England pulls together to win ugly Posted over 4 years ago

So much for a new era. Scotland’s capacity to mug themselves remains unrivalled while England, for all their seven new caps and talks of expansive play, won at Murrayfield for the first time since 2004 thanks to some decidedly old-fashioned virtues, not least an ability to win when spending most of the game on the back foot.

If it was not quite the England of the Martin Johnson era, sticking a size 12 in the door and refusing to budge, they showed enough defiance to repel a Scotland side that enjoyed 70 per cent possession.

Enjoy is probably the wrong word. Scotland made 14 line breaks, they completed 238 passes to England’s 72 and were in possession of the ball in their opponents’ 22 on 33 occasions, but they seem to conjure up new ways of botching try opportunities.

The Scotland No 8 David Denton dented a number of defenders, Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton made telling bursts and Ross Rennie took advantage of a multiple substitution by England to steal away from a scrum on halfway and run to England’s 22 with only Ben Foden in front of him and two attackers in support, but he dallied and dithered and the chance was lost.

England, in contrast, had two chances. Denton stopped David Strettle after a Charlie Hodgson cross-kick found the wing 10 metres from the Scotland 10 minutes after Hodgson had scored a try within 25 seconds of the restart, charging down a clearance by his ineffective opposite number Dan Parks.

Scotland chose Parks to provide them with an element of control on a day of wind and rain, but his kicking out of hand was poor and it was surprising it took the Scotland coach Andy Robinson so long to summon Greig Laidlaw as a replacement.

Scotland thought Laidlaw should have been awarded a try as he chased his own chip ahead with the England scrum-half Ben Youngs, but the video evidence suggested fleeting contact with the ball rather than downward pressure.

It was the one time Scotland got over the line but with even a hint of composure they would have had two tries, Rennie holding on too long and Al Strokosch dropping the ball after Gray created havoc.

England were largely unflustered under siege and they used the interval to sort out problems they had at the breakdown. Their attacks were confined to attempted break-outs and they struggled to retain possession, but for a side that seemed at war with itself during the World Cup, the new regime under the interim head coach Stuart Lancaster has at least established unity.

Italy in Rome next Saturday may not be much more of a pointer to where England stand, but a side that averaged 16 caps a man did show an ability to scramble when its line had been breached and a willingness to repair errors. And they were typically solid in the set-pieces.

There was a sense of togetherness that was not so apparent during the World Cup. That is the way of Saracens, the club that provided the points scorers, Hodgson and Owen Farrell, whose 50 per cent goal-kicking return was enough.

England said they would be different to Saracens, more adventurous and more expressive. Freedom comes with confidence which is spawned by winning. England won ugly, but beauty in this case is in the eye of the holder of the Calcutta Cup.

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Paul Rees was born in Cardiff and has been a full-time writer on rugby union since 1986, first for the South Wales Echo, then Wales and Sunday and, from 2001, the Guardian and the Observer, having contributed to the former on a freelance basis since 1988. He has covered every World Cup since 1991 and five Lions tours. When time allows, he also write on cricket, mainly Glamorgan. And away from work, he a season-ticket holder at Arsenal, watching them home and away, including the European Champions League final against Barcelona in Paris in 2006.

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