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England better for the fright

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Ben Dirs | 20:25 UK time, Sunday, 13 March 2011

The fox that proved so difficult to remove from the Twickenham turf before the start of play rather summed up England v Scotland: strange day, strange game.

England fans with any perspective knew Scotland would be no pushovers - Andy Robinson's team are better than recent results suggest. But those who believed a first Grand Slam since 2003 was a formality will have had their faith severely tested. Ireland, who host England next week, will fancy their chances.

So, too, the three southern hemisphere sides who sit above England in the world rankings. If the manner of England's previous three wins in this year's Six Nations suggested they might be a factor in the World Cup in the autumn, their scrappy victory on Sunday revealed there is still much work to be done.

Credit Scotland. Richie Gray - tall, blonde, difficult not to notice even when he is having a middling game - exemplified everything that was good about his side. Martin Johnson's team were second best at the breakdown pretty much all game, although James Haskell, deservedly man of the match, had arguably his best outing in an England shirt.

And Scotland didn't exactly have their fair share of luck - John Barclay's second-half sin-binning was mystifying, while an injury to referee Romain Poite forced him to bring a halt to the game when Scotland were thrusting.

But it is customary in modern sport to talk of positives after an unsatisfactory performance - and Johnson has reasons to be upbeat. Ever the pragmatist, he will take the view that a win is a win in international rugby, especially against a team as dogged and determined as Scotland. The fact England triumphed despite an error-strewn display - winning ugly, I believe they call it - might even give Johnson a perverse hint of pleasure.

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"Scotland came here to fight for their lives and they did," said Johnson. "It was a good battle. I'm happier in a way going to Dublin off the back of that game than scoring a lot of points and having it too easy. It will focus everyone's minds."

While England's recent success has been built on consistency of selection, Johnson will be heartened that it was his bench which made the difference against the Scots. Tom Croft, who replaced Tom Wood on 66 minutes, scored England's only try, while Matt Banahan, who replaced the injured Mike Tindall at half-time, made some barnstorming runs.

With Lewis Moody on the verge of returning after injury and the likes of Courtney Lawes and Riki Flutey waiting in the wings, all of a sudden England have plenty of options, and as any coach will tell you, selection headaches are only ever a good thing.

Not that Johnson is likely to make too many changes for the crunch game against Ireland in Dublin. If any. One area where the Irish will think they have the edge over England is in midfield, but Flutey, a more creative centre than either Tindall or Shontayne Hape, has been struggling for fitness of late and so is unlikely to get the call.

Rather than shuffle his pack, Johnson will reason the XV that started against Scotland cannot possibly play as scruffily again. One flat performance does not a bad team make, and it has given some splendid performances of late. And he will have his coaches working overtime on the breakdown, which the Irish will now perceive as a weakness.

Some might see England's scrappy victory over Scotland as a sign they are wobbling with a Grand Slam in sight. Dublin, the doom-merchants will say, will be where England unravel. Johnson will no doubt take a different view: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and England will be better for the fright.

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  • Comment number 1.

    If you look at the stats for this game - line breaks, offloads made, tackles made/missed, territory and possession you would think that England had absolutely dominated, but there is one stat that really tells the story - England made 18 errors to Scotland's 5. England made these errors because of the pressure brought to bear on them by Scotland. A fantastic performance by the Scots but one that England will gain from. Maybe next time more experienced heads will react better to that kind of pressure. The game plan for Ireland is now clear and they will have the advantage of a home crowd. It's going to be close.

    What a great 6Ns this has become all of a sudden with Italy beating France, Wales finally beating Ireland in Cardiff and having a chance of winning the championship and the prospect of a humdinger of a match in Dublin. The Tri-nations may have the three best teams in the world but for drama, passion and nail biting excitment you can't beat the 6Ns.

  • Comment number 2.

    England are a young team and some times lack the experience to tweak the game plan and up the tempo when the opposition are dialing up the pressure. As Not2Serious points out the Scottish pressure manifested itself as errors by the England players. The Irish team is very experienced and hard nosed and will have taken a lot of confidence from watching the game. However, the England boys will also be very pleased that they came out of the game with a win (a very different outcome from the South Africa autumn international when they were again guilty of lacking the intensity of their opposite numbers).

    The other huge positive is that as this team is very young but gaining invaluable experience game after game. They are going to be a force to be reckoned with for some years (although I would say that this World cup has come too early for them).

    Finally, Ben, I get your point that Johnson will try and stick with the same team, although judging by Tindall's limp I would expect Banahan to start against Ireland. That may mean Flutey is called up to the bench.

    Maybe interesting too see Flutey/Banahan in the second half.......depending on whether the England backrow can secure any ball.....

  • Comment number 3.

    I think credit has to be given to Scotland for pulling that performance out of the bag after looking pretty abject at times over the last month - yes they looked ok against France but since then have been poor. I liked the fact that England could bring on Thompson, Wilkinson and Croft for the last 20 to close out the game, a good thing to have up their sleeves.

    I think Scotland showed that they have the potential to challenge the teams above them, but not quite the firepower to put them away, which is a shame. One would hope that given another year at international level their younger players will flourish.

    I like the fact that England have a group of about 30 players all of whom could slot into the team quite happily. They weren't very good today for much of the game - and as #2 pointed out, the 18 errors would not have gone unpunished against better sides. However, as the old cliche goes, it takes a decent team to win when playing badly. When England get it right they look very good, the trick is to look ok when getting it wrong.

    Also - great to see the 3 props in the side having an average age of about 23, the front row future looks bright. With Croft, Haskell, Wood and Lawes all back rowers, the back row future looks pretty bright too!

    Can't wait for next weekend, should be an absolute cracker.

  • Comment number 4.

    We have to remember that this is still a relatively new team. It emerged from the ashes of an awful 6 nations campaign last year. So although Johnson has been in charge longer than that, it was only a forced change of script (after Scotland last 6nations) that this team today is working from.

    The point is, 1 year in international rugby is not long. Woodward groomed a team over many years. Johnson minced around for a year, then got busy.

    This Scotland performance was not the only 'fright'. South Africa, New Zealand and Samoa in the Autumn should reveal that this team is far from ready to be world beaters. This performance today was in the same bracket. No precision. Some parts of the media can get carried away with a Grand Slam - as the Welsh did in 05 and 08, but what we must put into context is that the 6 nations in this competition are all rather weak compared to the SH teams.

    This was not a fright, it was a good solid game between two middle of the road teams, albeit, Scotland are a tad behind England. The Autumn internationals revealed we still had much much work to do, today was a reminder of that fact.

  • Comment number 5.

    What worried me even more than the error count was a lack of real intensity. Almost as if complacency had crept in despite all the conscious fight against it. Having said that, they did create quite a lot of chances and might score more on another day. Still not sure what Tindall brings apart from strong tackles. That's like picking a fighter plane for its fuel economy - nice but not the point.

  • Comment number 6.

    Sadly on the form shown by all the six nations they are all going to struggle at the World Cup. Nothing much more than frantic effort by the Scots caused England all sorts of problems and they took nine of the 10 minutes sin binning to take advantage. That will be punished by the southern hemisphere teams, particularly New Zealand who play with ruthless efficiency.England should still make the semi-finals but unless the team finds another level that will be it.
    Remember the Scots pack has been a bit of a shambles during this tournament and the set scrum and line out was a mess today, yet England still required Wilkinson to come off the bench to close out the game with the boot. England are no where near as good as the media hype about a Grand Slam leading to another World Cup win. Not on this showing anyway.

  • Comment number 7.

    AS for the team though.

    I thought Wood was caught out today and Flood struggled to deal with the rush defence. We need players on the pitch who can change a game plan when the one the coaches set is not working.

    I thought Foden had a fairly average game, and I am still looking for more gain line breaking runs that he has delivered in the past. Banahan for Tindall gave us more of threat, something we are all crying out for in the midfield, but its difficult to see Johnson come out of his comfort zone and drop Tindall.

    Wood struggled to get a grip, and it was great to see Croft back in the game. Haskell had a quality game, but we still lack a 7.

    Excellent to see such a young front row, and one that destroyed the Scots pack.

    The yellow card was ridiculous, and Poitre had no idea at scrum time.

    Against Ireland I would like to see a few changes, purely because we don't have any other competitive games left to try other combinations. This team will get butchered by New Zealand, and we need back up plans.

  • Comment number 8.

    "Ireland, who host England in a fortnight's time, will fancy their chances."

    The Dublin game is on the 19th March.

  • Comment number 9.

    Its a shame Scotland cannot convert their pressure into points. they are fantastic in defense yet not great in attack. the centre partnership looks to be a good'un and definitely worth persevering with. I have to point out that i did not see the last 20mins so missed out on Evans's try. Also think it is not to their credit that they play like this against England yet not against other teams. Im sure robinson will try to rectify this.If they played like this against the Welsh, they would have walloped them.

    England do not seem to be able to finish of and convert good breaks and passages of play as easily as some suggest. they made several breaks yet only scored one try. this may be down to some fantastic defending however. Set piece as usual solid and as #3 points out they going to get better with age.

    i think it may be time to try a change in the back row with croft in for Easter, then moving Haskell to 8, wood to openside, croft to 6. I'm a Easter fan but for me he has been ineffective this 6nations.

  • Comment number 10.

    FlayedAlive - Yeh, Banahan-Flutey might be worth seeing, the classic cudgel-stiletto centre partnership. You don't want to get in Banahan's way, I know that much.

    Tinoflyer - Not sure I'd agree that England are middle of the road. I think they're a pretty decent side who sometimes have off days, and today was one of them. Lest we forget they beat Wales in Wales playing some pretty good rugby, thumped Italy and did a number on France. They also did a pretty decent job on the Aussies in the autumn, and beat them in Sydney last summer. Although I agree, they do lack consistency, and I think the World Cup will come too soon.

    skippo - Yeh, the lack of intensity was surprising, the whole occasion felt a bit flat to be honest.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Ben, would firstly like to say that your blogs are always a good read and something I regularly enjoy.

    Although I agree with most of the points raised by everyone regarding England's inexperience and Scotland's solid performance today there are a few things I would like to add. I think that the impact of Lawes' return cannot be underestimated, and although Deacon had done a great job in his absence, the work Lawes offers in the loose (much like an additional back-rower) is exceptional and really helps in presenting quick ball for Youngs and Flood.

    This brings me on to my next point, which is the validity of MJizzle's persistence in selecting Nick Easter. He's not a bad player by any standards but he is also not a great player and on the strength of today's performance I can't help but think that Haskell would be a very worthy replacement at 8. He seems to have matured a great deal over the last season and has become very dependable of late to make a lot of yards alongside all of his other work around the park. 8 is a key position which he seems ready to fill and given his performance surpassed anything Easter has ever done in an England shirt I can't help but think it is time to get Easter out of there, get Croft back in at 6 and move Wood over to 7 until Moody returns.

  • Comment number 12.


    Is it me or is Youngs off the pace? The scrappiness at the breakdown for England in the last couple of games have been where the ball should have been cleared but hasn't been and England are vulnerable to the counter-ruck, which Ireland tend to be very good at.

    Two games in a row now teams have rushed up on the outside to limit Flood's options. Ireland and BOD are sure to do the same. Flood needs to come up with different solutions to keep them guessing as the inside ball option is easily read if it is the only option.

    Lack of intensity/error count as mentioned above.

    General poor quality of this weekend's games.

    England kept a cool head and won.

    Foden always stays on his feet and gives a chance for an offload. He is much stronger than he looks (if not quicker than Paterson..)

    I thought Corbisero was very good, strong in the scrum and mobile around the pitch.

    England are on for a Grand Slam despite only putting in one good performance so far. That's got to be a good thing.

    Italy. Enough said.

  • Comment number 13.

    There was only one positive in that game and that was we won.

    It reminded me of England vs USA World 2007 – absolutely shocking

    I heard all the rubbish spouted about not starting quickly and not competing at the breakdown. Well here are a couple of tactical gems for Martin ‘how did he get the jobin the first place’ Johnson and co
    • The game last 80 mins so let’s start at 00:01 (everyone manages it)
    • Stop playing Russia roulette with the numbers and clear out the breakdown and secure the ball

  • Comment number 14.

    I think this match strongly proved two things:

    1. Although undoubtedly a strong, talented and ever progressing team, England are evidently not as good as the media has made them out to be. England could have so easily lost this game, the game against France, and Ireland loom next week. Yes they came out on top in the last two games and optimists will say that they know how to grind out wins, but surely this would have been easier had they scored more points and not conceded as many?! Without trying to state the obvious, the stats speak for themselves. They are not yet a ruthless team in the mould of New Zealand.

    2. At the moment, the southern hemisphere have no reason to worry. Here's to hoping that changes next week.

  • Comment number 15.


    All going to plan, England will play Australia in the WC semi final. Given that England have won the last two, don't you think the Aussies will be a little bit worried in the week before that game? Just a teensy bit?

    Forgot to mention, favourite moment of the match was Johnson struggling to hide a smirk at Robinson's rage when Poite's torn calf stopped a Scotland attack. And people think Johnno is a misery guts..

  • Comment number 16.

    England are the best team in the northern hemisphere because they are marginally better than the dross that is the other teams.

    Based on what I've seen they'll get easily beaten by the Kiwi's and the Safas and whilst any game against the Aussies would be closer they will still be reasonably confident they can get a result.

  • Comment number 17.

    What a good weekend for rugby.

    Well done Italy - deserved win - it was good to see the french taken down a peg.

    Unlucky Ireland. I beleive Wales were the better team on the day - but the way they won was a farce. How can the refs integrity not be called into question when it was so blatenty a massive error. And Gatland brushing it off. really cheeky. I am completely with O'driscol on this one - what is the point of having all this technology if one idiot linesman cant make the right call (coward)

    England to today was a funny game. I found it very hard to get excited about england performance. Individual performences stand out - foden,haskel,banahan. England became a little complacent. Maybe its all the media hype about grand slams just weight them down. The media are cheeky - will talk grand slams when england are winning but all media want us to fail becuase they sell papers. The media will turn on us the minuete we lose (IF). So i listen to nothing they say. Only the words of the coach and players mean anything.
    I will not take anything away from scotland - they played well - great tackle from patterson on foden - I hated patterson for 5 seconds but it was a great tackle and i cannot deny it kept scotland in the game

    Next weekend predictions

    Ireland 12 - England 26 (england will want to make up for this week)
    Scotland - 18 - Italy 21 (Italy will be high on their win)
    France 32 - Wales 0 (Wales have been lucky all tournement and really are not as good as they think they are - france will be determined to save face)

    Good luck to All

  • Comment number 18.

    IslanderInTheCity, I totally agree with your comments on Lawes and Easter (and had come to the same conclusion in another thread on the 606 forum). Only thing I would change with your suggestion wouild be to bring Fourie in for his ground skills. The second row would therefore be Palmer/Lawes with Croft/Haskell/Fourie across the back row. I think that offers great dynamism plus some old fashioned fetching and "dog".

    Can't see it happening though without injuries forcing a change.

  • Comment number 19.

    Well done Scotland. Odd sport is sometimes, if scots had won by a point there would have been hysteria at the wonder of the great Scotish result. England win by 6pts and it's all doom and gloom. Hey! We won and apart from a piece of one off magic from Evans I never felt the scots were going to get a try, whereas England had 3 really close calls - they looked very lively on the counter attack, real pace in there. Despite all this 'gland-slam' is a dirty word (or is it two words) talk I think England had one eye on the Ireland game and the Scots were more focused, and credit to them. Their sin-bin was confusing but I think the ref got peeved after a lot of slowing the game down but I reckon he should have warned the scots first and said the next slowing dwon gets a yellow. The scots performance does make our RWC group more interesting now! I don't think they deserve to be 0pts and the italy game may prove to be a hum-dinger. I think England will play much better against Ireland, though i'm sure Ireland will have other ideas but, unless nerves affect them, i think England will want it more and play a blinder ...maybe!

  • Comment number 20.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 21.

    All going to plan, England will play Australia in the WC semi final. Given that England have won the last two, don't you think the Aussies will be a little bit worried in the week before that game? Just a teensy bit?
    No. The English win against Aust at Twickenham has been the only good game England have played in the last 6 months. It was in front of a home crowd and a game they were desparate to win. They have not reached that level since so it is looking more and more like that performance was a one-off. If Australia come through the 3N free of injuries they will not fear England at all. By then they will have played SA and NZ 3 times each whereas England will have played whom? Poor NH sides. England may well win, as anything can happen (and often does) in a WC semi-final but Australia wont be fearing England at all. They would much prefer a semi against England than SA or NZ.

  • Comment number 22.

    I think we over-rate the SH sides. Overall they pummled NH overall in Autumn but they were at their peak from the end of their season whereas we'd only just started. NZ caught us cold (but then SA stuffed us). they are clearly better at the mo but when did NZ last win the RWC? england have been in last 2 finals. the gap ain't as big as people make out and they don't like facing English packs but now we have pace in the backs and starting to know how to use it (for first time in ages) and I think Jonno is building stability and a team for the RWC that any team will have worries about. On their day England and France can beat anyone ...just those days are as frequent yet as we'd like but we'll be a good 'team' in the RWC, not favourites but a good outside bet.

  • Comment number 23.

    I am not surprised the BBC are not reporting Martin johnsons post match comments but here goes:

    ‘They got away with quite a bit. If you ask me they had it coming. Far be it for an Englishman to have a grievance.’

    Scotland were permanently offside, constantly tackled without the ball, had hands in every ruck, and Barclay gave backchat to the ref every minute to his sin binning. Scotland came to spoil when looking at the move to score their try they could have come to win. A decent ref would have had the Scots pinged at every scrum, and pretty much every breakdown. yellow cards, penalties and a thrashing, but Martin Johnson is right. england never get a decent ref, and any grand slam will always be against the odds. i mean most England games are commentated by a Welshman who hates England and shows bias toward Celtic nations, players or officials. Well done today though Andrew Cotter. Very good. Everything Butler isn't...

  • Comment number 24.

    chris ashton has been fairly quiet over the last two games but he looks like a genuine try-scorer in the same mould of rory underwood. Would be nice to see flutey back at centre again, we miss his power and pace and he seems to add more to the game than hape. Tindall although a great player does lack a shade of pace and can be attacked, i enjoyed watching banahan and maybe he should be considered at centre more often in the future. The youngs-flood partnership hasnt worked of late but the chemistry between them will only grow with more games. Although the world cup seems a distant dream, the squad depth and balance is good right now, barring any injuries and avoiding new zealand (who most teams have a bad record against) we could generate another good run at the world cup.
    The pack looked strong today, reminded me of the power our scrum had back in 2003. I think the only area of worry for me is the forwards, scotland counter-rucking was brilliant and apart from haskell the other ball carriers/forwards were relatively uneffective.

  • Comment number 25.

    #24. Forgive me, but two things which Flutey lacks are power and pace. He is a clever player though and a good midfield organiser. Ashton may not have scored any tries in the last two games but he has worked extremely hard and has done more than enough to justify his selection. And what part of Youngs / Flood hasn't worked of late ? Youngs has consistently given Flood good service, which has in general been put to pretty good use. The fact that we didn't take Scotland apart like we did Italy and Wales (to a lesser extent) is an indication of good defence rather than any failings in the half backs.

  • Comment number 26.

    Here's to the Grand Slam next week. Come on England......

    Motihur Rahman

  • Comment number 27.

    my only additional point/opinion is this thing of starting matches and just not commiting players at the breakdown it happened in the previous game and at this one combine that with scotlands competeing/disruption and you have slow scruffy ball and pressure on youngs i hope the rest of the pack are pulling haskell round the training pitch on a cart whilst he tells them what they were doing wrong lol

  • Comment number 28.

    One would have to consider the open-sider in the team which had the harder time in the loose to be a little lucky to be named man of the match.

    To be quite honest, I felt that a Scottish man of the match would have been quite appropriate: it took several herculean performances to keep a team with a number of markedly weaker players in reach of a win almost up to the end.

  • Comment number 29.

    As an Irishman I actually found this win for England slightly more disquieting than a romp would have been. England have battled hard every step for this championship, and I can see that maybe Johnson is distilling the same sort of "don't know how to lose" spirit that made the team so good in the 2000-2003 period. I don't think they are there yet, they don't have a midfielder of the class of Greenwood, and Foden is not as good as Robinson was, but then comparisons may be a little unfair to that team, which had several of the best ever Englishmen in their positions. I wonder if trying to rebuild that spirit is one of the reasons that Tindall is still in the side? I'm just not sure he warrants his place purely on form or ability anymore, but does he contribute something that we never see? Is he the leader of the back line?
    Any thoughts English fans?
    The Irish were the victims of a terrible decision at the weekend, something that may well have cost the match, but I also think that we probably didn't deserve to win. I'm worried that we are in decline, although how this has happened I don't know. We have a number of players who are better than anyone else has been in their position for a number of years, Heaslip is a particular favorite of mine, and Tommy Bowe surely has to be one of the most intelligent and best finishers of world wingers, but there just doesn't seem to be any team improvement. We get turned over at the ruck more than I remember for many years, we get penalised far too much. Are we not adapting to new interpretations of the law as well as other teams? Have we actually stayed at the same level, whilst everyone else has moved on? Is Kidney the right man to take us forward? I haven't seen any signs of the "new brand of rugby" that him and BOD keep talking about. Or are we just missing some key men?
    Any thoughts anyone?

  • Comment number 30.

    A pair of real scrummagers at prop wouldn't hurt, Greyandcold. As to England, the centres and back row are areas of concern, but nothing like that represented by Ireland's front row. Well, just an opinion...

  • Comment number 31.

    Someone on this blog bravely commented that Johnson has 'minced about'. Any volunteers to tell him that to his face?

  • Comment number 32.

    How about England only won the game through a try involving a clear forward pass when Scotland were very harshly down to 14 men? The replacement ref also seemed to assume England were in the right from the off.

    I can't recall one bright moment from England bar Banahan's impact and a few sparks from Foden. Youngs is now officially in a difficult second season. As admitted by many Tiger's fans his service is often wild and he doesn't perform well behind a pack struggling at the breakdown. Given that the media were queing up to sing his praises beforehand he is having a poor six nations no doubt. Cueto was easily marked out of the game. Easter was back to his huffing puffing too many pies and beers the night before veteran team worst. Cole is too prone to cheating (even for a prop) he doesn't seem to win his battles fair and square.

    Andrew from Anerley
    I'm calling you a very one eyed supporter. Given the circmstances - if Johnson said anything different it would be tantamount to admitting the other team should have one!

  • Comment number 33.

    Find it difficult to agree with all the knee-jerk reactions here about committing men to the breakdown. Not too long ago, England were being roundly chastised by all and sundry for throwing every available man and their dogs into a ruck - arguably they have perhaps gone slightly too far in the other direction, but simply throwing in more men neither a) guarantees you won't get turned over, or b) increases your attacking options. The bottom line is that the breakdown is not solely about numbers, not even primarily about numbers. It is about actually rucking well and it is about instant decisions: how many men to commit based on quality of ball, where you are on the pitch, where you are in the game. It takes a team a while for these decisions to be made consitently right and, as we keep on hearing, this team is still a developing unit.

    The Kiwis have this understanding now, and are quite brilliant at the breakdown. Their experience counts for so much, not least the way in which they are able to bend the rules without getting penalised - England's 2003 pack were also masters of this. It is a bit much to expect a pack that is still relatively green to have all of that know-how quite yet.

    Yes Scotland threw themselves in there and did well but their attacking play, for all its energy and vigour, remained fairly one-dimensional. Not to take anything away from an excellent performance by them.

  • Comment number 34.

    Hookers Armipit, #32: Agree with you about Youngs. He struggles in those games where the opposition really take it to England at the breakdown - I get the impression that he is waiting to have the ball presented to him on a silver platter. He could do with picking up some lessons from previous incumbents like Dawson or Ellis who were always willing to feed off scraps at the breakdown.

    Frustratingly, the rest of his game is quite well geared to this brand of opposition defence. He has a great eye for a gap around the breakdown and should be thriving when his opponents commit so many men, so hard to a ruck. I'm hopeful that this is something that will come with experience and think he's worth persisting with at the moment (though this is partly because I'm no big fan of Danny Care

  • Comment number 35.

    As a Scot, what I find disappointing is that we can't play like this every outing. I know that the England game is always a big thing, but displays like yesterday show that Scotland *do* have the ability to hassle the better teams and trouble them.
    Had we played like that against Wales and Ireland, we'd be sitting very happily on 4 points.

  • Comment number 36.

    Spot on Ben. Scotland would probably not have lost had it not been for the bizarre yellow card, during which time England accumulated 10 points. The Scots played high pressure rugby throughout, and its success rate wil surely be a lesson that will not be lost on Ireland.

    However, it's no good Scotland producing one-off performances such as this and the one against South Africa. They need to demonstrate self-belief.

    Away from Murrayfield in the last 12 months they have performed better than at home, where they seem intimidated. That's peculiar and something Robinson needs to address.

    It's very much still two from three in the World Cup group and England, whilst favourites to win that group, remain far from the finished article.

  • Comment number 37.

    This was a game I think people underestimated, myself included. Whilst Scotland are a limited team, they will defend for their lives in the big games, particularly against England. England stuttered, but got there in the end. This was a game they would have lost in years gone by (see v Scotland 2006, 2008 and to an extent, 2010).

    Stiffle Youngs and Flood and you stiffle England's creativity at the moment. Ireland are capable of blitzing them, meaning that Hape and Tindall will have to step up in attack. I say Tindall as I am positive that Johnson will want his experience for the big game, but I think Banahan should play. There were glimpses of his offloading game against the scots and his flattening of Kelly Brown was impressive. If we used him in the 12 channel for some moves, he WILL get over the gain line and cause problems.

    Positives, Haskell was excellent as was Croft's impact from the bench.


  • Comment number 38.

    #35: I'd agree that Scotland have the potential to trouble or at least frustrate a high quality of opponent, and they now have a pack that is working exceptionally well in the loose, if not the set piece (you were terrible yesterday - really surprised me).

    Sadly I think that the issue - as it has been for some time - is the backline, who just remain pretty average - not rubbish by any stretch, but I just don't see anyone with any genuine 'game-breaking' assets. Whether it is sheer pace, sheer strength, vision or simply an ability to do something unpredictable, Scotland need to find someone who can bring at least one of these qualities to the table. Watching the game from the stands yesterday, one of the thing that stood our was how orthodox the set-up of the Scottish back-line was throughout the game. England were there for the taking in the first half, but there wasn't anyone to pick the lock.

    Not trying to sound harsh by the way, if nothing else I think that yesterday certainly demonstrated a great foundation for development before the WC, just a little fairy dust is needed from somewhere.

  • Comment number 39.

    I have to agree with Greyandcold at #29, even though he is Irish. This England team does not stand comparison with the World Cup winning team of 2003, either as a team, or being without some outstanding individuals and an inspirational captain. As others have suggested, they are good but some way short of good enough to win the World Cup.

    Still a win is a win, even when it is as unconvincing as Sunday's. I too found Barclay's yellow card difficult to understand, although I suspect he may have talked himself into it with a regular stream of advice to the referee. But if England struggle against such a limited team as Scotland they have no chance of beating the Southern Hemisphere countries in New Zealand. England are simply too inconsistent, where the 2003 team were consistently beating all comers home and away before that tournament.

    I also have to say that I thought the weekend matches were marked by some poor refereeing. As a former ref myself I don't like to criticise them, but there were some shockers this week. Any ref can make mistakes in play or miss things when there is so much going on, but to be wrong in law is hard to accept. The wrong ball incident - when the ball goes into touch neither the ref nor the touch judge have so much to do that they can say they were distracted. And why not call for TMO? It is a very basic requirement to see that the correct ball is used. Why was Barclay yellow carded? How can a ref call a penalty advantage over when the ball is still in play? Shane Williams not penalised for jumping into a tackle?

    Apart from Italy showing how much it meant to beat France, I found it a frustrating and confusing weekend.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think a lot of the problem is that earlier analysis of England's performances has been over-hyped by you guys in the media - just as Johnson said.
    England only scraped home in Cardiff, and the game genuinely could have gone either way. Same against France, and now against Scotland.
    Yet the Southern Hemisphere sides come over to Europe every autumn and dish out heavy defeats against the same teams, away from home.
    England are no better than an average European side who have been enjoying a bit of home advantage, and luck. The referee has been kind aswell, as he often appears to be at Twickenham. Barclay should never have walked.
    When you consider that England have been at full strength throughout the championship and playing mostly at home, three close wins out of four, is hardly anything other than a favourable fixture list rather than world-beating, World Cup winning form.
    Johnson has been bringing on all his old 2003 stalwarts at the end of games to close them out, which hardly demonstrates the kind of swagger, daring and courage of the All Blacks.
    Its only four Tests since that mauling by the Springboks, again at home, so some people have very short memories.
    Lose to Ireland next weekend and all the talk of progress should be regarded as nothing more than hot air. With Wilkinson, Shaw, Thompson, and Tindall still rolling out each week, its not as though this is a new team. Most of the squad have been around for one or two World Cup cycles now.

  • Comment number 41.

    First of all it's a win which is always a positive although I seemed to have aged noticeably after watching that 80 minutes, the grey hairs are sprouting!

    I'll agree that the intensity was low and the mistakes were many, I think Johnathon Davies summed it up at half time when he said that England were playing too much football, they were trying to force miracle offloads that were never destined to go to hand when in good positions. If you have the ball in the opposition half, keep some patience, work the ball from wing to wing and gaps will appear even in the most drilled defence.

    I think Tom Wood is coming under a lot of unfair criticism, don't think he's had a bad tournament so far, done his job and has made some good runs in the previous games and I think he needs time, he has potential. I would agree though that Easter is becoming ever more ineffective at 8 and Haskell seems to be heir apparent to his spot. definitely think Lawes should be back in the team purely to add a bit more dynamism and pace around the pitch.

    All this talk of lack of intensity and the myriad of mistakes can't take away from the great rugged and committed performance by the Scott's who definitely stepped up to the occasion better that England. I was starting to develop an unnatural hatred of Richie Gray who put in another very good performance (although maybe we only pick him out because of that mop of his!) and is definitely a pillar Scotland can build a future around. I was however pleased to see that England were still making the line breaks, even if they weren't finishing them.

    The world cup is definitely too soon, the Grand Slam is a dirty term, but the Ireland match will definitely be hard against a team who are if anything stronger in the break down, the team are going to have to put a lot of work in midweek to address the problems. New Zealand for the World Cup, home advantage will just make them too much for the other teams.

    #32 I don't want to bring out this whole rivalry thing again but i do wonder what nation you do come from, i think it's quite hypocritical calling one commenter a one sided fan then coming out with a tirade of criticism with, what i see as, a liberal amount of hyperbole to boot.

  • Comment number 42.

    Barclay went for a minor infringement but had been reffing the game and had obviously irritated the ref, therefore he went. We refs can be quite vindictive and rugby with all its technical laws gives us the opportunity to put 'chopsy' players in their place.

    That aside the game was close for one reason and one reason only. England failed to dominate the breakdown the way they dominated the scrum and line out. They committed to few to the breakdown and allowed the Scots to disrupt (frequently illegally) the sort of ball Ben Youngs needs to thrive on.

    That's not to do the Scots courage, ferocity and willingness to run the ball a disservice but make no bones about it if the Scots were being cleared out properly at the breakdown, the ref (poor game) would have noticed the Sots back line in perpetual Richie McCaw position (offside, I fear the man was born in an offside position) and the ball would have been out quicker and easier.

    I fear for us against a seriously annoyed Irish team! On that note, I feel for Kaplan, he can only call what he sees and his touch judge has let him down badly there. I thought Kapln had a good game, better that than the French ref we had.

  • Comment number 43.


    Re; Banahan and not getting in his way...

    Couldn't agree more having seen what he did to Brown! Ooof!

  • Comment number 44.

    Ben, the blog is pretty much spot on. The English break down creaked and groaned all game but that was down mainly to the Scots committing men to ruck and counter ruck and all to often English players were looking to do to much to soon and ended up becoming slightly isolated. However, that is an issue but something that will be corrected with experience. Like AR said in his post match interview, the Scots had decided the breakdown was an area where they could have success if they committed men, etc, etc.

    Personally England are developing a team ethic and an identity and that has to be a good thing.

    The error count was most annoying and i did doubts nagging at points in the game when the Scots were developing a head of steam, but ultimately England were the architects of their own issues. That sounds arrogant and it's unintended. The Scots came to play and they believed they could win and on the back of this their defense was on the front foot and most impressive. The tackle from Patterson to stop Foden was a cracker and almost every Englishman applauded him.

    I still think under MJ we're developing nicely and I'm a far, far happier English rugby supporter than i was two years ago. Incidentally, i never doubted MJs ability, but i often questioned is selections.

    One last point before you all drift off to sleep. The autumn international against the South Africans and in response to a comment about England lacking intensity. I was at the game and i don't agree.
    It was an odd game and one seemingly of more than two halves. England stopped, started and stuttered during the game but i feel we could and should have won the match. Why? Well, the South Africans turned up with a game plan to keep it tight and play territory. England were guilty of trying to much to soon and the fragility of our confidence was evident. The game changed when Ashton knocked himself silly and when Croft and Flood were forced off.

    I've more to say but my daughter is emptying the kitchen cupboards...


  • Comment number 45.

    Steve S #22: How come when the SH teams come here in Autumn they are "at their peak from the end of their season", yet when NH teams go south in summer they are "at the end of a long season"?

    The fact is that England have put in one performance in the last 6 months that would have given them a win against any of the 3N teams (unfortunately for Australia, it was against them) and even then they would not have beaten NZ because NZ's forwards wouldn't have been like rabbits in headlights like the Aussies were that day.

    If England want to be as successful as 2001-03 they have to stop comparing themselves to the NH. I saw one article that said "England are looking at their first GS since 2003... a feat which set the tone for their RWC win". Rubbish. Beating the SH teams repeatedly set the tone for the RWC win.

    When all is said and done, no SH team would have carried on so much about a home thumping of Italy (it's expected), no current SH team would have taken 70 minutes to score a try in a home game against Scotland, no SH team has lost to Wales since 2008 and a SH team (usually NZ it must be said) would likely have won the 6N 95% of the time (often with a GS) since it started.

    England are a good team with potential but the excellent win against Aus in November has been the exception not the rule. They (like Australia) can beat anyone on their day but are simply too inconsistent and do not seem capable of stringing two high quality games back to back. That should worry two teams that are likely (?) to meet in the RWC semis. Whoever wins is likely to have played out of their skin.... and then they will have to face the team that is 20% better (at least) than any other team in the World. Great.

  • Comment number 46.

    4 things to say about yesterday:

    1) A win is a win. after the last few years, I would have bit your arm off to be 4 from 4, whether they were all as scrappy as yesterday or not! That isn't to say I'm thrilled we can scrape past a dogged Scotland side and expect us to go on and automatically win us a Slam, the World Cup and go on to rule the universe, as is the common misconception about English rugby fans, but I'm pleased that we can now get that kind of result, 12 months ago we would have lost that game...the improvement of this side is clear, that's why I'm happy.

    2) To those complaining about the manner of the English try; there was also a forward pass to Patterson in the build up to the Scotland anyone mentioning that? Also, I think Barclay's sin-binning was as a result of a multitude of sins...repeated back talk, and often slowing the ball down; correct me if I'm wrong, hadn't he been called for hands in the ruck before then anyway? The ref had clearly had enough of him, hence he went. Yes the final offense was minor, but add them up? off you go.

    3) Englands centre pairing...Hape had good moments yesterday, but was still show up short a couple of times, and Tindall had his poorest game of the 6N; they'll both start in Ireland next week, rightly so, as the final game of the 6N (potential GS Winning game...) is no time to mess around with the midfield. Segnes; may I ask: why do you think the back row is a concern for England? Personally I think it's an area where England are perhaps more fortunate than anywhere else (aside from fly-half) as we have at least two effective players for each position?

    4) Scotland came to England to disrupt get in our faces, and did fantastically well at it. They rushed well and forced Flood and Youngs to make hurried decisions, which weren't always great, and the pressure contributed to a huge error count, almost one every 2 minutes, which showed up a lack of composure by England. On another day Scotland may well have won, but they didn't yesterday, so England can be pleased with result, even if not the performance.

  • Comment number 47.

    Just a few observations

    There was a real lack of physicality and urgency in the whole England team. As people have said, SA and NZ would have hung 50 on us with a performance like that. People are praising the Scots and yes they played hard, but man for man England are significantly better and it should not have been that close.

    My biggest gripe with England is a tendency to just go soft in the contact area, which is surprising given the man in charge. The breakdown is about speed and aggression, which England really lacked yesterday and I'm worried there is a general lack of nasty in the English pack.

    If someone can teach Banahan that you don’t always have to plough through contact (awesome though it is to watch), he could be a world beater. He is the best combo of speed and power in the NH and just the threat of him running at you will sometimes be enough to open up a defence. If he would just offload in the tackle or draw the defence to him before releasing one of the burners sometimes, he could be devastating. Johnson has to get him more game time.

  • Comment number 48.

    Yesterday was for to reminisant of the past 2-3 years under johnson, it hopefully could lead to the personnel changes required to challenge the SH.

    Deacon showed that the performance against France was the exception rather than the rule - far too much 'crabbing' from easter, and if tindall hadn't gone off at half time- we would have lost- his decision making is awful and is only in the team to bring 'experience' (in MJ's opinion) to an otherwise 'young' backline.

    Flood showed that he is far from the finished article and lacking an ability to stamp authority on games when england are under pressure. Youngs was hampered by the fact he was constantly having to manage a lack of numbers at the breakdown.

    the lack of creativity in midfield meant the scots new they could blitz Flood as the only other option was 'up the middle' from the english centres - a tactic that can only readily be employed when your centres have a signifficant 'size' advantage over their counterparts- this is not the case with tindall or to a lesser extent hape-

    against SA or NZ i can see the reason for playing 2 'sizeable lumps' in midfield, but at home against scotland the opportunity to add skill, craft and dynamism was sadly missed.

    all this talk of an 'excellent' 6n's is ridiculous............have italy really improved that much?the french have been shockingly bad all tournament and should have lost all their matches, yet we were so triumphant at beating such a mediocre side at home and heaping praise on such average players as palmer and deacon-

    wales have been criticised havily yet are still in with a very good chance of winning the tournament, as i can't think of a better side to play next week than france, where as we're going to ireland who will see this game as their 'cup final'

    england have the players and the talent, there's just a reluctance to change things- too much talk about 'trust' and it being too late to upset the apple cart so close to a world cup.......rubbish, about time we had a wake up call, realised the 6's is not a barrometer of quality or anything else, just a mediocre tournament, no doubts the all blacks were watching yesterday in shock and awe!!!!!!!

    on a final point the atmosphere yesterday was non-existant, too often the twickenham crowd do nothing to inspire the team but instead create an almost 'eary' quiet, only to be upset with an occassional half-hearted lul of swing low. not sure that a sunday afternoon with all its lethargy is the best time for a blood and thunder game of rugby, can't think of too many boxing matches held on sunday afternoons.

  • Comment number 49.

    22. At 00:30am on 14 Mar 2011, Steve S wrote:
    I think we over-rate the SH sides. Overall they pummled NH overall in Autumn but they were at their peak from the end of their season whereas we'd only just started. "

    Steve - you have some valid points about Englands success at World Cups but this is way off the mark. When England tour the SH 9/10 they lose and lose heavily - then the excuse is ' End of a long season'. Why do we not extend that rationale that to the SH touring sides? The point is; the SH can win away from home something the NH very rarely do. For the SH this is a home WC - not just for NZ, but also Samoa, Tonga, and South Africa and Australia will be used to playing in NZ from the super rugby tours.

    Its the touring of the Super tournament that makes those teams so much harder to bet home and away. Something the premiership/ Heineken cup cannot possibly replicate i.e. flying a couple of hours to France versus flying 8 hours between Perth and NZ, or near on 12 to SA from NZ.

    England are in a difficult poor and making it out will be an achievement. Semi-finals losers will be too hopeful although the casual rugby watcher will lambast them and the media will crucify Johnson and the team. Sad really.

  • Comment number 50.

    #45 – Steve S #22: How come when the SH teams come here in Autumn they are "at their peak from the end of their season", yet when NH teams go south in summer they are "at the end of a long season"?
    The difference is number of games played. English and French players play a ludicrous number of games per season compared to Southern counterparts.

    I remember all the Northern Hemisphere bashing before 2007 World Cup and that NZ had 2 teams that would thrash England or France. We ended up with 3 essentially Northern Hemisphere teams in semi finals (the overwhelming number of Argentinian players play in Heineken Cup) and the Bledisloe Cup that year being a 7/8 place play off.

  • Comment number 51.

    Scotland will be poor again next weekend and have a real chance of winning the wooden spoon!
    The reasons:
    1)Despite competing well Scotland showed little attacking creativity against England..... instead feeding off hard won turnover ball at the breakdown
    2)There is little attacking direction just a chaotic and successful ability to spoil and defend reasonably well.
    3)Where Scotland are expected to win a game (as they should against Italy) they struggle to show creativity because all their successes (victory and defeat!) have been based on their aforementioned strengths.
    4)You can always expect a Scottish side to 'perform' against the old is each of the 'celtic nations' greatest desire to defeat England and the bitter histories would seem to have a remarkable effect on these sides ability to compete.
    There is no such history to 'fuel the fire in Scottish bellies' against the will be close but Italy to win!!

  • Comment number 52.

    48 Handoffjohnson

    Are you that clown "Tito" who scarred the cricket blogs with his doom laden ignorance during the Ashes? Alternatively, maybe you're an economist because you seem to be able to find the cloud in the silver lining.

    England didn't play that well, but as Ben said in his article, anyone who knows about rugby and Scotland v England encounters knew that this would be a tight, scrappy encounter. Scotland are notoriously hard to beat and add in the "out of their minds on perceived grievances" factor and you've got a real game on your hands.

    My observations would be that Scotland played their traditional scrapping game at the breakdown with the ball being flapped around and shirts being tugged in all directions. This makes it very hard to build a solid platform , exacerbated by England's persistent refusal to commit enough players to the breakdown with sufficient intensity. Barclay's yellow card stemmed from the ref's exasperation with the endless spoiling rather than a specific offence. I lost count of the number of support runners hauled down off the ball.

    The rush defence was effective but nonetheless England got away from it a number of times and were inches from having four tries rather than just one. Foden had a good game. He was solid under the high ball and scared the Scottish defence with some really blistering runs (I assume that your original comment is designed to be provocative rather than a demonstration of ignorance!). It is clear, as ever in top sport, that advantages are quickly cancelled out, as demonstrated by the man marking of Chris Ashton, who was less effective in this match.

    The England set-piece is strong with a wonderfully youthful front-row and the breakaways look very good with strength in depth. The return of Courtney Lawes can only improve the mobility. The main problem remains the centre-pairing which doesn't really do much, Tindall in particular lacking the pace these days to be that good in attack.

    In all it was a good, exciting game of rugby football!!!! Fans who want formulaic victories by cricket scores are in search of a crutch for a shaky ego. Real sport lies in uncertainty and excitement and that was delivered in spades yesterday. Well played Scotland and in particular Max Evans who was brilliant! As an aside though it was noticeable during Evan's lovely solo try that the much maligned "cocky and arrogant" Chris Ashton rightly pulled out of his tackle after Evans had chipped the ball letting the Scottish wing run on to touch down. In the cynical numbers game of pro-rugby you won't see that happen very often nowadays!

  • Comment number 53.

    #50: Do you disagree with anything I wrote? Tell me why England should feel confident of beating SA or the ABs on the basis of the 6Ns (or are you saying England's strategy for the RWC is hope they don't have to play SA and that the ABs choke).

    I don't think I said anything to "bash" England. I said that they haven't done anything yet to shout about from the rooftops. If you disagree, explain why rather than talking about things that happened 4 years ago. Why is that relevant?

    Poor old NH rugby. The SH "peak" during their end of season tours, NH are "tired" during their end of season tours. I never realised how heavily stacked everything was in favour of the SH. Surely the NH should just stop playing the SH.

    So Argentina is now a NH team? Brilliant.

    How come NZ and Aus were placed 7th and 8th? Fiji and Scotland lost in the 1/4 finals as well. Surely it would be more correct to say that the Bleds Cup (which, it must be said, had already been played that year) was between two losing 1/4 finalists as no games were played to decide final placings... or does that ruin your dig at NZ and Aus?

    Who won the 2007 RWC by the way? Are they a NH or SH team?

  • Comment number 54.

    48. At 10:38am on 14 Mar 2011, handofjohnson wrote:
    'england have the players and the talent, there's just a reluctance to change things- too much talk about 'trust' and it being too late to upset the apple cart so close to a world cup'

    England had a bad game yesterday, they made a lot of simple mistakes, bad decisions and tried to force things when they didn't need to. I thought Ashton was very poor yesterday but does that mean trust in him is misplaced?
    Flood may not be Dan Carter or Wilkinson but he is definately a better player than he was 2 years ago.

    Scotland played like the Scotland teams of old against England yesterday, they rucked hard and refused to let England settle. Fair play to them.

    What exactly is going to be in the 'wake up call' you suggest?

    All sounds a bit negative to me.... highlighted by the statement that Itay have not improved. If that is the case then it must be that every other 6 nations side has got considerably worse since Italy joined.

  • Comment number 55.

    Anglophone- I shall ignore the first two paragraphs of your obviously provocative post- however with a national debt of £4.8 trillion and a budget defecit of £155 million and a public sector that makes up 56% of employment i fail to see the silver lining on any economic cloud.

    I'm just a realist- we all know that scotland will be 'up for it' as will wales and ireland and france and australia and so on and so on, that argument is ridiculous and frankly boring.

    1) don't believe i mentioned ben foden at all so what are you going on about? i too believe he was the best of a bad bunch

    2) you agree with me on the centre pairing issues

    3) Apart from his try how was max evans 'excellent'......

    4) it was danny care not chris ashton who 'pulled out', which would have meant a certain yellow if not red card.

    5) to say that chris ashton was man marked is the most ignorrant comment ever posted on this forum.......he didn't have much ball as there was no quick ball at all, he did show his brilliance in one first half moment where he tracked the play across the field, why single him out? unless you're a rugby league 'basher'of course.

    6) the rush defence could only be implemented as the scots knew they could fully concentrate on flood at first receiver, there was no other option, no playmaker, no sparkle or craft in the midfield, not once was a chip over or anything other than 'up the jersey' tactics used, no variation.

    7) Plan B? no plan B

    if you genuinely believe that was an 'exciting game of rugby football' god help ypu sir, or maybe you could pop down to curry's and get a colour tv, they're all the rage nowadays

  • Comment number 56.

    Although the pass to Croft looked forward from the camera angle, if you play around with the arial footage in this blog you can pause frame when the ball is halfway between the two players. You can see that Cueto is ahead of Croft and passes the ball flat. I wonder if others can do the same to confirm this. It certainly shows that perspective plays a big part in our view of these things and the ref wasn't as blind as some Scots supporters are making out!

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 58.

    #54 - ashton didn't have a bad game - he had a quiet game- his game is dependent upon getting quick ball and the pack doing it's job.

    the wake up call is the realisation that we have better players than the 15 on the field yesterday - and these players shall be required to play to beat the best in the world, Lawes declared himself fit and had played 60 mins for saints against chiefs (and played well) yet the 'ever-cautious' england management went with ploddy once pace instead.

    Easter, tindall, deacon, cueto, we have better, the only reason lawes, youngs etc got their chance is due to injury, nothing else.

    Yes, of course italy have improved, but they are playing predominantly the same guys who get a thrashing off france, and who got butchered against england. the celtic nations have re-gressed- ireland are at the end of an era, wales have unquestionabley gone backwards and scotland only have about 60 players to pick from!!! France, anyone who has seen the press conference yesterday and the fact lieveremont has picked about 80 players in the past 2 years knows that france are up **** creek.

  • Comment number 59.

    First - England won, something which over the previous 8 years they'd have failed to do. They needed experience to tell them when it wasn't their day with the expansive stuff - best example Youngs tap and go when to pin the Scots and their dodgy lineout in the 22 was the answer.

    Barclay - Yellow card won by dint of two acts 1. Professional foul in 22 2. Constantly getting on the ref's wick.

    Ireland game - let's see nothing has been predicable in the 6N this year.

    And finally ...
    I think it's a bit early to talk about the WC but I would just say that I think England are more settled than in 07' and I that once you get out of the Group Stages it's knock out rugby which does funny things to sides - note New Zealand's WC record!

  • Comment number 60.

    Given how England will have to improve their performance at the breakdown having been completely outplayed by the Scots and the number of penalties that Ireland seem content to give away in that facet of play, who would bet against the referee (and his interpretation)being the most important person at the Aviva?

  • Comment number 61.

    Just a short note. Prior to the 6 Nations I felt that Youngs and Flood were making a good partnership which would develop nicely leading up to the World Cup. Youngs decisiveness seemed to give Flood the time he required. On Sunday I'm afraid to say I thought the team looked better with Care and Johnnie on the pitch. It may be a slight step backwards but is there a case for Johnnie to start against Ireland ? England may need his defence to help counteract their midfield and his kicking was better than Floods. Thoughts anyone?

  • Comment number 62.

    #53 - Only my opening line was really directed at your individual post.

    I agree England btw have done nothing to shout from the rooftops, I agree they are not as good as 2003 team. I agree NZ are currently better than England. I agree England are unlikely to win 2011 world cup. I agree that it was a childish petty minded dig at our Antipodean cousins re 7 / 8 place play off.

    I do not agree with the accepted superiority of Southern Hemisphere rugby over Northern Hemisphere. At times we don’t help ourselves (hence my comment re ludicrous number of games played) but every four years the world’s teams meet on a level playing field and in general England and France have held their own against SANZA teams.

    I would also argue that the Argentinian national side owe more to the Northern Hemisphere game than the Southern (hence the use of the word “essentially”).

    I am however optimistic as to the future of English rugby. We have a lot of talented young players and a very inexperienced coach who appears to be improving year by year.

  • Comment number 63.

    This team WILL stay relatively untouched until the World cup, with Sheridan in for Corbisiero. Once it is done and dusted, it could look something like this:

    15. Foden
    14. Ashton
    13. Tuilagi
    12. Barkley
    11. Simpson-Daniel
    10. Flood
    9. Youngs
    1. Sheridan
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole
    4. Attwood
    5. Palmer
    6. Croft
    7. Armitage
    8. Haskell

    Obviously all of the positions are up for debate, but there is real depth and talent there. Lots to look forward to.

  • Comment number 64.

    interesting team - would probs have strettle in for simpson-daniel and would HAVE to find a place for lawes, think 12 is a problem and don't see anyone really holding their hand up, Barkley needs to work on his defence but has an excellent rugby brain and could be the playmaker we are crying out for - tom reese for me is a future captain of england and has been unlucky with injuries, but if he will ever get back to how he was 2-3 years ago, i don't know.

    looking even longer term the likes of ford at leicester and farrell at saracens show considerable promise

  • Comment number 65.

    # 61
    I think you're right re Care but not in regard to Wilko.....
    Care has learned a lot from playing understudy to Youngs, has sped up his pass and got better at decision making......neither are the finished article and not as composed or savvy as Matt Dawson at a similar stage running up to 2003.

    Got to keep going with Flood, has the ability to make line breaks and find space that Wilko doesn't......both are great place kickers but Jonny somewhat aimless kicking from hand. Defensively Jonny has the edge but Flood doesn't shirk the tackle.
    Overall Flood to start with Youngs or Care but Jonny great experience and intensity as back up....

  • Comment number 66.

    Alex Cricket speaks sense. England are a far more settled side than in 2007. All of the preparation in the world can amount to nothing (New Zealand's 'conditioning programme') if the players freeze once knockout time comes round. Heinekan Cup, Guinness Prmeiership and the Top 14 provide an environment to deal with the pressure of knockout rugby. England will likely get France in the quarters and Australia in the semis. Both of those games are VERY winnable.

    Whilst the SH teams are consistantly the best in the world, it counts for nothing on the day. I believe John Eales said its not about who the best team in the world is. Its about who the best team in the tournament are.

  • Comment number 67.

    No No No No Juan Pablo.....see the following

    15. Foden
    14. Ashton
    13. Tuilagi
    12. Barritt
    11. Banahan
    10. Flood
    9. Youngs
    1. Corbisiero
    2. Hartley
    3. Cole
    4. Lawes
    5. Palmer
    6. Wood
    7. Croft
    8. Haskell

  • Comment number 68.

    A win for England which is a positive for team and management. They should win in Ireland and take the Grand Slam against an Ireland team who have talented individuals but consistently underperform. England should win the Grand Slam and the 6N and on balance prob deserve to.

    That said, yesterday's game was dire. I can't see how from a spectators or management perspective, apart from the win, how you could be pleased with that performance or enjoyed it. Someone mentioned the atomosphere at Twickenham was poor. It's not surprising.

    England made so many handling and contact errors and the lack of precision and continuity was frightening. The Scottish defense was ok but you have to be able to cope with defensive intensity and secure the ball. England are physically superior to Scotland and should not be bullied at the break down or the contact area. like that

    Smart players can unpick the rush defense by either going over or round it or moving it about. Having only one player able to take the ball at first receiver, Flood, makes the attack so predictable and gives the rush defense a focus point around which they can kill off the attack.

    The SH teams are undoubtedly way way ahead of England and the 6N but they are beatable by teams like England who can dominate them physically and at the set piece and stop them playing.

  • Comment number 69.

    #62 Fair enough.

    I think Australia (my team) and England are very much in the same boat. Both can turn it on if needed (although England have only discovered their expansive game more recently) and could beat (almost) anyone on their day.

    I say almost because Aus seem to have difficulty overcoming England and their forwards especially seem to go into their shells in a way they never would against NZ or SA. England, on the other hand, have great difficulty with NZ and I'd go as far as to say that England playing at their best at present would still struggle against NZ because NZ seem more than capable of withstanding an England forwards onslaught and then hitting back and taking the game away from them in 10 minutes.

    The same NZ team will then have difficulty against the Aussie forwards who capitulate against England. I can't really explain it.

    Anyway, all I was trying to say (and I'm sure the likes of Clive Woodward and Johnno would agree) is that, in the scheme of things, England have done less than what they should require of themselves to expect to then go and compete with NZ in NZ.

    Australia are the same. They can smash France all they like in a one off game but if they want to sit at the big table with the ABs they have to be undefeated when they come to the UK (something they haven't done for many years) and actually win the 3Ns and Bled Cup. 2 good performances a year is not good enough.

    I just hope that the rest of the rugby world isn't relying on the ABs to choke. Because at the moment it just seems like evertyone is content to compete with each other for who is "next best".

  • Comment number 70.

    Still think Saints' Phil Dowson should get involved in the England set up before the WC, quality player who hasnt got the international recognition he deserves

  • Comment number 71.

    England were poor. England's horrific error count shows that. They struggled to break the defence of a determined but limited Scottish side.

    Scotland are a limited side - their only strategy is to defend,defend,defend a bit more and capitalise on opposition errors.

    Haskell did not deserve the MOM. Certainly not as the English backrow got taken to the cleaners at the breakdown.

    Should have gone to Ritchie Gray.

    Only the English front five prevented humiliation.

  • Comment number 72.

    Ok stop with the Richie Gray praise.....he's more noticeable because he's got big hair!!

  • Comment number 73.

    As a Scotsman, it is extremely frustrating that we can motivate ourselves for a big performance against England, but not against Wales and Ireland. I can only regard this as an accident of history - it should not be present at elite-level sport.

    If we could motivate ourselves like that in all 6 nations games then you would not regard it as a "fright" to only narrowly beat Scotland.

  • Comment number 74.

    A win is a win but credit to Scotland for continually putting England under pressure. There is still a lot of work to be done before the RWC but England are making progress forward. Scotland played well and after the France game I thought the 6 Nations would have yeilded more positive results for them. Scotland refused to let England continually dominate yesterday and that can be seen from the number of errors England had. The better team did win on the day tho, but it was close.

    Not sure why the sin-binning was mystifying, cynical play and Barclay deliberately knocked the ball out of the scrum-halfs hand about 5 meters out, it is a sin-binning and not bad luck. Barclay knew what he was doing and knew what would happen if it was seen by the ref. Care should not demonstrate to the ref all the time though, he just needs to get on with it and the ref will pick it up.

  • Comment number 75.

    #69- not to sure on that assesment of Aussie Vs NZ- i know australia beat NZ (in hong kong?) before they came for the autumn internationals, but forgive me if i'm wrong but it had been a hell of a long time since the last victory.

    think the fact that aus and NZ play so frequently (and nz win so frequently) may lead to a bit of taking the foot off the gas from the all blacks.

    there's no doubt in my mind that currently the best 3/4 line in the world in australia, it's just unfortunate that the front 8 aren't in the same league.

    if england (the team that played yesterday) played nz tomorrow, they would blow us out the water, just being a realist!

  • Comment number 76.

    England were poor - too many errors against a team they should have put away reasonably easy. Testament to the Scots though, as they played some good rugby, to a definite game plan.

    Can see a number of changes for the Ireland game - Croft for Wood, Lawes for Deacon and Moody back on the bench. I would not be surprised to see Banahan come in for Tindall.

    With regards to the Grand Slam, England can't be favourites against Ireland. Ireland are still a good team, not playing well, but still the nucleus of their own Grand Slam team. Will be a very tight match.

    Although NZ and SA won't be quaking in their boots re: RWC, if England win their group they will have to beat Wales, France and Australia to get to the final and whilst none are given, I am much happier about the prospect of not meeting South Africa or the All Blacks until the final (if England get that far). That said England have to beat Scotland and Argentina in their group as well.

    So good luck boys, Grand Slam or no Grand Slam, you still have an excellent chance of getting to the WC final (but maybe not winning it....)

  • Comment number 77.

    The problem with France Ireland Wales and Scotland the only games they have given there full attention to are the England games. They treat beating England like winning the world cup. I do not mind its just what England need before a world cup. France have lost all passion for the game except when they play England.
    Italy have been great and look where they would be if they had kick 90% of the points available.
    France Ireland Wales need new ideas and change of coach.
    Wales played 4 given two games less awful in the other one, lost one.
    France Scraped two lost two.
    Scotland Lost 4 played two did not play two.
    Italy lost 3 two only just 1 well beaten won one
    England won 4 hard fought games 4wins.

  • Comment number 78.

    I've seen a fair bit of criticism of Ashton and Foden, who I feel were England's best players along with Haskell. OK Ashton didn't score, but his contribution throughout the game was significant - he was involved in almost every decent England play, either as passer or instigator. And Foden was the only player who really seemed willing to take the game to Scotland.

    Youngs also did as well as can be expected behind a breakdown going backwards, and actually Care was a vastly inferior alternative, decision making wise.

    The real impact came from Banahan, as some have mentioned, but also (and mainly) from JW who did what the game had been crying out for: circumvent the rush defence by playing deeper rather than unsuccessfuly trying to play into it as Flood had done.

    Interesting debate anyway, and I fully agree with post 69 by andysw17 - a perfect analysis of the current state of play

  • Comment number 79.

    Typical calcutta cup match and result. Scotland raise their game against the olde enemy. If England play well they win. If England play poorly and the game is at twickenham, they win (like yesterday). If England play poorly and it is at Murrayfield, the Scots get a result (1990, 2000, 2010).

    As for the world cup nothing has changed with respects to the odds, the big 3 from the SH start as favourites but with knockout rugby anything can happen (England making it to the last final is a good example).

    The most interesting thing to come from yesterday will be the result of the group game between England and Scotland on a neutral ground. History shows England will have to play well to win that one!

  • Comment number 80.

    Is it just me, or was Easter hanging about in the threequarters slowing things down when we desperate for a bit of muscle at the breakdown. How many time was he first or second receiver and the move would grind to a halt. Standing back and watching another turnover (or the very best, slow ball) wasn't what was needed!

  • Comment number 81.

    Just a few observations from a non objective (Scottish) perspective.

    When England win well, they are labelled as world beaters, but when it's close or they lose, they're terrible. Every game has 2 teams, and perhaps England's perceived performance can vary according to how the other team plays. Much as England played well against Italy, the opposition had a shocker. All their other wins have been in close, hard fought games where the oppostion has turned up. These are the games which show a team's mettle.

    My own view is that many of England's best performances recently (esp 2007 WC v Oz) have been when they have contested the breakdown ferociously and forced the other side to commit numbers there to secure slow ball. That is what Scotland did yesterday, recognising that England had picked plenty of ball carriers, but few ball winners. I think we've done you a massive favour ahead of the WC in highlighting a tactical weakness which Johnson has time to address.

    I would also like to mention that it seems with a lot of posters, any slowing down of ball by the oppostion is cheating, but when their own team does it, it's "fantastic awareness and pushing boundaries to their limits". Fact is, all teams play the ref, particularily scrums and breakdown, so winging about the opposition using dark arts is both pointless and hypocritical, whether you're a poster here, Robinson or Johnson.

  • Comment number 82.

    can't really understand a lot of the posters grumbling about how England were "poor" or "horrific". They don't seem like appropriate adjectives to describe a team that beat a battling Scottish side. That said, you certainly can't call them "world-beaters" at this stage.

    There are probably as many positives to take from the game as there were criticisms to make of England. The scrum and line-out functioned fairly flawlessly (Corbisiero deserving special mention for demolition of Moray Low virtually all game) and our rolling maul got a decent rumble on every now and then. I suspect the two main points Johnson will have picked up during the game will be that we didn't win the battle at the breakdown enough (something that NZ will make you really pay for) and we didn't deal with the rush defence very well (until Wilko came on).

    This will be a very testing week for England, my feeling is that if they work on the areas that need improvement enough and put in a good performance against the Irish in Dublin then we can go into the RWC with optimism and belief. If not, and the Irish either outclass us or even give us another game like the one at Twickenham yesterday, then we won't have enough momentum or quality to hope for much.

  • Comment number 83.

    sebincardiff- i appreciate your optimism, yet do you not think that we should be setting our goals a little higher than a 'scrappy' victory at home to a side that is more than likely going to end up with the wooden spoonn?

    saying there are as many positives to negatives is a little too optimistic i feel!! the scottish scrum has been obliterated by everyone they have come across this tournament and the domination yesterday was as much a reflection of their inability then anything substantialy specataular by england. as for the lineout, well the first throw in by ford kind of summed that up!

    i don't think the result of next weeks game will decide our world cup fate or define our quality or lack of. much of the 6n's is dependent upon home advantage and whilst i wouldn't be surprised if the irish turn us over next week (purely down to the history and passion the occassion invokes for our celtic brothers), if we met on a neutral venue e.g the world cup, i have no doubt we would win with a 20+ point margin.

  • Comment number 84.

    Can someone tell me why it took over 3 minutes of TMO time in 2007 World Cup Final to disallow Mark Cueto's try and zero minutes of TMO time to allow Mike Phillip's try to stand on Saturday which if it had been disallowed as it should have been (and there were no other scores), then the match in Dublin would now be a Grand Slam match for England and a Triple Crown match for Ireland? What a prospect!

  • Comment number 85.

    If you want to win games at the WC learning how to win scrappy games is important - none of the games at the WC will be like the Italy game!

    England needed to realize earlier that it was a day to play the percentages and make Scotland play from deep. Also when Wilko came on the backs ran deeper thus circumventing the rush defence. This is all great but the players need to realize these things on the pitch - a sign of their inexperience. Perhaps for me the best/worst example of this was Youngs quick tap and go only to be isolated and a penalty be given against England - this was a game where you booted for touch and started again up field because with that much possession England should have been out of sight.

    Going to the WC all the nations will be wary of any team in the top 7/8 World rankings. Knock out's are a different beast and which the TriNations doesn't replicate but in a way the 6N does as to win the GS you must win 5 matches in a row against good opposition - in a WC you normally have at least one gimme game in the group and you can lose a game making it arguably easier.

  • Comment number 86.

    Reason being it didn't go to the was given through consultation by Kaplan to his touch judge.......idiotic decision with the technology available!!!

  • Comment number 87.

    I can see the breakdown becoming a concern for England. We saw against France that we were vulnerable to the counter ruck. The simple fact of the matter is that we were failing to get enough forwards into the ruck. We should see all the front 5 looking to hit that ruck and let the backs done the running work. The backs didnot perform on sunday but they were not helped by the fact when they did get it it was scrappy ball.

    In the backs i was very impressed by Bannahan when he came on. I'm not for one minute suggesting that he should start but I would like to see him coming on more as he is clearly a great player to bring off the bench. Also as Alexcricket highlighted, Wilko did a great job making the backs running from deep he came on. I felt that perhaps Scotland showed the lack of experience in Flood and Youngs. I felt that Flood did not adapt his game to the situation and that youngs took quick taps where kicks to touch would have been much prefered. I am all for a quick flowing game but sometimes it is impossible to play with a lack of good clean ball as we saw on Sunday.

  • Comment number 88.

    Does it not show a certain lack of ambition on some people’s part, that next Saturday’s game is viewed by some in green as a chance to scupper England’s Grand Slam ?
    Surely they should be seeing it as a dress rehearsal for the semi final of the forthcoming world cup ?

  • Comment number 89.

    One quick note Saints fan above, I think you are being slightly harsh on Youngs taking quick tap. If I remember rightly he had broken Scots line and made 20 – 30 yards. It was only a marginal (but quite correct) coming in from the side infringement by Flood that stopped the mini break developing into a clear opportunity. I think Youngs had an average game on Sunday (like many of the England team) but the tap and go is often a way of injecting pace into an attack which is struggling elsewhere.
    I also prefer 21 year olds having average games and England winning than 30 year olds having average games and England losing which seems to have been the story for the last number of years !
    I recall for some of your earlier posts that you are an England optimist rather than pessimist so don’t take this as a dig btw.

  • Comment number 90.

    Agree-problem wasn't youngs taking quick taps, problem was the fact no one else was tuned in or switched on to what was going on, thus resulting in all 13st of toby flood trying to hit a ruck at at 90degree angle.

    let's not forget everyone was heaping praise on the kid for doing the same in the autumn intenationals and against italy, where we were complimented in all quarters for showing sides how to thrash the italians e.g. not getting into a street fight and playing the game with tempo.

    the same should have happened yesterday, they wouldn't have been able to live with that, the problem was the execution, and youngs should be comended for having the bravery to try things and take sides on with such liitle experience. there did need to be more variation, but that's not down to flood and youngs as they don't pick mike tindall

  • Comment number 91.

    Gray had a good game and was at the heart of most of what Scotland did well - pity the rest of the Scottish front 5 didn't turn up!

    Upper tier doesn't give the best view at Twickenham, but I got the impression that there was a blue jersey coming in from the side at almost every ruck - there was an ironic cheer when the ref finally pinged someone for it. Not helped by the fact that England seemed to have a phobia about competing at their own rucks instead of clearing bodies out!

    England are short of 2 things - a centre with distribution skills and a flanker who is good on the floor.

  • Comment number 92.

    I reckon that William Wallace viewed the challenge against the English pretty much the same way as AR must have done during the build up to Sunday's game. 'How the hell are we going to stop being marmalised by the ruthlessly efficient, highly resourced, skillful and enormous army that is England? I know, let's just run at them if we don't have the ball and because we won't ever get the ball we'll just have to run at them all day!' Except of course Scotland did get the ball..... but not from their own set piece..... and that must be the most worrying thing for MJ and his coaching staff

  • Comment number 93.

    Of course if Richie Gray was blonde (sic) then it might have made a difference to the 89 - 0 scoreline.

  • Comment number 94.

    agree with the caution of most posts, Eng are not the finished article yet, highly motivated Scots pack had seen what the Fr back row did in the first half two weeks ago, and did it even better. More worrying would be how long it took Eng to commit necessary numbers to breakdown, how many turnovers did they lose?
    However, compared to this time last year (home defeat to Ire, dreadful draw in Sco) what progress has been made. Still not sure Haskell should be at 7, but his power when carrying means he is certain starter for me at moment, even when Moody is back.
    Centre does look a worry though, Tindall good defensively but can't see BOD or D'Arcy losing any sleep over he and Hape. Would also pick Lawes over Deacon in Dublin, and may be time for Croft to start, thought Wood struggles yesterday after 3 good games. would go with this team for Saturday




    Easter (never thought I'd select him, but due a good game after Sco)

    Doran Jones

  • Comment number 95.

    As mentioned above it's still early days for this squad. Although as others point out England did not play well at all, it does seem there has been a conscious decision to stop overcommiting to the breakdown when there's no chance of winning the ball, and to only really pile in when it's winnable, and to offload in every tackle. Takes time to get it right but as New Zealand show week in week out it makes the difference. This year's World Cup is too early for them

  • Comment number 96.

    Not directly related to any individual 6 Nations game, can the BBC caption writers please drop their soccer parlance and substitute the word "replacement" for the word "substitute" ( or replace the word "substitute" with the word " replacement"). Your commentators usually get it right.

  • Comment number 97.

    I feel that youngs just wasn't the player we have been seeing in the last few matches. He should be commanding the forwards more and perhaps making more intelligent decisions. I'm not saying that he isn't a great player and I'm not saying he should be dropped. I just see Youngs as the prime example of how England are not quite there yet.

  • Comment number 98.

    To all those of you commenting on how England got ten points during the sin binning (which was a harsh but hardly unique decision), can I just remind you that three of them came from a straightforward penalty which nobody disputes.

    The try also came in those ten minutes but you can only disallow it once and I happen to agree that the pass looked forward to me, I was just waiting for the celebrations to be cut short and play to be called back. However, I'm grateful to Cardiffble for your suggestion that you could find an angle where it doesn't look forward.

    Offloader, you say we've been lucky to have a full strength team. I know what you mean but we have been without our captain, plus two British Lions and our best player from the AL's.

    Handsofjohnson, I bet your friends call you chuckles don't they? Personally I get peeved that during my lifetime all of our nations increased national income has been usurped by a few individuals who were already rich to begin with, while the rest of us work longer for less. However, I don't think it's entirely fair to blame it all on Martin Johnson or English rugby. Personally I think his policy of striving for a settled team is the right one, unless players consistently let him down or there are other exceptional players to come in.

    We didn't play well, we were lucky, it's a reality check. All that's obvious you can't keep dropping the ball, losing out at the breakdown and throwing wayward passes and be pleased with your performance. On the other hand not many of us really thought we were up there with the A.B's did we?

    We've now won four matches and we're going to win the 6N's for the first time in 8 years. I call that progress.

  • Comment number 99.

    10 - Ben, the Six Nations generally makes us forget about the rest of the world for a couple of months. I remember Wales' last two slams - but lets not dwell on how that ended up. France won the slam last year, but got mullered by Australia and now got beat by Italy.

    I think we are on a par with Australia - but unfortunately, whereas Ashton as 11 caps, Drew Mitchell, Kurtley Beale, O'Connor the kid from High school muscial, and Ashley-Cooper all have 20 - 30 caps (I think Beale has nearing 20).

    But I also think they are little ahead of us, because they have a clear gameplan. They know their combinations, and no what to do when their first choice combinations are not fit.

    I don't feel there is much margin of error with us - When it works it looks great (Italy and Australia) but when the oppo put up a fight, we can't up the gear. Hence stunted wins against Wales, a very poor French team, and Scotland. And there is always South Africa from the Autumn.

    There is still a long way to go.

  • Comment number 100.

    As for the Ireland game - Banahan may get himself cited for the forearm smash on Kelly Brown and Tindall is possibly out injured.

    This should make for an interesting selection. I can't see Wilko at 12 and Hape at 13 - that would be myopic.

    So he would have to go for someone from the wider squad, and I think we would see just how constrained the approach to midfield is.

    Personally, I hope Banahan is not called to account and Tindall takes a breather. I hope Johnson stumbles across another good selection even if it grates with him.


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