Wednesday 20 November 2019

Twelvetrees shines on debut as England overpower Scots

So the All Black romp was no fluke. England will have more difficult encounters in this season's Six Nations, but this performance reconfirmed them as a side with a bright future. It was not the margin of the victory so much as the poise with which it was achieved that was so impressive.

England scored quickly in each half to take control of those periods, and they played with a relentless energy and pace which squeezed the life out of the Scots.

The collective excellence was enhanced by a number of individuals who get better by the outing. Where he once used to flare briefly, Owen Farrell is now playing well throughout entire matches. His decision making is better, he is threatening defences ball in hand himself, and he kicks penalties with deceptive facility. A man to be reckoned with, and still only 21.

Joe Launchbury, of the new breed, is also striding purposely forward. He had a try disallowed when Tom Youngs was spotted trying to strangle a Scot but that did not diminish his contribution one bit. Launchbury can do it all: canter, handle, secure ball in the air, ruck, maul and scrummage. His challenge is to maintain his progress as opponents start to target him as his reputation grows.

Talking of reputations, Billy Twelvetrees now has one. He took to Test rugby superbly, providing England with control and options from the start. An indication of his worth was that you wanted to see him on the ball because it seemed he had the time to reflect and the talent to make the most of those reflections. Twelvetrees ought to have been terrified at the prospect of facing a band of marauding Scots. If he was, he never showed it yesterday.

Not that Scotland were much of a threat. This was a hugely disappointing afternoon from them, especially as they were gifted an early score when a lazy clearance kick by Mike Brown coupled with a poor Alex Goode tackle led to a try on his debut by Sean Maitland. Aside from captain Kelly Brown occasionally at the breakdown, and welcome parity at the line-out, Scotland were never remotely competitive in the areas that mattered.

Their scrummage was under pressure all game, they lost most of the collisions and their discipline was poor. Going into the match, Scotland knew they could not afford to give Farrell shots at goal yet they handed him attempt after attempt.

Painful as it is to say so, it seems as if one or two Scotland stalwarts are nearing the end of their careers. Euan Murray and Jim Hamilton, once the meat in the Scotland sandwich, were barely visible yesterday. Even the podgy English replacement Mako Vunipola made headway in the scrum against Murray when he replaced Joe Marler, and Hamilton got no change whatsoever from both England locks.

Richie Gray is another former talent who is struggling to rekindle his career. Gray is both young enough and good enough to come again, but Scotland desperately need to rediscover the aggression which once defined their forward play.

If there was a bright spot for interim coach Scott Johnson, it came from Matt Scott at inside-centre and from the work of full back Stuart Hogg.

Scott's subtle lines of running troubled England once or twice and Hogg's length of line kicking and aggressive counter-attacking enlivened a dull and depressing afternoon for Scotland supporters. Johnson will be worried, too, about his half-backs, who were unable to shape or influence the contest. In their defence, Greig Laidlaw and Ruaridh Jackson did not have anything like the quality of ball that England enjoyed to work with. But that did not excuse some howlers from the pair of them.

So, already England's game against Ireland in Dublin a week today is shaping up as a possible title decider. It is always difficult to put individual Six Nations matches in some sort of overall context, but if Ireland's first-half effort in Cardiff and England's entire jaunt yesterday are anything to go by, it should be some match.

Mind you, it is one thing playing at home, quite another doing a job on the road in a hostile atmosphere, and England's four tries and the 18 points from Farrell have to be viewed through that prism.

One thing can be said with some conviction. The Six Nations is up and running and providing the thrills and spills which we have come to expect over the years. Yesterday was another wholesome, engaging occasion, bristling with pride and effort.

Scotland could have faded going into that final quarter but they stuck at it and were rewarded with a breakaway try. The 30 years of wait for a Twickenham victory now stretch to 32 but it is the depth of Scotland's talent pool, not their courage, which is under scrutiny.

As for England? Their challenge is entirely different. Will Greenwood was sitting in the press box yesterday, murmuring appreciatively as England went about their business.

"This is a good England side," Greenwood said. He should know. The question is: how much better can they get?


England: A Goode (D Strettle 67); C Ashton, B Barritt, B Twelvetrees (T Flood 67), M Brown; O Farrell, B Youngs (D Care 57); J Marler (M Vunipola 57), T Youngs (D Hartley 53), D Cole (D Wilson 74); J Launchbury (C Lawes 64), G Parling; T Wood, C Robshaw (capt), B Morgan (J Haskell 45).

Scotland: S Hogg (M Evans 78); S Maitland, S Lamont, M Scott, T Visser; R Jackson, G Laidlaw (H Pyrgos 73); R Grant, D Hall (R Ford 47), E Murray; R Gray, J Hamilton; A Strokosch (D Denton 14), K Brown (capt), J Beattie.

Referee: A Rolland (Ireland).

Irish Independent

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