Friday 17 November 2017

Joseph produces masterclass as England retain title in style

England 61-21 Scotland

England's Danny Care leaps like a salmon as he scores his seventh try of the afternoon. Photo: Reuters
England's Danny Care leaps like a salmon as he scores his seventh try of the afternoon. Photo: Reuters

Mick Cleary

England's power, the sheer force and intellect of their play took Eddie Jones's side to the sunny uplands of a Six Nations title for the second year running and the significant milestone of a world record-equalling 18th consecutive victory. It was vivid and it was emphatic, a statement of intent as England head to the Aviva Stadium to face Joe Schmidt's side for the Championship finale and a tilt at claiming back-to-back Grand Slams.

Seven tries, including a splendid hat-trick from centre Jonathan Joseph, and a 26-point haul for Owen Farrell, who was supposed to be operating on only one leg after injury. Wait until the full-bodied version is deployed. The Six Nations trophy will be presented in Dublin. The plaudits will be handed out long before then.

Mike Brown of England is tackled by Simon Berghan of Scotland in the big clash at Twickenham. Photo: Getty Images
Mike Brown of England is tackled by Simon Berghan of Scotland in the big clash at Twickenham. Photo: Getty Images

If there were doubts as to England's exalted status, now there are none. If there was carping, it is silenced. And if there was only begrudging recognition there should be a cheery salute for what they have achieved.

These were no mere patsies in opposition but a well-regarded Scotland who crumbled in the face of such a ferocious and unrelenting testing of their mettle. It was a humbling, traumatic afternoon for those in dark blue, Billy Vunipola's try in the 57th minute bringing up a record England score.

The Calcutta Cup is the oldest in the calendar. Many Scots will want to erase this painful bit of history - back to Year Zero for the tartan hordes.

For England supporters, though, there was only pleasure and fulfilment. As they filed into the Twickenham dusk they could but wonder how it was that it was only 18 months ago that they left the same stadium in the wake of a World Cup exit with nothing but gloom in the air. Jones has transformed the self-belief of this group of players, largely the same personnel but wholly different in their attitude. There are no dissenters.

Prince Harry and Princess Anne celebrate as Dylan Hartley lifts the The Calcutta Cup after England's anhilation of Scotland at Twickenham. Photo: Getty Images
Prince Harry and Princess Anne celebrate as Dylan Hartley lifts the The Calcutta Cup after England's anhilation of Scotland at Twickenham. Photo: Getty Images

They back each other, from Joe Marler, winning his 50th cap, at loosehead to the spikey Mike Brown at the rear. Much had been made of the putative impact of the England bench, the self-styled 'finishers'. On this occasion the job had been done by the time they got to do their stuff, England 20 points to the good by the mid-point of the first half. You wanted a start, Eddie? This was it with knobs on, Joseph leading the charge with two tries.

From great hope to a sorry heap, Scotland's downfall was on a grand scale, two second-half tries from centre Huw Jones notwithstanding. Some of their issues were self-inflicted, such as the early yellow card for hooker Fraser Brown (which should have been red), some unfortunate, such as the early exit of dangerman Stuart Hogg (head knock) as well as replacement Mark Bennett, but most were the result of suffocating England pressure.

All that England had been against Italy - muddled, passive, ineffectual - was turned on its head. Keen, slick and purposeful were their watchwords, right across the board, captured in the majesty of Joseph in the centre, those two tries with barely a finger laid on him as he arced and carved like a Guscott of yesteryear. Left out against Italy, Joseph responded with the sort of spicy, intelligent play that has instantly erased any doubts about his right to start, for the Lions as much as for England. It was a sumptuous performance.

There were legitimate questions being asked of England, if only of their right to be acclaimed as a great side. They have little truck with such inquiry but now that they have put on such a commanding, all-consuming show, full of grit as well as grandeur, all those doubts can be brushed aside. If New Zealand had played with such sustained gusto and drive, accuracy too, then they would be lauded.

England are in their pomp and, whatever happens next weekend, they will always have Twickenham on a benign early spring day, a time of renewal in so many ways, of the all-court game that England are striving to put into play and of the faith in their supporters that this is a team that can engage, seduce and deliver.

If it were the backs that caught the eye, there was plenty to admire in the solidness of the pack. They did the basics well, untroubled and unfussy, Courtney Lawes dominating the lineout, the Northampton lock securing the ball for all three first-half tries, while Joe Launchbury was his usual relentless self, driving and grafting. Maro Itoje also showed well. Nathan Hughes also had his most eye-catching game in an England shirt, well-timed in that he gave way to Billy Vunipola in the 51st minute.

That Lawes and Launchbury should have been such stand-out operators across these four games, prominent again against a vaunted Scottish duo in the Gray brothers, indicates just how England have managed to stockpile talent. The same is true now at No 8, where Hughes has shown his true credentials with a considerable output. Joseph, of course, has been tracked by two players, Daly and Ben Teo. Joseph is in the box seat after that. Danny Care, too, showed that Ben Youngs' right to start is far from guaranteed. His two tries were trademark, snappy and alert.

There was little with which to find fault, perhaps only their concentration levels in defence, with Scotland scoring three tries, prop Gordon Reid crashing through in the 29th minute before Jones's double after the interval. You sensed that England would have found their range no matter what had unfolded but they were given a helping hand when the adrenalin proved too much for Scotland hooker Fraser Brown, who should have been sent off in the second minute for a late and dangerous tackle on England wing Elliot Daly, who eventually had to be replaced by Anthony Watson.

Within moments, Joseph had cut through untroubled for his first try. Farrell's boot kept adding the extras before a delayed pass from George Ford popped Joseph through again. Watson was on the scoresheet before the break, riding the shoulder to good effect of his Bath team-mate, Joseph.

There was to be no respite, the tone for the second half set almost immediately with a big bust from Hughes before Joseph nailed his hat-trick. Billy Vunipola touched down in the 57th minute to huge roars. Replacement Care bagged a brace as England kept their foot on the pedal. Telegraph

England: Brown; Nowell, Joseph (Te'o 57), Farrell, Daly (Watson 15); Ford, Youngs (Care 61); Marler (M Vunipola 57), Hartley (capt; George 51), Cole (Sinckler 61), Launchbury, Lawes (Wood 66), Itoje, Haskell, Hughes (B Vunipola 51).

Scotland: Hogg (Bennett 17, Pyrgos 21); Seymour (Weir 44), Jones, Dunbar, Visser; Russell, Price; Reid (Dell 43), Brown (Ford 43), Fagerson (Berghan 61), R Gray, J Gray (Swinson 74), Barclay (capt), Watson, Wilson (Du Preez 62).

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (Fra)

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