England awake and go on the rampage
ENGLAND'S prospects of winning a fourth grand slam in seven years gained immediate credibility with a record eighth successive victory over Scotland which was also the biggest win in the history of the Five Nations Championship. Ireland, having beaten Wales, may not feel too daunted by the impending visit of a rampant England side, but there is every chance Lansdowne Road will witness another high scoring contest in 12 days time.
The 114th Calcutta Cup match was far from typical of the genre in that it produced a total of five tries, four of them by England, in addition to a great deal of fast flowing rugby by both sides. Fears that the game would deteriorate into a joyless penalty shoot out of the kind seen too often in recent years were ultimately laid to rest by the England backs, who suddenly fired off a brilliant five minutes salvo of three tries in the final quarter hour.
England's performance, which had its fair share of gaffes and shortcomings, was nevertheless a personal vindication of the tactics and selections of the coach, Jack Rowell. If this was England's latest version of "mumbo jumbo" - to use last week's pejorative criticism by Geoff Cooke - then let us have more of it. In his first championship match as captain, Phil de Glanville will have been delighted that his players threatened to score tries from first to last.
By the end the Scots were in tatters, having succumbed to a short, sharp tryfest for the second match in succession. Yet they deserve brownie points for having helped to turn this error strewn spectacle into one of the most entertaining games at Twickenham in recent years.
At times it seemed that the bold attacking play of the out half Gregor Townsend and wing Kenny Logan was prompting their England counterparts, Paul Grayson and Jon Sleightholme, to raise the stakes even higher with their own, calculated brand of risk taking.
"I was happy with the overall balance of the side," admitted de Glanville. "We had power up front and speed among the backs - it was a pleasure to play with them. I don't think we were physically stronger than the Scots, but once we developed enough momentum to keep going forward in the second half it would have been very tiring for them to put in all those tackles. I was pleased with the win, but we won't get carried away by one good game."
Certainly the dynamic quality of support running and ball transfer among England's backs and forwards illustrated the type of training build up favoured by Rowell, who has been preaching the gospel of interactive rugby since the 1995 World Cup.
The newly capped flanker Richard Hill brought a wider, more diverse range of options to the back row with probably the most authentic open side display seen in an England shirt since the era of Peter Winterbottom. At last Rowell appears to have found the missing piece in the engine room jigsaw.
The recent cramped performance against Argentina, which put a question mark over Rowell's future, receded into the realms of nightmare as England cleared the ball away from the rucks at pace, giving the centres Carling and de Glanville the chance to impose themselves. Grayson, the scorer of 21 points, may have been a bit short of his best goal kicking form, but the Northampton man amply compensated for three missed penalties with several scintillating breaks that drew praise from Rowell.
"Grayson showed handling skills and running skills that brought others into the game," pointed out the England coach. "The players came out of the psychological bondage they were caught up in. They went onto the field confident of their aims and their ability to implement them. I blame the Scots for making the first hour hard work for us, but eventually we cut lose, the players responded spontaneously, and we made a huge dent in the scoreboard. It was a great day out for England."
The downside of England's performance was that they battled for 67 minutes without crossing the Scottish line, having been awarded an early penalty try for persistent infringement by the Scots who collapsed a scrum, failed to retreat 10 metres from a free kick, and stood off side close to their own line.
At times England's handling and co ordination, especially in broken play, would not have been up to league two standard. On top of that, their cover defence was patchy, often dependent on solo acts of derring do to avert danger.
As for Scotland their decision to switch Townsend from centre to number 10 paid off handsomely in terms of improved cohesion and urgency among their backs, with Logan a persistent thorn in England's right flank and Eriksson, scorer of an excellent, 25th minute try, a powerful midfield presence. Sadly though, much of Scotland's good work was undone when their defence lost all shape and concentration under sustained pressure from the England pack, and within minutes the game drifted away from them.
The Scots were out of luck too when the New Zealand referee Paddy O'Brien, failed to see Ror Wainwright's hand grounding the ball in the left corner after he was driven over early on - "a 50-5C decision that went against us", remarked the Scottish captain glumly.
England will be greatly encouraged by that late, devastating fusillade after the long years or comparative drought against the Scots. The rout began in the 68th minute when Johnson sent the ebullient Gomarsall over from short range then Carling, who had often looked close to scoring, held off Logan to plunder a popular try in the left corner finally the much criticised de Glanville popped up at the side of a ruck in front of the posts to take a short pass from Gomarsall and race through to the line.