Scotland lost their 13th consecutive match at Twickenham to the “Auld Enemy” but they manner in which Vern Cotter’s side did so lit up a dreary March evening and offered the hope of better times to come.
Scorers: England: Tries: Joseph, Ford, Nowell. Cons: Ford 2. Pens: Ford 2. Scotland: Try: Bennett. Con: Laidlaw. Pens: Laidlaw 2.
The visitors played their full part in an exciting and absorbing match that saw both sides create a lot more chances than they converted .
The Scots should have been dead and buried after 20 minutes and would have been had England not butchered umpteen scoring chances, several of which were the result of loose and long Scottish kicks that did nothing but hand possession back to the home team.
Having somehow survived the opening onslaught, the visitors then showcased their best rugby of this tournament in the second quarter which they bossed. It was as good as anything seen from any team, the Scots constantly moving the point of attack with a breathtaking display of running rugby that produced one try and might have brought several more.
The Scots took a slim lead into the half-time sheds but the fightback proved short lived as they failed to add to their total in the second half when they struggled to get out of their own half of the field. Chances were few and far between and most of them fell to the home team, who converted at the start and end of the half but, once again, blew numerous opportunities in between.
The match was only four minutes old when Jonathan Joseph came up with the first try and it came just a few phases after England winger Jack Nowell was allowed to run back a high ball for fully 20 metres. Matt Scott jumped out of the line but picked the wrong man and all Joseph had to do was step inside the despairing dive of Stuart Hogg.
The Scottish full-back had a busy but productive afternoon with what may have been the best performance of his career to date. When he wasn’t fielding high balls Hogg was shredding the English defence or keeping the Scots try line intact. Three times in the opening quarter alone Hogg was called upon to make a try-saving tackle.
The first on Luther Burrell came in the opening exchanges of the match, when the England centre should have done better. Hogg then chased down his opposite number, Mike Brown, when the English No.15 was steaming towards the Scottish posts and a little later he tackled Jack Nowell when the winger had broken the Scottish line without breaking sweat.
England had a try wiped in both halves of this match. Anthony Watson was sent over the line on the 30-minute mark only to have Romain Poite call things back for a forward pass from George Ford. In the second half Mike Brown was over the line but the video replays showed that the scoring pass from James Haskell had also drifted forward.
The Scots were shell-shocked in that opening quarter, barely competitive, and lucky not to concede a landslide. Their kicking game was partly to blame, as almost every high ball was too long to challenge. On one occasion Finn Russell passed to no one, on another the stand-off somehow picked out England lock Courtney Lawes.
It was shambles and England should have had this match won long before half time. Instead the Scots responded magnificently with a try of their own when Mark Bennett dived over in the right-hand corner after brilliant approach work from Greig Laidlaw that included a long cut-out pass that found the centre who dummied and stepped inside the last defender.
Having picked themselves off the canvas the Scots then wasted several opportunities of their own. Scott couldn’t quite get the ball away to Dougie Fife, who was outside him after Hogg did a marvellous job of shepherding Mike Brown away from the action. Tommy Seymour also came off his left wing to slice through the English defence and only a diving tap tackle from the English full-back prevented a second Scotland score.
Two penalties to Laidlaw and one to Ford meant that the visitors took a three-point lead into the half-time break. It was difficult to know which side was more surprised.
The second half started much the same way as the first one had, with England dominating and this time scoring ten points in the opening ten minutes. Ford picked a diagonal line that opened the Scots’ defence with worrying ease. He converted his own score and then added another three from a lineout penalty.
The Scots spent much of the second half stuck deep inside their own half although they were only trailing by one converted try. In the final eight minutes Cotter introduced Sam Hidalgo-Clyne to scrum-half and moved Greig Laidlaw to fly-half.
It made little enough difference. Geoff Cross was penalised for collapsing a scrum, Ford’s penalty rebounded off the post and England collected the ball, via a Scottish shoulder. A few phases later the home side had a huge overlap on the left-hand side and this time no one managed to stuff it up. Nowell went over in the corner and England finished the day sitting pretty, on top of the Six Nations table.
England: Brown; Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Nowell; Ford (Cipriani 75) Youngs (Wigglesworth 66); Marler (Vunipola 60), Hartley, Cole, Attwood, Lawes, Haskell (Wood 66), Robshaw (capt), Vunipola.
Scotland: Hogg; Fife, Bennett, Scott (Tonks 40), Seymour; Russell (Hidalgo-Clyne 72), Laidlaw (capt); Dickinson (Grant 60), Ford (Brown 60), Murray (Cross 54), Hamilton (Swinson 47), Gray, Harley (Beattie 66), Cowan, Denton (Ashe 54).
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR). Attendance: 82,264.