Spluttering English chariot stays on course for Grand Slam
Published 14/03/2011 | 05:00
England's sweet chariot lurches towards a Grand Slam tilt in Dublin despite coming close to toppling into the gutter during an error-strewn match.
The championship is England's, barring a freak set of results next weekend, but any joy at their first title for eight years will be offset by anxieties about yesterday's slipshod performance.
England were crabby, scratchy and jittery, turning over more ball in one match than they had all season. They were generous hosts, gifting Scotland possession and being messed about at the breakdown. For all the protestations about a Grand Slam being far from their minds, it obviously wasn't. The inner England man was a bag of nerves, fretting and fumbling.
But they prevailed, Jonny Wilkinson slotting a penalty a minute from time to allay fears that Max Evans' fine try in the 74th minute might herald yet another Scottish smash-and-grab raid on lofty English ambitions.
If there was one consolation for Martin Johnson, it is that England will not head across the Irish Sea cocksure or complacent. They were rudely disabused of the notion that their coronation might be some sort of formality.
Better for England to have been in a rare old scrap than cruising to victory. They need to find the edge that had served them so well thus far.
England lost their captain, Mike Tindall, to an ankle injury at half-time, Bath's Matt Banahan doing well in his place. Tindall is a major doubt for Dublin. It was Banahan who clattered into Scotland back-row forward Kelly Brown shortly after he came on, causing a worrying head injury. Brown was making good progress last night.
Referee Romain Poite was also forced off with a torn calf.
If England were as poor as they have been in the past 12 months, then Scotland produced the bristling form that had served them so well last year.
There was bite in their tackling, devil and cleverness in their work at the breakdown where England were frequently isolated. If it was passionate, it was also intelligent.
There were standout contributions from Leinster's Nathan Hines, Richie Gray and Evans.
England's only try came when John Barclay was in the sin-bin, substitute flanker Tom Croft crashing through Dan Parks.
This was perhaps a truer barometer of where this England side stands. They have taken such strides of late, yet they are far from a world-beating outfit, not that they have ever claimed to be.
Their scrum was the best part of their game, but they struggled at the breakdown. Johnson will be cracking the whip on that chariot as it sets its sights on Dublin. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
England -- B Foden; C Ashton, M Tindall (M Banahan h-t), S Hape, M Cueto; T Flood (Wilkinson 66), B Youngs (D Care 55); A Corbisiero, D Hartley (S Thompson 66), D Cole (P Doran-Jones 75); L Deacon (S Shaw 66), T Palmer; T Wood (T Croft 66), J Haskell, N Easter.
Scotland -- C Paterson; S Danielli, J Ansbro, S Lamont, M Evans; R Jackson (D Parks 55), R Lawson (M Blair 55); A Jacobsen, R Ford (S Lawson 66), M Low (G Cross 53); R Gray, A Kellock; N Hines (A Strokosch 68), J Barclay, K Brown (R Vernon 43).
Ref -- R Poite (Fra)