Friday 23 March 2018

Flood spurns big chance in dogged affair

Scotland 15 England 15

Paul Rees at Murrayfield

Andy Robinson's only Calcutta Cup match as a player ended in a draw and his first as Scotland's coach also finished in a stalemate.

It was the third consecutive time that this fixture north of the border had failed to produce a try and, while England were never behind again after equalising a minute into the second half, the Scots exerted the greater pressure.

A common denominator between the sides was a chronic lack of self-belief when in possession, coupled with a desire to slow down the other's ball at the breakdown. It made for a soggy mess in which the referee allowed serial offenders too much licence.

England had the chance to win the game with a drop goal after the countdown clock had reached zero, but Jonny Wilkinson had by then left the field injured and Toby Flood's effort was charged down by John Barclay.

It may have been six years since the Calcutta Cup match here produced a try, with neither side in 2006 and 2008 giving the notion of expansive rugby a passing thought, but the game was only 11 minutes old when Dan Parks ran from his own 22 and attempted an intricate manoeuvre with Max Evans that came to grief.

England also looked to keep the ball in hand, with not much more success. Wilkinson's early inside pass to Ugo Monye was dropped, the out-half then threw the ball over Dylan Hartley's head and into touch and he put the ball too far in front of Louis Deacon, who promptly knocked on in contact.

When Wilkinson, Mathew Tait and Monye did combine effectively, Sean Lamont thwarted the move.

Scotland had scored a try in only one of their five previous matches, but the will was there. They had no problem in finding their way into England's 22, but they struggled to secure quick ball and, despite at times taking play through eight or nine phases, they were invariably forced to resort to the boot of Parks, whether through cross-kicks, drops at goal or penalty attempts.

Parks landed two penalties in the opening 20 minutes after England had been blown for slowing the ball down at the breakdown, first through Dan Cole and then Joe Worsley.

After the visitors had been penalised seven times in the opening quarter, Marius Jonker, the referee, warned Steve Borthwick that the next offender would earn 10 minutes in the sin bin.

England had to defend for most of the first half but trailed only 9-6 at the interval. Wilkinson twice equalised Parks's penalties, the first after Johnnie Beattie had flopped over the wrong side of a ruck and the second followed a confrontation between the front rows when yet another scrum ended in a collapse.

Euan Murray was penalised but Hartley was sufficiently incensed to take issue with his opposite number, Ross Ford, and aim a punch that struck only a glancing blow. The strike was noticed by Jonker, who warned Hartley rather than reversing the penalty, but England were only level for nine minutes before Parks finally succeeded with a drop goal after another multi-phase movement had yielded little in terms of yardage.

Scotland surrendered their lead within a minute after the restart. Jim Hamilton kicked the ball out of Danny Care's hands and Wilkinson made him pay, but the out-half was soon being helped off the pitch after his head hit the ground with a thump following a ansty-looking collision with Evans.

Flood replaced Wilkinson and England started to look more dangerous.

They were getting into the swing of it, making an early attacking substitution for the first time in this Six Nations when Ben Foden came on for Delon Armitage. Foden's initial task was to defend as Scotland looked to regain the initiative.

The visitors kept slowing the ball down at the breakdown and Jonker kept blowing his whistle. James Haskell presented Parks with three points for not rolling away but when Tim Payne committed the same offence two minutes later, earning Borthwick a second warning, Parks's kick hit the post.

Care's hurried clearance gained little ground and Scotland came close to the line after Chris Cusiter found space at a ruck, but when they moved the ball to the right Kelly Brown and Monye clashed heads and play was held up for eight minutes while they were both treated, the England wing leaving the field on a stretcher.

Martin Johnson was left to rue his early call on Foden because he had to replace Monye with a scrum-half, Ben Youngs, who was winning his first cap. Ambition faded, but not before Flood, who had missed a long-range penalty, put England in front after Euan Murray had offended at a ruck near his line.

Lewis Moody had only been on the field for Haskell a few seconds when he piled over the top. Parks hit the post from near halfway, but 12 minutes from time he was presented with an opportunity from in front of the posts and the sides were locked at 15-15.

Jonker warned Borthwick a third time but his failure to act decisively at the breakdown contributed to the mess. With neither side looking menacing with ball in hand, the indiscipline was mindless. Scott Lawson presented Flood with a late, long-range chance after stupidly scragging Care but the kick hit the bottom of the post.

Scorers -- Scotland: (Parks 4 pens, dr gl). England: (Wilkinson 3pens, Flood 2 pens)

Scotland: Southwell (Danielli 69); S Lamont, De Luca, Morrison, M Evans; Parks (Godman 71) , Cusiter (R Lawson 60) ; Jacobsen (Cross 71), Ford (S Lawson 65) , Murray, Hamilton (Hines 51), Kellock, Brown (MacDonald 55), Barclay, Beattie.

England: D Armitage (Foden 50); Cueto, Tait, Flutey, Monye (Youngs 55); Wilkinson (Flood 44), Care; Payne, Hartley (Thompson 61), Cole (Wilson 77), Deacon (Lawes 73), Borthwick, Haskell (Moody 61), Worsley, Easter.

Referee: M Jonker (South Africa).

Sunday Independent

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