Noon supplies sting in the tail

England 43 - Scotland 22
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Newcastle's Jamie Noon matched the feat of his fellow northern star, Mark Cueto, a week earlier by running in three tries at a packed HQ desperate for a cheery finish to a misfiring championship. And again, as against Italy, the score was high but the performance only fitfully handsome.

Newcastle's Jamie Noon matched the feat of his fellow northern star, Mark Cueto, a week earlier by running in three tries at a packed HQ desperate for a cheery finish to a misfiring championship. And again, as against Italy, the score was high but the performance only fitfully handsome.

Noon's hat-trick was only the third in 134 years of the oldest international fixture and England's seven tries in total was a record to be noted in the venerable match's history.

But the world champions, slowly rebuilding both team and confidence yet cripplingly out of luck on the fitness front, have a still uncertain future. As for Scotland, well, they knew long before this that they have plenty to work on.

There was a backs-to-the-wall gusto in the singing of "God Save the Queen". Twickenham Man and Woman has had it tough of late, stomaching defeats here by Ireland, Australia and France in the last 12 months, and many had choked on their picnics in the West Car Park yesterday to watch Wales land the Grand Slam on a big screen.

Sensing the defiant mood, and attempting to feed off it, England stole Scotland's first line-out then won one of their own near the Scottish 22. The move died when Charlie Hodgson, who must feel 75,000 pairs of eyes following his every move at fly-half, misdirected a cross-kick but with 12 minutes gone, England were far more ruthless. Ben Kay delivered perfect line-out ball and Hodgson, with a decoy runner on his shoulder, ghosted past Rory Lamont, whose positioning in the line to reinforce Scotland's midfield defence somewhat backfired. Hodgson gave the simple scoring pass to Noon for the first of two tries by the Newcastle centre in the opening quarter.

England had lost the most experienced member of the squad, Graham Rowntree, to a pulled thigh muscle - Duncan Bell made a first Test start at prop at the age of 30 - and Kay departed, too, after twisting an ankle on landing. But the nature of the try and the straightforward conversion to follow were heartening moments for Hodgson, who had pushed a 40 metre penalty wide of the posts a couple of minutes beforehand.

Scotland's problems were not confined to one man, though a break-out by Chris Paterson ended when the full-back conspicuously failed to find his support runner. Paterson then missed a presentable penalty chance, given against Iain Balshaw for not releasing, before finding the target from medium range to trim England's lead to 7-3.

Still, when Noon bundled in for his second try in the 22nd minute, it was with the considerable assistance of three weak Scottish tackles. Hodgson converted and England did not have long to wait for more points, Cueto barrelling down the right to send Joe Worsley corkscrewing in at the corner.

England have preached continuity of selection, rather than experimentation, yet injuries have a nasty knack of bucking any system. Balshaw was next to succumb, getting his leg caught under the huge frame of the Scotland lock, Nathan Hines, in a tackle. The initial medical verdict overheard on the referee-microphone on the serially unlucky Leeds full-back was of damaged medial ligaments. The flanker Lewis Moody had to be helped from the field as the half-time whistle went.

Punctuating the episodes of Casualty, England scored their fourth try, and Scotland their first. Again the line-out was the source for the home side, with Kay's replacement, Steve Borthwick, supplying quick ball for Hodgson who, in a neat miss-move, brought Cueto flying off his wing to send in Josh Lewsey.

Hodgson's conversion made it 26-3 but then Scotland, though seemingly powerless to stop England from first-phase, at least punctured their opponents' defence with a try by the other Lamont brother, Sean, from Andy Craig's shortside dart off a ruck.

Andy Hazell replaced Moody for the second half, Ollie Smith having already got his chance as a substitute for Balshaw. The tries were arriving just as often as the new faces. Scotland might only have avoided a successive wooden spoon by beating Italy, but they could legitimately challenge Wales as the tournament's best counter attackers. Paterson, much as he did against Ireland a few weeks ago, stormed out of his 22, then chipped ahead at the perfect moment and exchanged passes with Mike Blair to feed an exultant Craig.

On a tit-for-tat basis alone it was now England's turn, and Smith's raw pace hammered the Scots to make a try at the left corner for Harry Ellis, with Hodgson adding the extras for 33-17. Back came Scotland, Simon Taylor stealing away from a maul like a thief in the night on a 40-metre run-in.

The floodlit effect overall, however, was of a spectacle degenerating into pat-a-cake rugby. The capable Matt Stevens added to his reputation in England's scrum by switching heads to accommodate the loss of Bell; not that Scotland were immune: two of their front five, Tom Smith and Scott Murray, failed to make it to the interval.

The Calcutta Cup, by the final quarter, was England's for the losing. Noon's hat-trick try, initiated at a tap-and-go penalty, and fed out by yet another substitute, Mike Worsley, was followed by a score for Cueto to ensure no such calamity occurred. HQ has had enough surprises for one season.

Comments