SAY what you like about him, but Dan Parks will have his say in any game he contests for good or evil – however, it was Beelzebub’s work he was doing yesterday as far as Scots fans in Murrayfield were concerned.
The veteran stand-off was picked ahead of Greig Laidlaw to do a specific task against England and at half-time he was well worth his wages. Thirty-one seconds into the second half he had made the short hop from hero to clown after one moment of madness. His low-slung clearance kick was charged down by Charlie Hodgson, who dabbed down the ball for the first and only try of the match to give his side a lead that they never relinquished.
It may be a New Year but the same old problems continue to haunt Andy Robinson’s team. Scotland grew as the game went on, they bossed the final ten minutes of the first half and dominated great swathes of the second. They made numerous line breaks but still they were unable to turn a single one of them into a try that would have given them something to take away from this match (and a few others beside). The last Scot to score five points against England at Murrayfield was Simon Danielli and that was way back 2004, which is ancient sporting history.
Whatever else he has done for Scottish rugby, Andy Robinson is no nearer to solving the try drought, although whether you point the finger at the players or coaches is a moot point.
The crowd could almost smell the Scots’ desperation as they went in search of that elusive touchdown in a second half that they dominated.
No one questions Scotland’s commitment but their execution at the highest level let them down again. The dark blue shirts threw themselves at the English and threw the ball about like an end-of-season sevens, with every player lining up to take their turn on the charge, but still they couldn’t find a way to the try line although they did everything but. Richie Gray had a crowd-pleasing charge up the middle of the park but Alasdair Strokosch was unable to hold on to his offload when the English finally felled the big man. Lee Jones enjoyed a bright debut and the little winger scorched up the left flank before chipping ahead but Chris Ashton was equal to the challenge.
With 20 minutes to play Laidlaw got his chance to tug the attacking strings and he made a difference almost immediately. The playmaker chipped the rush defence and raced Ben Youngs to the bounce of the ball in the dead-ball area. The referee sent it ‘upstairs’ for a look by the television match official and, for what seemed like several aeons, the crowd half believed that their dreams had come true. But the Englishman always looked to have it covered, which is what the TMO adjudged.
Ross Rennie was outstanding all afternoon. The livewire flanker made a clean break up the middle of the park but delayed his pass to the supporting Mike Blair long enough for Ben Foden to get a hand into the mix and the best chance of the afternoon was gone. Sean Lamont then twisted and turned to within ten yards of the line. It was agonising to watch, so much possession, so much effort and so little reward in return. The febrile mood of the crowd reflected the mix of edge-of-the-seat excitement and growing, grinding frustration in equal measure.
In the end the only other points of the match came at the other end of the field. Al Kellock got himself isolated and Owen Farrell added his second penalty to give the final score a more comfortable look than it deserved.
Robinson is left reflecting on another unlucky loss, although he can take heart in the performance of the Scottish back row, who stood out on an afternoon when that was difficult to do. David Denton and Rennie almost seemed to take it turn about to carry the ball into the heart of the white wall of England. The No.8 looks the real deal, an imposing combination of speed and power, who obviously surprised the visitors on his first start. The big Zimbabwean-born forward enjoyed several great runs and he threw in a try-saving tackle on David Strettle after the winger had plucked Hodgson’s cross kick out of the air. It was probably England’s only try-scoring opportunity...bar one. On a day dominated by a mistake it was only appropriate that the other points also came from errors. Farrell opened the scoring when Rory Lamont failed to hold a high ball that bounced kindly for Strettle. The English wing was scragged before too much damage was done but a Scots hand was spotted in the ensuing ruck and Farrell made no mistake with his second kick at goal.
Parks got one back when England skipper Chris Robshaw was pinged for the very same reason and then the set scrum got the nudge on England and Chris Cusiter caught his namesake Ashton in possession ten yards from his own tryline, with the England winger choosing to cling on to the ball and concede the three rather than risk the five. The net result of these penalties was a narrow 6-3 advantage to the home team that was nullified by Parks’ unfortunate contribution just 31 seconds into the second half. It may have been his final act in a Scotland shirt.
• Hooker Ross Ford, following his first Test as captain, summed up the mood in the dressing room after the dismal defeat to England at Murrayfield.
He said: “We’ve been here before. We’ve created chances, we’ve just not taken them. In the latter stages we kept playing and got ourselves into good positions. We just didn’t convert that pressure.
“We said in the changing room it’s not what we do, it’s the execution of what we do.”
BBC pundit Jonathan Davies slated Scotland. The former stand-off said: “I think Scotland in the opposition 22 are dreadful.”
The Scots won the ball 33 times in the England 22 without scoring a try and Davies added: “I have tried to give them the benefit of the doubt but they are professional players and there is just no alignment there.”