Dave DENTON today insisted Scotland are capable of making RBS Six Nations rugby history by winning three home games for the first time in a Championship season to make up for failing to lay the Twickenham bogey.
England: Tries: Ashton, Twelvetrees, Parling, Care. Conversions: Farrell (3). Penalties: Farrell (4).
Scotland: Tries: Maitland, Hogg. Conversion: Laidlaw. Penalties: Laidlaw (2).
The Scots went down 38-18 to England and unless early substitute Denton is correct – and there are reasons to believe he is – then, in fact, ignominy could well be beckoning.
No Scottish side has ever lost seven consecutive matches in this tournament since the Italians were admitted in 2000, but the Scots haven’t won in this tournament since beating Italy at Murrayfield in March 2011 – six games ago.
That is an indication of just how high the stakes have become and little wonder Denton, the Edinburgh flanker, who came off the bench for facial injury victim Al Strokosch after just 13 minutes of the seventh successive opening-day setback, should label this Saturday’s Murrayfield clash with Italy as “must-win”.
Worringly, it should be noted that the home dressing-room at Murrayfield has produced a mere two winners in 11 matches all season but Denton, with an air of grim determination mixed with defiance, said: “There’s an amazing opportunity with three home games coming up in succession (Ireland follow Italy and then come Wales).
“That’s something we get only every two years.
“I know this side is capable of winning all three of these matches but if we play like we did on Saturday we won’t. If we play to our game plan we will win these games. We have got to make a statement. There is no question that (Italy) is a must-win game to get everyone’s season back on track, particularly as a Scotland team.”
Back in 2001 Scotland drew with Wales and beat Italy and Ireland at home. Nothing akin to that form has occurred since.
Any optimism from Denton appears to stem from belief that the team can correct problems like those encountered in the key collision areas at Twickenham although some will pinpoint, with justification, to unforced errors including one from Denton where he hurled the ball over Ruairidh Jackson’s head creating pressure from which England kicked a penalty.
“The ball slipped out of my hands. It was wet,” said Denton in accepting a share of responsibility including at rucks where he didn’t feel Scotland were out-muscled. The issue we had on Saturday was the breakdown area. If we want to win trophies and win games that is what we have to dominate. England won that battle – and won the game because of it.
“Rugby is a simple game. If you dominate the physical battle you win the game.
“It is not pure size because a lot of it comes down to technique and accuracy which was not there.
“We are a big pack, a very big pack. We’ve got size and (forwards coach) Dean Ryan has come in and really tried to emphasise we shouldn’t underestimate what a big pack we are.
“There were a few cobwebs to come out against England, no doubt about that. I felt that personally and we looked like that as a team. When it all comes together, though, I think we can be a very good side.”
Credit Denton for going to the heart of the failure and he was spot-on, too, in highlighting the guts and determination shown especially in the final quarter when Scotland were staring a rout in the face.
There was steely defence on a scale rarely seen from a Scottish side and some cruel luck when a bounce evaded Johnny Beattie when he breached the England defence and appeared to have a free run to the line, albeit from a long way, only for England’s Danny Care to score a try with the last play.
“No one is ever going to give up when they have a Scottish jersey. There’s never going to be an issue with pride and passion,” said Denton, and while that is true they won’t face many – if any – better teams than England and changes are needed. In the short term, I would recall Gordon Ross to provide stability at stand off. Although 34 and out of the Test scene for seven years, Ross is playing at English Premiership level with London Welsh and can bring the vital poise and control which is lacking in midfield.
Bath’s Tom Heathcote is the incumbent for the successful “A” team and in the longer term Matt Scott should switch from centre to the pivotal No. 10 role where he learned his craft at age group international level.
Criticism of Scott surrounds his kicking from hand but the great John Rutherford, admittedly in the amateur era, was relatively poor in this department and became world class.
What is hampering Scotland is that both stand offs on Saturday – Ruairidh Jackson and Duncan Weir – are at Glasgow and two into one won’t go.
Likewise the introduction of pace to the back row – Rob Harley is doing a sterling job at openside for Glasgow – could create better quality second-phase ball, the absence of which led to one charge down which set the tone and fostered much kicking when keeping ball in hand could have opened gaps.
Another switch would involve captaincy as things just aren’t working out for the otherwise admirable Kelly Brown and Al Kellock is such a natural leader.
England started with Owen Farrell slotting a second-minute penalty, the first of four plus three conversions.
Sean Maitland’s debut try for Scotland came next and owed everything to a break by Stuart Hogg who was to have his own time in the sun later. Alas the lead was to last just four minutes as Farrell capitalised on forced errors albeit Greig Laidlaw did notch penalties that saw him finish on 104 points for Scotland.
By half-time England had a touch down from Chris Ashton and were 19-11 ahead.
Debutant Billy Twelvetrees added another as did Geoff Parling and at 31-11 with half an hour remaining the white tide was relentless.
Though often pedestrian the Scots were resolute which led to a slick counter attack ending with Hogg claiming his second international try.
Care’s try probably distorted the scoreline a fraction but Scotland, thanks in no small part to Aussie coach Scott Johnson and English side-kick Dean Ryan, are on the threshold of respectability. However, any healing won’t be complete until they start winning and, of course, have home-bred coaches in charge once more.
England: Goode (Strettle, 67), Ashton, Barritt, Twelvetrees (Flood, 67), Brown, Farrell, B Youngs (Care, 57), Marler (Vunipolo, 57), T Youngs (Hartley, 53), Cole, Launchbury (Lawes, 64), Parling, Wood, Morgan (Haskell), Robshaw (captain).
Scotland: Hogg (Evans, 78), Maitland, Lamont, Scott, Visser, Jackson, Laidlaw, Grant, Hall (Ford, 47), Murray, Gray, Hamilton (Kellock, 55), Strokosch (Denton, 13), Beattie, Brown (captain).
Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).