Ashton breaks Scottish hearts

Chris Ashton scored a late try to give England a 16-12 win against Scotland in Auckland.

With three minutes remaining, England put a kickable penalty into touch and won the lineout. Their forwards set up the driving maul, before the ball was sent wide to replacement flyhalf Toby Flood, whose perfectly-timed double-skip pass put Ashton over in the right-hand corner.

It was a heart-breaking moment for the Scots, who had needed to win this game by eight points or more and deny England a bonus point in order to leapfrog their arch-rivals on the Pool C log. They now need Georgia to upset Argentina on Sunday, which is unlikely.

There may have only been one try, but this was a gripping encounter.

Scotland suffered an early setback when flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson limped off with a hamstring injury, but it proved to be a blessing. The kicking game of his replacement, Dan Parks, was ideal for the wet and windy conditions and he controlled the game well.

It was Parks who kicked a long-range penalty into the wind to give Scotland a 6-0 lead, following an earlier strike from Chris Paterson.

Jonny Wilkinson came into this match with a 50% goal-kicking success rate in the tournament and missed his first three penalty attempts. He finally found the target with his fourth, but a Parks drop goal gave Scotland a 9-3 lead at the break.

The Scots dominated the set pieces in the first half, winning four scrums against the feed (with Euan Murray embarrassing Matt Stevens) and stealing three opposition lineout throws. They also didn’t miss a single tackle in 40 minutes, while England slipped six.

When the second half kicked off, the wind had dropped and the rain had stopped. England played with a lot more urgency and their pack regained some confidence when they won a tighthead with a solid hit.

The Scots, though, briefly regained the ascendancy and almost scored when left wing Simon Danielli kicked into the England 22. Fullback Ben Foden knocked the ball back and Scotland replacement Nick de Luca failed to collect it with the tryline in sight.

Scotland then won yet another scrum penalty, which Paterson kicked to make it 12-3, but they crucially failed to deal with the restart and Wilkinson slotted a drop goal with his right foot (having missed one with his left from in front earlier in the half).

The England flyhalf added a penalty at the start of the final quarter to reduce the deficit to three, but his following attempt fell short.

It didn’t matter, though, as Ashton’s try snatched the win and set up an England-France quarter-final.

By Simon Borchardt

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