RYAN VREDE watched England take a step closer to the Six Nations title and Grand Slam with a 22-16 victory over Scotland at Twickenham.
They’ll have to beat Ireland in Dublin next weekend to realise that ambition, but will have to improve exponentially to do so.
This was undoubtedly a Test match for the game’s purists, but that didn’t mean it was dour. In fact, Scotland’s resolve, their utter determination not to be steamrolled by England, made for an entertaining spectacle. Even reduced to 14 men Scotland stood firm, conceding a try just seconds before John Barclay’s return from the bin.
Their challenge was built on an extraordinary defensive display. Strong at the collisions and rabid in their breakdown contest, Scotland regularly killed any attacking momentum England had hoped to generate. Fronted by a stacked defensive line the hosts lacked the precision, innovation and muscle required take to bust the blue wall in their path, their attacks often creeping cross-field, making Scotland’s defensive assignment much easier.
Numerous handling errors compounded their problems and ordinary tactical kicking meant they seldom put the Scots under any telling pressure in good field positions.
For all their defensive excellence Scotland were mediocre in the attacking stakes and relied on the boot of Chris Paterson (two penalties) and a 40th minute Ruaridh Jackson drop-goal, which elicited a passionate fist pump from coach Andy Robinson, for their first half points. Prior to that England’s Toby Flood had banked three penalties, and the teams were level at nine all going down the tunnel.
England threatened to snap out of their lethargy as the second half progressed, but exhibited a lack of composure and tactical intelligence in positions they should have scored from.
A desperate try-saving tackle from Paterson on Ben Foden with 15 minutes to play kept Scotland in the match, but a troop of high quality substitutes – including World Cup winners Jonny Wilkinson, Steve Thomson and Simon Shaw and Lions loose forward Tom Croft – proved to be decisive.
Croft scored after a move that saw England punch up to the right of the field then swing the ball left, leaving him with a mismatch on wing Max Evans. Wilkinson kicked the touchline conversion to put England 10 points ahead with 10 to play.
Such was their dominance of possession and territory that most would have expected that try to seal the result. But Evans set up a tense finish, scoring six minutes from the siren. Paterson added the extras, but a Wilkinson penalty soon thereafter gave England a scrappy but important victory.