well but struggled to make an impact in the line-out 6

Nathan Hines - Veteran lock-cum-flanker tackled his socks off 6

John Barclay - Halted Hape and Palmer early in second half. Unlucky yellow 6

Kelly Brown - Sterling defensive work until floored by the Banahan battering ram 6

Best off bench

Richie Vernon - Got straight into the groove knocking back white shirts when he replaced Brown 6

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'