Scots show right style at the wrong time

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The Independent Online
SCOTLAND'S hopes of the Grand Slam perished, as I feared, because England know better than anyone how to get a solid grip on a game and hold it until they squeeze the life out of the opposition. It didn't make for a pretty sight, but victory was so important to England that I don't blame them for that.

If it was a lesson for Scotland, it was also a lesson for any other side who think that you can gain international success purely by having exciting players and opting for adventure. They tried to play exciting football at completely the wrong time.

Of course, it is important to be adventurous but only when the time is right. You need first to set up a firm platform from which to strike. Scotland played right into England's hands by trying to run the ball from deep positions when they should have sought to make ground and mount assaults from where they had a chance to succeed.

England did not even bother to disguise their intentions. By picking Dean Richards they made their tactics clear well in advance. Sure enough, he was the man of the match and proved that if your plan is secure enough it doesn't matter if the opposition is aware of it. Richards is the ideal man for a tight game. At every restart he has the ability to establish control of the ball and create the platform for the set-piece steamroller. Scrum, line-out, scrum, line-out ... the sequence grinds the heart out of the opposition. The only way to check them is to disrupt it with tight intentions of your own.

But with Martin Johnson controlling the line-outs and England's scrum so powerful there was little hope that Scotland could stop them by the same methods that succeeded in their first three games. The quiet game their half-backs and back row had said it all. Gregor Townsend had just one break, and all it proved was the lack of pace in the Scottish back line. Ian Smith was in no position to support Townsend so it was up to the three-quarters, and they were nowhere in sight.

Paul Grayson had a better game. He kicked those important early goals with a steadiness that hurt Scottish hopes, especially with Michael Dods so erratic. He also kicked well from his hands and gave the impression of knowing exactly what to do next.

He received a great deal of intelligent help from Will Carling, who had an excellent game. The England captain often acted as second five-eighth, taking the pressure off his outside-half by sharing his workload, kicking astutely, tackling well and making breaks at the right time.

Suddenly, from being the target of the critics, England are in sight of the Triple Crown and, perhaps, the Championship. They play Ireland at Twickenham where they can establish just the right sort of game to get the points difference they may need to win the title.

At last they may cut loose and show us what their backs are made of. It will take a major effort by the Irish to stop them.