Coach's view: Suddenly, Sir Clive's transition is not so smooth

By Mark Evans
Sunday 22 February 2004 01:00

Once the interminable, but pretty impressive, pre-match ceremonies were out of the way, and frankly it was quite a feat to get quite so many pipers and marching bands on just the one pitch; it turned into a strange old game.

It has been a while since England have played so limply. Within the first 10 minutes, they made 10 errors and although they put one or two passages of play together as the match wore on, it was never very convincing. Indeed, the first three England tries came from a lucky bounce, a refereeing howler, and a charge down respectively. Not quite the flowing style of rugby that they aspire to. It was only the sin-binning of Simon Taylor that allowed them to over-power Scotland on the way to creating the impressive score by Danny Grewcock.

At times it appeared that the world champions could not quite get their arousal levels high enough - but it all came a bit too easily. And in a sense it did, since without playing at all well, England somehow found themselves in a 20-6 lead with only half an hour of the game gone.

The match, as a contest, was over almost before it had begun. Sure, Scotland defended better than they did against Wales; but to say that is to almost damn them with faint praise. Granted, they created a bit of pressure and one or two chances early on but their back five are sadly lacking in class. For the neutral spectator to maintain a real interest, the Celts needed to get the rub of the green early on. And this they singularly failed to do.

Their cause was not helped by another bizarre refereeing performance by David McHugh, who seems increasingly to be developing his own particular interpretation of the law book.

England got the better of three or four very dubious decisions in the first 30 minutes and that was that.

So we were left to muse upon the contributions made by the new elements of Sir Clive's somewhat transitional England team.

Of the four non-World Cup final starters, Grewcock had, by far, the best game. He disrupted the Scottish line-out well, roamed menacingly about the field in defence and carried the ball up with relish. By some distance, he was my man of the match.

On his full debut, Chris Jones had a promising game - albeit out of position at blindside flanker. He is a wonderful, almost freakish athlete who is wasted holding short sides. Nevertheless, he charged down the odd kick, nicked the odd line-out and almost poached a good try. For someone who has played so little top class rugby, he looked very assured.

So far so good - but Andy Gomarsall will be disappointed by his performance. One hopes that he won't be discarded after what was, admittedly, not a great game by his recent standards. His pass was not as accurate as usual, he kicked away one or two good bits of possession unnecessarily, and he looked a bit out of sorts. But he is the form scrum-half in the Premiership and should be given an extended run in the team.

However, Iain Balshaw at full-back does not convince. For all his pace and evasive skill, his option taking is flawed. Time and again he fed Ben Cohen balls to kick when he could have made more ground himself. From his first-minute air kick, he looked jittery when put under pressure and with Jason Robinson playing outside centre, he is not being fed the early ball in wide channels on which he thrives.

To my mind, England look more balanced and threatening when Josh Lewsey is at full-back and Robinson is either on the wing or the bench.

There must be an argument for the introduction of the Leicester tiro Ollie Smith if neither Stuart Abbott or Mike Tindall are fit for the Ireland game.

It is a might churlish to be overly critical about such a comfortable away victory, but make no mistake, Scotland are very poor indeed. England have set themselves the very highest standards and they will not be pleased with yesterday's performance.

Nor should they be - for it was pretty mundane stuff. Bigger challenges lie ahead in the next few games and England will only get better.

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