THE SCORELINE was not as great as many before this, but do not be fooled. This was as comprehensive an English win at Murrayfield as has been witnessed in several decades of Calcutta Cup rugby.
England won by more in 2002 and 2004, but not since 1978 (a 15-0 defeat) have Scotland failed to register a point in this fixture at Murrayfield and no-one left a full stadium on Saturday night believing the Scots to have been unlucky in that 36 years on.
This report, you will notice, begins with the scoreline, where the home side appears first. I confess to beginning to type this wrongly as “England 20, Scotland 0”. It is a minor thing but says much about my thinking at the game’s conclusion. It was as if this had been a game at Twickenham.
The last stages of the game were engulfed in rousing choruses of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, the boos of the Murrayfield crowd losing energy and making little impact by then. The rain had come and the game was long gone by the final quarter, the fact that it had still been, figuratively speaking, in the melting pot as late as the 59th minute was largely due to England’s profligacy.
The Scottish players trooped out of the dressing room striving to grasp something positive, and they stuck to the fact their defence had kept them still within sight of the English, at 13-0 down, almost until the hour mark, but they will think again when they watch the video replays with clear heads.
Sean Lamont did deny England a try for Luther Burrell at the end of the first half, that prevented the game from being killed stone dead at that point, and England passed up other scoring chances, notably shunning a penalty in the second half that could have put them 16-0 up, three scores away, and out of sight.
But, by that stage, Owen Farrell, their stand-off and goalkicker, had missed three kicks at goal and writ large across this Calcutta Cup match was the startling abjectivity of Scotland’s attack. The home side had no real spark and, when Scotland’s two best players, the sprightly winger Tommy Seymour or Trojan-like No8 David Denton darted or battered through tackles and into some light, the flicker was quickly put out. And, of biting frustration, it was put out more by Scotland’s failings than by English brilliance.
Duncan Weir, the stand-off with less than a full game of rugby under his belt since Boxing Day was regularly off-target with his kicks, either striking the ball straight out, ahead of chasers and into touch or to the waiting arms of an eager England full-back or wing.
If it was not Weir’s profligate kicks, it was one of a staggering number of 16 penalties conceded by Scotland, mostly as they sought to move from the first or second phase attack to the third.
Or it was a kick to touch off a penalty, reward for good Scottish build-up play, which led to a lineout being delivered safely into English hands, the set-piece woes of last week in Dublin rearing their head venomously again as five of 12 Scottish lineouts were lost. England lost two of 22.
And if it was not Weir’s kicks, ruck penalties or the lineout malfunctions, it was England’s defence regrouping after the first incision and jolting Scotland back, and back again until ball was handed over. Scotland’s attack lacked the creativity, conviction and composure to cope and was easily wrapped up by a solid but unspectacular visiting side who simply stuck to the basics.
Even when the usually reliable Greig Laidlaw had the chance to nudge Scotland forward on the scoreboard, the skipper could not find the target, striking across the posts with an early effort and hitting the left-hand post with another first-half kick.
The talk among the squad afterwards was of being well beaten up front, yet the scrum was more solid. This was expected as only England’s scrum was as poor as the Scottish one in the first week of the competition, so two less-than-destructive packs found themselves well matched with no scrums balls taken against the head. In saying that, Scotland were still under pressure and Moray Low eventually had to be taken off as a series of collapses led to English penalties, and referee Jerome Garces pinpointed the Scottish tighthead as the main culprit.
But, while Scotland enjoyed just 42 percent of possession to England’s 58, this defeat was more about momentum than set-piece ball. Whatever Scotland did, they found themselves increasingly on the back foot and, as the early enterprise brought no reward, even those momentary sparks dissipated as the game took hold inside the Scottish half.
Glasgow flanker Chris Fusaro was brought in for his Test debut, with the controversial dropping of skipper Kelly Brown and, while Scotland do need more openside options, this, ironically, turned out to be a game suited to Brown’s physique and skills. Fusaro tackled himself quite literally to a standstill, topping both team’s tackle count with 15, but he needed replaced for the final quarter as his energy had gone.
Scotland had just one back row on the bench, No 8 Johnnie Beattie, and he was already on by the time Fusaro was meeting every stoppage by standing with his hands on his thighs. Beattie had replaced Scotland’s most productive player, Denton, in the 53rd minute, which Scott Johnson later explained was to help shore up the back-line defence after Alex Dunbar had been yellow-carded for holding on to Jonny May on the ground, probably stopping an English try.
But this was a real strength-sapping affair. On Murrayfield’s now-infamous mud-splattered surface, no-one was going anywhere quickly, and as the rain returned England’s lineout maul took centre stage.
As one wag suggested that it was like watching an England training session, there was the distinct feeling that the visitors were managing that level of dominance without the need to move out of second gear.
Danny Care had revealed his bounty of skills with a third minute drop-goal to open the scoring, Farrell having bizarrely skewed a straightforward penalty attempt in front of the posts,.
Luther Burrell showed why he is exciting Northampton and England supporters since his switch from rugby league with a superbly executed try.
No sooner has Burrell been picked for England than a new rugby league target has been mentioned for the No 13 jersey in Sam Burgess. But 26-year-old Burrell kept Matt Scott from shining for Scotland and exposed a momentary mind drift by Weir to break the Scottish defence in the 15th minute for the crucial first-half score.
The try that finished off any lingering hope among the most optimistic of Scottish fans came in the 59th minute, when England full-back Mike Brown, another hugely talented attacking runner and RBS Man of the Match winner, finished off some fine rugby.
The move started with a cross-field attack that brought three tightly aligned runners off Farrell sweeping into the Scottish half. The ball was recycled well from the first tackle and moved to the blindside. Sterling footwork by another English newcomer, wing Jack Nowell, created space for Brown to take his pass and sprint clear of despairing tacklers.
Brown seemed to say something derogatory, one presumes, to Weir as he touched down, but the sight of Weir trying to get in a reply, and a later arrogant Farrell push on Chris Cusiter, had a real man-against-boy appearance to it, which ultimately summed up this match.
Unsurprisingly, the word “naive” featured often in Johnson’s after-match interview.
The score was disappointing from a Scotland perspective, both in the defensive play and the fact that the England possession came again from a Scottish turnover initially, but it was a brief moment where the superior English skills across their back line rose above the turgid nature of the rest of this barren, one-sided contest, and any neutrals in this national clash must have welcomed it.
England even threw a wild lineout over the top to Scotland in the final minutes, but Scotland duly squandered that possession with a pass from Dunbar straight through Max Evans’ hands and into touch, that left Stuart Hogg screaming at teammates, the heavens, himself and even the referee.
Many Scots will have known exactly how he felt.
Scotland 0-20 England
Scorers: England: Tries - Burrell, Brown; Pen - Farrell; Drop-goal - Care; Cons - Farrell.
Scotland: S Hogg; T Seymour, A Dunbar, M Scott, S Lamont; D Weir, G Laidlaw (capt); R Grant, R Ford, M Low, T Swinson, J Hamilton, R Wilson, C Fusaro, D Denton. Subs: S Lawson for Ford, A Dickinson for Grant, both 43mins, J Beattie for Denton 53, M Evans for Seymour, C Cusiter for Laidlaw, both 65, G Cross for Low 67, J Gray for Hamilton 69, D Taylor for Scott 72.
England: M Brown, J Nowell, L Burrell, B Twelvetrees, J May; O Farrell, D Care; J Marler, D Hartley, D Cole, J Launchbury, C Lawes, T Wood, C Robshaw, B Vunipola. Subs: D Attwood for Launchbury 62mins, M Vunipola for Marler 65, T Youngs for Hartley, B Morgan for B Vunipola, both 69, A Goode for May 71, L Dickson for Care, B Barritt for Burrell, both 74, H Thomas for Cole 75.