After the build up, the let down. Scotland extended their dismal record in West London with their worst display under departing coach Vern Cotter in his three-year tenure… by a margin. After what had gone before it was desperately disappointing for anyone in blue.
This Scotland squad is young and inexperienced and they displayed both of those traits in spades in a calamitous opening quarter in which everything that could possibly go wrong did. It set the tone for the entire match.
England were efficient and occasionally inspired but the Scots played a huge role in their own downfall, their fingerprints all over the gun that shot them in the foot. They compounded mistakes, got on the wrong side of the referee and the penalty count and for long stretches of this match they appeared unable to do the basics of the game, hold on to the ball, make their tackles and offer even a modicum of resistance to an England side that were imperious.
From the off, this was less of a contest and more a finger in the dyke, rearguard action. The result means England have won the Six Nations Championship and equalled the world record of 18 consecutive Test victories, a mark they now share with New Zealand, but they deserved stiffer opposition than Scotland offered yesterday.
Jonathan Joseph celebrated his return to England’s starting XV with a hat-trick of tries, two of which arrived in the opening 30 minutes. Scotland hit back with Gordon Reid barrelling over in the first half and Huw Jones striking twice after the break, but this match was lost almost before it had started. The hosts raced into a 30-7 lead at half-time and finished the match with a total of seven tries, every one of them expertly converted by Farrell who was 11 from 12 off the tee.
The mood music was set in the opening exchanges when hooker Fraser Brown was carded with the clock stopped at 1.47 minutes for an ugly tip tackle on Elliot Daly who was forced to leave the field. The England winger returned briefly before leaving for good. Brown was lucky to see yellow rather than red with the referee saying that Daly landed on “the top of his back”, otherwise known as the neck.
When play resumed, England kicked the resulting penalty to touch, won the lineout and Joseph skipped past Alex Dunbar in the middle of the field to score a wonderful solo score with the clock showing 2.21. Worse was to follow as Farrell, news of whose demise was greatly exaggerated, slotted the first of his four penalties. England were ten points to the good by the time Brown returned to the action only for the hooker to overcook his first lineout and minutes later Farrell nudged England 13-0 into the lead.
Just when you imagined that nothing else could go wrong for the visitors Stuart Hogg left the field for an head injury assessment never to return and his replacement, Mark Bennett, lasted exactly four minutes before leaving on a stretcher.
Scotland were forced to shuffle their deck. Henry Pyrgos played nine off the bench, Tommy Seymour filled in at the back and Ali Price was a makeshift winger on the right flank where the little scrum-half found himself out-jumped by Anthony Watson and Maro Itoje in quick succession.
Scotland got one try back from Reid just before the half hour mark, the prop rumbling over from short range, but that effort was bookended by two English scores. Joseph grabbed his second, again finding acres of space up the middle of the field, before the classy centre made yet another clean break and sent replacement Watson over the line five minutes before the break.
Goodness knows what Cotter said at half-time but it had little effect because this was turning into the Lord Mayor’s procession. Only a timely interception from Russell prevented Ben Youngs from sending Jack Nowell over the Scotland line but nothing could prevent Joseph from grabbing his hat-trick try two minutes into the second half after picking a canny, out-to-in angle.
Scotland’s dire straits were exacerbated when Seymour left the field on 44 minutes to be replaced by stand-off Duncan Weir. The crowd raised the roof for their own super-sub Billy Vunipola and Scotland kept the big man try-less for a full five minutes before he rumbled over from an attacking lineout.
Jones, the one bright spot for Scotland, bagged a brace of well taken-tries in the final quarter to lend an sheen of credibility to the final score and the same man also tackled Watson into touch to save another score. Appropriately enough, the final say went to England, replacement Danny Care scoring twice in the dying minutes.
At the final whistle the Scots couldn’t get off the field fast enough.