Six Nations 2014: Scots are s tripped bare in 20-0 defeat by England, Irish challenge is up next for Stuart Lancaster's men
'It will be up to us to impose our game in a fortnight,' says coach Lancaster
As a symbol of the poverty of Scotland’s effort on Calcutta Cup day, it was bang on the money: far more striking than the anonymity of their back division, the impotence of their pack or the wretched state of a worm-infested pitch. Long after it had become obvious that England would win easily, but with plenty of time still left on the clock, a streaker attempted to inject some pace and urgency into the home side’s performance. It was a pitiful effort – the poor sap did not even manage to remove his kilt, let alone reach the field of play – but he was still the pick of his countrymen.
You might argue that he had the last laugh as his team went down 20-0: he may have been thrown out of the stadium, but at least he was out early. The rest of the blue-shirted tribe felt obliged to wait until the final whistle, by which point they were as depressed as the worms. Next up for the Scots is Italy away… and the very best of luck to them. The Azzurri could be odds-on favourites for the first time in their Six Nations history.
England, meanwhile, can start planning for a meeting with unbeaten Ireland on home soil at Twickenham – a contest that has every chance of being an absolute belter and may possibly determine the destination of the title. “We know what the Irish have as a group: elements of the Munster mauling game, the Leinster attacking game and a fair bit of Ulster thrown in,” said Stuart Lancaster, the red rose coach, as the discussion turned away from events in the Scottish capital (the process did not take long, frankly) and towards the third round of matches in a little under a fortnight. “They have some very good players, their experience will outweigh ours and we’re respectful of them. It will be up to us to impose our game on theirs and see what they have to offer.”
If Lancaster’s charges can find a way of starting the next game as confidently as they began the last one, they will take some beating. Against New Zealand before Christmas, they messed up their “exit” routine from the kick-off and found themselves points down in the twinkling of an eye; against France on the opening day of this tournament, they committed the same sin and were punished in similar fashion. Had they gone for the hat-trick on Saturday evening, even a team as hopeless as Scotland might have capitalised.
Happily from the English perspective, they did something very different. The visitors slapped down their hosts from the get-go – Billy Vunipola, formidably rhino-like at close quarters, was the first to stand up and be counted – and within seconds, a raucous Murrayfield was transformed into something resembling a cloister. There were some half-hearted cheers when Owen Farrell, in the midst of a funny five minutes, threw a pass into touch, hooked his first penalty shot wide of the sticks and then fumbled a simple defensive catch in his own 22, but it was nothing more than a mass exercise in straw-clutching. The Scots probably knew they would finish second before England scored their first points.
Those points fell to the scrum-half Danny Care who, for the second week running, popped over a “free shot” drop goal while playing a penalty advantage. Care is precisely the kind of bright spark who sees the full range of possibilities at such moments and Lancaster, all too aware of the potential for things to go pear-shaped in these parts, was grateful for his early contribution. Yet what really impressed him about the Harlequin was the precision underpinning the pyrotechnics.
Care’s tactical kicking, sufficiently flawed in Paris seven days previously to force the coach into an early substitution call, was far better here and as a consequence it was fully 73 minutes before we saw hide or hair of Lee Dickson.
Of course, such half-back performances are easier to deliver when the forwards are having it all their own way up front. The England eight were a class above the Scottish octet, if not two or three classes: indeed, the Northampton lock Courtney Lawes could have played the hosts on his own and come out ahead.Completely reliable as a go-to man at the line-out, which barely missed a beat until Tom Youngs replaced Dylan Hartley at hooker and promptly propelled the ball in all sorts of peculiar directions, Lawes was also savagely effective with his party-piece tackles in open field.
More impressively still in Lancaster’s eyes, he was not alone: Joe Marler, the loose-head prop playing the best rugby of his international career, was also in “demolition derby” mood.
“I think we can take credit from the fact that Scotland didn’t score a point,” Lawes said, “and it’s good to see a lot of different players making those big hits around the field. A lot of it is down to Andy Farrell [senior lieutenant to Lancaster in the back-room team]. He’s an outstanding motivator – someone who really winds us up for the defensive part of the game.” If Farrell is the man who talks about entering the “hurt arena”, Lawes is the man who does most of the hurting.
Operating behind a pack that forced the Scots to endure almost two dozen set-pieces in their own 22 and tired them so completely that the home side’s tally of missed tackles threatened to hit the 30 mark, it was little wonder that Care and company shaped the game to their own specifications.
By way of response, some of the best Scottish players served up some of their worst rugby. Greig Laidlaw, burdened with the captaincy as well as the goal-kicking and game management chores, suffered the roughest of afternoons. Ross Ford, the most experienced forward on either side by some distance, was the first to be dragged off by his coach, Scott Johnson.
Johnson faced a tough interrogation from an increasingly sceptical Scottish press keen to hear the answers to some highly relevant questions. What the hell was he thinking in withdrawing his most effective player, the No 8 David Denton, as early as the 53rd minute? Could they expect the team to score a try this side of eternity, or was that asking a bit much?
Meanwhile Lancaster was left with just one negative to address: his side’s failure to build on Luther Burrell’s all-too-simple finish off a rolling maul midway through the first quarter until Billy Twelvetrees and Jack Nowell created a sweet score for Mike Brown down the left three quarters of an hour later.
“Overall, I think we made a statement: we’re a lot further down the road in our game understanding,” the England coach said. “But yes, we probably left some points out there.” Which was true enough, but Lancaster would happily have settled for such an arrangement before the start. More than one of his recent predecessors effectively left their careers on the Murrayfield mudheap; by those lights, two or three botched try-scoring opportunities amounted to precious little.
Scorers: England – Tries: Burrell, Brown. Penalty: Farrell. Drop goal: Care.
Scotland: S Hogg (Glasgow); T Seymour (Glasgow), A Dunbar (Glasgow), M Scott (Edinburgh), S Lamont (Glasgow); D Weir (Glasgow), G Laidlaw (Edinburgh, capt); R Grant (Glasgow), R Ford (Edinburgh), M Low (Glasgow), T Swinson (Glasgow), J Hamilton (Montpellier), R Wilson (Glasgow), C Fusaro (Glasgow), D Denton (Edinburgh).
Replacements: A Dickinson (Edinburgh) for Grant 42; S Lawson (Newcastle) for Ford 42; J Beattie (Montpellier) for Denton 52; M Evans (Castres) for Seymour 64; C Cusiter (Glasgow) for Laidlaw 64; G Cross (Edinburgh) for Low 67; J Gray (Glasgow) for Hamilton 69; D Taylor (Saracens) for Scott 71.
England: M Brown (Harlequins); J Nowell (Exeter), L Burrell (Northampton), W Twelvetrees (Gloucester), J May (Gloucester); O Farrell (Saracens), D Care (Harlequins); J Marler (Harlequins), D Hartley (Northampton), D Cole (Leicester), J Launchbury (Wasps), C Lawes (Northampton), T Wood (Northampton), C Robshaw (Harlequins, capt), B Vunipola (Saracens).
Replacements: D Attwood (Bath) for Launchbury 62; M Vunipola (Saracens) for Marler 64; T Youngs (Leicester) for Hartley 69; B Morgan (Gloucester) for B Vunipola 69; A Goode (Saracens) for May 71; B Barritt (Saracens) for Burrell 73; L Dickson (Northampton) for Care 73; H Thomas (Sale) for Cole 75.
Referee: J Garcès (France).
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