Old demons exorcised as world champions show how to win ugly

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Even in Quasimodo mode, England looked about as vulnerable as a tank in a street scuffle. The Scots placed pipers on the roof of Murrayfield but the deployment of a bristling detachment of the Black Watch would have been unlikely to upgrade the intimidation. Winning ugly is a fundamental asset - and right - of world champions, and here it landed on the heads of the Scots like one of their own claymores.

Even in Quasimodo mode, England looked about as vulnerable as a tank in a street scuffle. The Scots placed pipers on the roof of Murrayfield but the deployment of a bristling detachment of the Black Watch would have been unlikely to upgrade the intimidation. Winning ugly is a fundamental asset - and right - of world champions, and here it landed on the heads of the Scots like one of their own claymores.

This was true even though the Scots, after their dishevelment in the World Cup, and in Cardiff last week, performed so much better than anyone could have hoped. From somewhere they produced inklings of optimism, ran with purpose and their flanker Jason White delivered hits on Trevor Woodman and Lawrence Dallaglio that announced the reborn defiance of both the Scottish body and the mind. But, inevitably, their fate was that of the victims of one of those old Highland clearances. Ultimately, they were shooed away quite brutally.

This said a lot more about England's deeply established power than the ability of Scotland's new Australian coach, Matt Williams, to bring coherence and ambition to a team who have been so shockingly exposed at the highest level of the game.

Williams said that he had been moved by the commitment and promise of his team. "I was pleased with a lot of things," he said. "Defence is a great barometer, and though there is no such thing as a good loss, there was a lot to work on here. I was proud of the commitment."

Scotland's captain and out-half, Chris Paterson, also felt a strong tug of pride. "Last week we had to deal with the flair of Wales, today it was the hardness and all-round ability of the world champions. It is inspiring if you can achieve something against such odds." Perversely, though, every upbeat Scottish utterance seemed to underline more than anything the growth of English rugby.

The conquerors' council of war did nothing to dilute that impression. Clive Woodward said if his team was less than awesome in their technical proficiency, we shouldn't forget that a few demons still circled English heads whenever the Scottish border was crossed. "As a player and a coach, I had my worst moment in Murrayfield." That was when a Grand Slam was snatched away, and the Princess Royal was left holding a championship trophy for a team that had been ambushed and shamed. "Lawrence Dallaglio was involved in that match, too," Woodward said, "and so there were a few issues to be resolved today." Resolved they were, and if a winning margin of 22 points was less than predicted by the most conservative bookmakers, it hardly spoke of a team teetering on the edge.

Indeed, England's defensive coach, Phil Larder, for whom the consession of a try is a reproach that reaches down to his bones, was prepared to write off the score of Scotland's Simon Danielli, which came when the bounce of his kick savagely betrayed Iain Balshaw, as the quirk of a day on which his line had been as porous as a slab of basalt. In fact he explained that the English tries, which came from a series of "charge-downs", were direct results of a new phase of his work. Defence as attack is not an original concept of course, but in Larder's hands and in the rugby context, it could turn out to be one of the scariest initiatives since the Japanese air force came up with its kamikaze wing.

While conceding a number of blemishes, Woodward said he had liked much of what he had seen. Paul Grayson continued to replace Jonny Wilkinson with a combination of control and feistiness that had persuaded the head coach that the World Cup would have been gathered even if the game's top fly-half had not been available. "Grayson is not Jonny Wilkinson," Woodward said, "but he is a fine player and in Australia I had no qualms about his potential to step in and do the job. I thought he controlled the game very well in the early stages. I also liked the speed of Chris Jones. He took his chance very well." The big flanker, who had announced himself on the international stage with a try in Rome the previous weekend, on this occasion simply applied himself to the throat of any poor Scot obliged to kick for safety. The cumulative effect was demoralising.

Ben Cohen was the first to benefit from Jones's snuffling-out of the Scottish light, barrelling in for a try which signalled a performance much more central to the team's needs. It meant that almost all the Scottish running, and some moments of genuine invention, were doomed to futility.

Business resumes against the Irish at Twickenham in two weeks, and Woodward said the team would relish that. It represents the true return of the world champions, rather than the ill-starred, catch-penny collision with the New Zealand Barbarians, and it could well represent the first flowering of the rest of English rugby's life. Certainly there was a sense of changing times at Murrayfield. Prompted by their former captain, and the catalyst of one of their greatest victories, David Sole, the Scots are likely to step back from turning home games against England into Rob Roy conventions in which any lifting of the kilts tends to reveal a lack of substance.

The Scots seem to accept that they have to turn their back on ancient victories and inhabit a broader world. England, the hated foe, did this some time ago and on Saturday the effect was plain enough. The pipes had never been played more forlornly, and now perhaps they will be put away. Along with the demons that England, finally, consigned to the grave.

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