Nick Townsend: Robinson's grand design laid low by Frank endeavour

England have the power, but not the wit or invention to break down Scotland's granite spirit
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The Independent Online

Six years ago, when Scotland last defeated England here, it took an act of God only Noah and the home team might have appreciated to help them on their way. Word has it that on that day the former was spotted in the vicinity wondering if he should prepare to cast off. Meanwhile the men in blue duly took advantage. Yesterday, England had no such excuses.

Confronted by a revivalist Scotland, who thrust body and soul in England's path, Andy Robinson's men exhibited dash and fluency at times, particularly in a first half in which they dominated possession, but were ill-served by their backs, who displayed a dearth of invention. Some early interchange play, often involving Josh Lewsey, augured well. But England could not sustain it.

With the World Cup only 18 months distant, there is serious work to be performed by the England coach. Intriguingly, both he and his counterpart Frank Hadden claim to have "empowered" their players. Whatever that means, it had its effect in a compelling encounter, the highlight of which was the Scots' defensive resolve.

You rarely get any half measures from Scotland; not in the whisky glass, nor in pre-match paraphernalia. But for too long, the lament of the home supporter has been, as one put it en route to the stadium: "You needed razzmatazz because you never got entertainment off Scotland while that [Matt] Williams was here." Hadden's arrival as the Australian's successor instilled belief. Suddenly the long drink tastes as good as the chaser to the Scottish palate.

England's welcome was like something from an extras convention of Braveheart. Certainly, it would have been enough to inflame Robinson's predecessor, Sir Clive Woodward. If the then coach was so agitated two years ago that he complained of dirty tactics, including the playing surface being doctored and his team being blocked from entering the pitch by pipers in the tunnel, what on earth would he have made of the tribal music and clansmen running amok clutching blazing torches here?

That evening in 2004, England, captained by Lawrence Dallaglio, still overcame the Scottish resistance. Yesterday, with Dallaglio pedalling his cycling machine on the touchline until summoned to make what was designed as a talismanic entrance in the second half, his 2006 counterpart Martin Corry was determined to remain equally focused. The fact that Corry was replaced by Dallaglio does not just confirm that he failed, but must raise doubts about his own role in the side. He is not alone.

Yet, England's initial riposte to that "welcome" had been what we had anticipated once they had soaked up an early penalty from Chris Paterson. Robinson had exhorted his men to "run over hot coals, through brick walls, to make England successful", and they took him at his word.

Unfortunately for the England coach they found themselves confronted by a Hadrian's Wall of Scottish determination. They were also confounded by their own poor ball handling, a fault epitomised by winger Ben Cohen as he was poised to break the try deadlock as half-time beckoned.

The portents had been there, of course. One had suspected since that triumph over France that Scotland would be this combative. Lewsey, one of the few to earn credit points, was a member of the Wasps team who had suffered a surprise defeat against Edinburgh in this season's Heineken Cup. He admitted: "A few [Wasps] players were not right mentally." But he had added: "It is not in the character of English players to make the same mistake." How wrong he was.

After the interval, too many of Robinson's men looked as though they would prefer to be back over the border as the support from the home crowd reached a crescendo. Scotland turned out in force yesterday evening because suddenly they are empowered, and, for once, not just politically. After the defeat of France here and Andrew Murray's first ATP victory they are strutting proudly the sporting stage once more.

In contrast, Robinson has much to ponder. He will, no doubt, be scrutinising closely Harry Ellis's contribution, together with the centre partnership of Jamie Noon and Mike Tindall. They had been blamed for England's lack of adventure. Even Charlie Hodgson, who was sound overall, believes England need something more from those positions; for one of those players to be more of a playmaker.

Though Noon, unperturbed, espouses a "win ugly" credo, after this defeat it echoed with a hollow ring around the stadium as the Princess Royal, mother-in-law to be of Tindall, presented the Calcutta Cup. Breakfast at the Tindalls this morning would make for interesting spectating. As fascinating as the thought processes passing through Robinson's mind.

MAN FOR MAN MARKING AT MURRAYFIELD

Scotland

Star performer: Jason White 9

The game's dominant influence despite hardly touching the ball. Led from the front, never missing a tackle nor a chance to upset his opponents.

Hugo Southwell 7

England presented him with too many pressure-free downfield punts, most of which he returned with interest thanks to a siege-gun left boot.

Chris Paterson 8

His form mocks his non-selection for last summer's Lions tour. Neat, sharp and combative, like the new Scotland. Landed five out of five kicks to boot.

Marcus di Rollo 7

Does not look likely to glide through many gaps on the battlefields of international rugby, but mighty effective at stopping others from doing so.

Andrew Henderson 7

Another threequarter with largely defensive instincts. Dealt efficiently with both Tindall's broadside bludgeoning and Lewsey's rapier thrusts.

Sean Lamont 6

The rising young star of British rugby was all but anonymous in his side's triumph. Saw little of the ball as he was pressed into more basic duties.

Dan Parks 7

Grew in confidence enough to land a 55th-minute drop goal - a development that stands Scotland in good stead for the rest of the campaign.

Mike Blair 8

The contrast between the two first-choice scrum-halves was particularly stark. Blair was alert, quick, athletic and forever looking to make a break.

Gavin Kerr 7

Stuck bravely to the task of propping against the fearsome White, something he had to do quite a lot in the first half. Lasted the course admirably.

Douglas Hall 6

Had problems with the Scottish line-out, largely due to the absence of Scott Murray. Made up for it with channelled aggression in the loose.

Bruce Douglas 6

Got away with persistent infringements at a five-yard scrum just before the break. Walked the walk until fatigue brought him to a standstill.

Alastair Kellock 7

Scotland's new young lock became more assertive as proceedings unfolded and along the way he worked out how to disrupt England's line-out.

Scott McLeod 6

Handed the toughest assignment on the park by being thrown to the lions as a one-game stand-in. Held firm despite enduring a relentless onslaught.

Allister Hogg 8

If it moved, wore a white shirt and was anywhere near the ball, then Hogg homed in on it. Never let up and came into his own at the line-outs as well.

Simon Taylor 8

After an entire career spent living off scraps or recovering from injuries, the dynamic No 8's class is at last beginning to tell. Read the game fluently.

Replacements

Ross Ford 6: Had a lengthy spell at the coalface.

Craig Smith 6: Dug in stoutly when Douglas went.

Nathan Hines 6: Welcome return to the engine room.

Chris Cusiter 6: Cameo exhibition of defensive arts.

Gordon Ross 5: Brought on for touch-kicking skills.

Jon Petrie 6: Not used.

Simon Webster: Not used.

England

Star performer: Lewis Moody 8

On a day when England struggled to break a tackle, the blond flanker gave as good as he got and covered as much turf as anyone on the pitch.

John Lewsey 6

Might have known it was not to be his day when he dropped an early high ball under no pressure. Did not look comfortable running out of defence.

Mark Cueto 7

One horribly sliced, left-footed kick apart, the Sale wing looked solid and raring for action. The fact that precious little came his way was not his fault.

Jamie Noon 6

Unlike the Italy game when he barely ran a yard with the ball, he made several mini-breaks. Each time, though, he looked uncertain what to do next.

Mike Tindall 7

Personal loyalties aside (well Zara's mum is the SRU Patron), he was typically committed. As ever, it took at least two men to bring him down.

Ben Cohen 5

The moment he knocked on from five yards with the line at his mercy will haunt him. His inability to retain possession in contact is another worry.

Charlie Hodgson 6

Despite spinning a string of passes, long and short, across his back line, he looked predictable. Needs to use the grub kick to keep defences guessing.

Harry Ellis 5

A superb, 40-yard break following a tap penalty was the highlight of his afternoon. Otherwise his contribution was ponderous, bordering on slow.

Andrew Sheridan 6

Was making his presence felt towards the end of the first half, but the interval came too soon and he struggled to impose himself after the break.

Steve Thompson 6

For an hour, he gave one of his better performances, punching his weight in the loose and hitting the mark in the line-outs. Then it all went a bit ragged.

Julian White 7

Warned early on to cut out the off-the-ball stuff which too often creeps into his game. Knuckled down thereafter to concentrate on the hard graft.

Steve Borthwick 6

Dominated the first-half line-outs, as was expected, but went off the boil as Thompson's radar blipped. Then started to flap about in the loose.

Danny Grewcock 6

Had his momentum disrupted by an early sin-bin for another unnecessary piece of indiscipline. Took over as line-out pivot before giving way to Shaw.

Joe Worsley 6

Hunted for the ball and the gaps, the former with limited success, the latter with none. Found himself sucked in by an excellent Scottish back row.

Martin Corry 6

The Leicester No 8 looks one-dimensional outside the set pieces. He leads by example and commands loyalty, but is increasingly under the spotlight.

Replacements

Perry Freshwater 6: Came on twice - once in each half.

Simon Shaw 5: Late entry failed to faze the Scots.

Lawrence Dallaglio 5: On for Corry but made no difference.

Matt Dawson 6: An injection of speed - haste also.

George Chuter: Not used.

Andy Goode: Not used.

Tom Voyce: Not used.

Paul Trow

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