PERHAPS the most damning moment of Eddie Jones’s post-match press conference came when he described Saturday’s 15-9 victory for England in the Calcutta Cup clash as “a nice Test match”.
There were a few other comments to sting Scottish ears from the ebullient Aussie, who was understandably delighted with a winning start to his reign as England coach. “An easy win” was another, which was interestingly contradicted by his skipper Dylan Hartley, and his mischievous barb that, if bonus points were on offer they would have gone for four tries but, as there wasn’t, they were happy to settle for the two.
As always in sport, to the victors the spoils. Scotland have not had crowing rights in the Six Nations for some time. This was their eighth straight defeat in the championship. The spine-chilling stats continue to mount up and, as Scottish supporters know all too well, losing can be a hellishly difficult habit to break.
For all the feelgood optimism of the World Cup campaign, there was also a sinking feeling that England, who Scotland have only beaten three times since the Grand Slam 26 years ago, followed by a daunting trip to Cardiff, where victory hasn’t been tasted since 2002, always looked a tough ask. Then again, the paucity of Scotland’s record means that they wouldn’t really be in a position to view any combination of opening fixtures as ‘favourable’.
There have been much darker days than Saturday, though. The Scots were in contention right to the end, if always looking unlikely to come up with the converted try they needed to overhaul the visitors’ decisive lead, which was built on tries by George Kruis and Jack Nowell. Still no tries scored against England at Murrayfield since Simon Danielli crossed in 2004. Sobering stuff.
It may have been a new era for England under Jones but the match had a familiar feel, harking back to the post-1990 years when they would traditionally come north and strangle the life out of the Scots like a boa constrictor.
The English defence was magnificent on Saturday but they were undoubtedly assisted by a Scottish attack which fell back into the old habits of failing to build continuity of phases, coughing up possession, fumbling and knocking on at the crucial moment.
A tense first half was edged by England but the Scots could well have gone in ahead. After Kruis had barged over for a disappointingly soft try early on, converted by Owen Farrell, skipper Greig Laidlaw kicked them back to within a point as the visiting pack encountered a few issues with Irish referee John Lacey.
Scotland carved out a drop goal chance at the end of the half but stand-off Finn Russell, who had a curate’s egg of a game, scuffed the attempt wide.
It was England who struck the psychological blow at the start of the second half when Nowell finished off a cleverly worked move involving George Ford, replacement prop Mako Vunipola and Farrell, who failed with the conversion.
When it comes to interception tries, Scotland are masters of the art, and they almost snatched another when Russell pounced deep in his own 22.
But he made the strange decision to ignore Stuart Hogg outside him or test the English cover’s ability to close him down and kicked ahead instead only to see the ball sail safely into touch.
With that chance spurned there was a growing sense that this was not going to be Scotland’s day. When Farrell converted another penalty his side could scent the finish line, and although Laidlaw got the home side back to within six points in the last ten minutes, England were strong enough to see the game out.
Scotland head coach Vern Cotter was as understandably frustrated as Jones was chirpy in the wake of his sixth straight taste of defeat in this competition. “I think there was progress but we are frustrated and not particularly happy with our performance,” said the Kiwi.
“It is the first time we have been back out on the paddock for a little while and some of that showed.
“We still need to be focused and show total concentration. Games at this level are tight affairs. We have to take it on the chin.
“If I felt we had been completely dominated… but I don’t think we were. We have ways to get about the park and put teams under pressure. We managed to do that at times but we did not hold the pressure on for long enough.
“It is disappointing not to score a try. There is more frustration than anything else because I know there is so much more that can come out of this side.”
He congratulated England and said: “They are a big, powerful team.
“They got us in the second half and held us down there. They have that power to work with and went to that and put pressure on our support line.”
As for bouncing back this week, the coach added: “The boys are competitors. They are just annoyed with themselves. If we take a good hard look at ourselves, which I know we will, we can fix that and we can fix this…
“A week is a long time. We can get a few things sorted.”
Scorers: Scotland: Pens: Laidlaw (3). England: Tries: Kruis, Nowell. Con: Ford. Pen: Farrell.
Scotland: Hogg, Maitland, Bennett, Scott, Seymour (Taylor 65); Russell, Laidlaw; Dickinson (Reid 56), Ford (McInally 64), Nel (Fagerson 69), R Gray, J Gray (Swinson 70), Barclay (Cowan 58), Hardie, Denton.
England: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell; Ford, Care (Youngs 54); Cole, Hartley, Marler (M Vunipola 48), Launchbury (Lawes 47), Kruis, Robshaw (Clifford 69), Haskell, B Vunipola.
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU). Attendance: 67,144.