Thursday 22 February 2018

Video: New-look England fall back on old strengths

Scotland 6 England 13

England's Brad Barritt is hauled down during the RBS 6 Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield yesterday
England's Brad Barritt is hauled down during the RBS 6 Nations match against Scotland at Murrayfield yesterday

Paul Rees at Murrayfield

Ben Youngs said before the game that the England players wanted to embrace a completely different style to the one they played under what he called the old coaches, but the future will have to wait a little longer.

Stuart Lancaster's reign as interim coach started with a victory that owed more to traditional English virtues, hard work, resolution, opportunism and a capacity to recover from mistakes, than any new-fangled theories.

Scotland were also pretty much the same as last year, willing to have a go but continuing to find new ways of botching moves that seemed certain to lead to tries.

Scotland started as they were to carry on. When England made a hash of receiving the kick-off, Jim Hamilton charged through Dan Cole's attempted tackle on his way to the opposition 22. Scotland had the chance to exert early pressure and stir the crowd that had come to see inexperienced England beaten.

Instead, Scotland spent the next 15 minutes in defence after losing control of the ball. Tom Palmer hoofed it downfield and the template for the opening period had been established -- mistakes abounded.

While England considered themselves born to run, Scotland were intent on territory. Dan Parks launched a series of kicks downfield, but it took him 27 minutes to avoid the arms of Ben Foden and put the ball behind the England full-back.

Parks divides opinion in Scotland, safe rather than adventurous, but his errors with the boot hurt Scotland. They had recovered from conceding the first score of the game on 22 minutes, when Owen Farrell punished Allan Jacobsen's indiscretion from a ruck, to lead 6-3 at the break.

England's weakness at the breakdown was quickly apparent. Their first real attack was an all-Saracens affair: Charlie Hodgson to Brad Barritt to Mouritz Botha. The second row surged into Scotland's 22 but lost the ball and Scotland took the lead through two Parks penalties for offences after a tackle.

Yet there was also a durability about England. They made mistakes but they scrambled their way to atonement. Scotland, slow to apply pressure, finished the opening half in the ascendancy but they made a hash of manoeuvring Parks into position to drop a goal at the end of the half and 25 seconds after the restart they were behind.

England kicked long but Scotland wasted the chance to kick the ball back, setting up a ruck before Parks tried to clear. Hodgson was quickly on him and charged the ball down to score the first try in this fixture here since 2004. Parks's next contribution was to miss touch with a penalty, and on 58 minutes Greg Laidlaw replaced him.

England should have been further ahead by then. Hodgson, starting to dictate, perfectly weighted a cross-kick for Strettle which the wing collected only for David Denton, who had made some tackle-breaking bursts, to make a try-saving challenge.

Denton, Hamilton, Richie Gray and Ross Rennie all made damaging breaks but no side is less dangerous with the ball in hand in the Six Nations than Scotland. When Gray swatted away two defenders, Al Strokosch knocked on in England's 22; when Rennie, immediately after England had brought on three replacements, made a line break from a scrum, he delayed what would have been a try-scoring pass for so long that Foden was able to knock it on, fortunate not to be penalised because he went for the ball with one hand.

When Scotland did get over the line, it was still not enough. Laidlaw's chip saw him beaten to the bounce by Youngs, but his right arm brushed the ball as it landed on the ground. The video official, Nigel Whitehouse, took so long to decide downward pressure had not been applied that the referee, George Clancy, forgot he had been playing advantage after England had been caught offside.

For all their possession, territory and clean breaks, Scotland earned nothing. The only other points of the second half were scored by Farrell -- who played the final 18 minutes at outhalf -- after Alastair Kellock was isolated in the tackle and blown for holding on.

The game ended with Scotland knocking on, symptomatic of yet another match in which their composure did not match their ambition.

For all England's talk of a new dawn, it was old-fashioned virtues that allowed the champions to make a winning start.

Scorers --Scotland: Parks 2 pens. England: Hodgson try; Farrell 2 pens, 1 con

Scotland: R Lamont; L Jones, N De Luca, S Lamont, M Evans; D Parks (Laidlaw 58), C Cusiter (Blair 58); A Jacobsen, R Ford (capt, Lawson 74), E Murray (Cross 74), R Gray, J Hamilton (Kellock 58), A Strokosch (Barclay 58), R Rennie, D Denton.

England: B Foden; C Ashton, B Barritt (Brown 72), O Farrell, D Strettle; C Hodgson (Turner-Hall 63), B Youngs (Dickson 63); A Corbisiero (Stevens 63), D Hartley, D Cole, M Botha, T Palmer (Parling 59), T Croft, C Robshaw (capt), P Dowson (Morgan 68).

Referee: G Clancy (Ireland).


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