England started the game brilliantly, breaking the line seemingly at will, with sharp passing and incisive running. They could have at least three tries in the first twenty minutes alone, instead of the just the one, which was converted well by Jonathan Joseph, finding a great line and then stepping Stuart Hogg. Luther Burrell had already made a fine break within just two minutes, but unwisely elected not to play Anthony Watson in in the corner, nor offload quickly to Ben Youngs once he had gone into the tackle. Also Jack Nowell made a good break but chose not to use options either side of him and Mike Brown was running in under the posts but didn’t quite have pace to beat Hogg to the line. Another they did convert, through Anthony Watson, after his support run followed Joseph’s break, but it was ruled out (correctly) as a forward pass from Ford.
Had England put away three times, the game would have in all likelihood been dead and buried. Overcoming a 20-odd point deficit at Twickenham is a mighty ask, even with Scotland as fired up as they are for the Calcutta Cup. But after about 20 minutes Scotland were a team reborn, staging a remarkable comeback which showcased the best ambitious running rugby of their first two games this tournament. On 22 minutes – completely against the run of play and rather quietening a stunned Twickenham crowd – they scored a finely worked team try stemming from a line out 30 yards out, at which Greig Laidlaw was at the heart of. If only they showed a similar clinical instinct elsewhere this tournament, they probably wouldn’t have four losses from four and be facing a pointless Six Nations. They were also unlucky not to have seen England’s Dan Cole sin-binned for jumping on a ball at the breakdown just a metre from England’s line. The referee Romain Poite evidently judged that the ball was not out, so it begs the question of why Cole wasn’t carded as it scuppered such a good opportunity. As it was Greig Laidlaw kicked the points and England escaped with just conceding three points.
England were less penetrative and exciting in the second half, but, importantly, they got the job done and in fact registered more points than they did in the first half. George Ford sold a clever dummy for a well taken try and Jack Nowell took his try in the corner brilliantly, after a George Ford penalty which he really should have converted hit the post and actually worked in England’s favour, as it came back to them in Scotland’s 22 from where they worked the try.
For a backline that had played little together coming into this tournament, the players have gelled together well, especially today. Granted, there are stronger defences in rugby than Scotland’s and the scoreline should have been greater. But it bodes well for the World Cup that these players will be able to further develop and gain understanding of each other’s games, and converting chances is not as difficult a problem to fix as not creating them in the first place. Also England’s profligacy today seems more of a one-off problem than an endemic one. Also, Lancaster will have the nice problem of Manu Tuilagi returning to the fold, and there will be other options in midfield, including the sporadically brilliant Billy Twelvetrees and the industrious Brad Barritt.
This would be a harsh end to the Six Nations for Scotland, for they have, at times, like their purple patch today, played with far more verve than they have in previous years. And indeed arguably more ambition than Italy, who they really should have beaten. However, with Ireland to play next week, the Wooden Spoon is an eminent possibility.
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BIOGRAPHY: Mohamed Salah