England squander chance to run up bigger return against Scotland

Stuart Lancaster acknoledges three tries from Jonathan Joseph, Ford and Jack Nowell was a meagre return given England made 11 line-breaks

England 25 Scotland 13 By Saturday night England could well be Six Nations champions after three successive years as frustrated bridesmaids. They will also know that if the points-difference mathematics do not unfold favourably there will be nobody else to blame. Had they finished what they started against the Scots, a taut final-day equation would have been significantly simpler.

As it stands, factoring in past history, current form and Friday’s solar eclipse, a 15-point victory over France at Twickenham this weekend should be enough. Wales will have to run riot in Rome and Ireland dramatically loosen their self-imposed shackles in Edinburgh to scupper that prospect, with England also enjoying the luxury of playing last and knowing exactly what they have to do.

Picture this scenario, though. With five minutes left against the French – whose defence is far from the worst in the championship – England still need seven points to clinch the title. How many of their supporters would put their mortgage on their team remaining sufficiently composed and patient to make it happen? With this England side at present, very little can be guaranteed.

It is also entirely reasonable to query how a squad that has crumpled in Dublin and flattered only to deceive in several big games this season currently finds itself on top of the European heap, a point of view you can bet will be privately circulating in the Southern Hemisphere. It will do no one any good if England go on to win the title and automatically regard themselves as world-beaters as a result.



Better, perhaps, to swerve the title chatter this week and concentrate instead on the basic areas of passing, offloads and support lines which simply have to improve if England are to maintain any serious World Cup aspirations.

The excellent George Ford aside, Stuart Lancaster needs more players who can give and take a pass accurately at pace and stay clear-headed once they have breached the defensive line.

As Lancaster was quick to acknowledge, three tries from Jonathan Joseph, Ford and Jack Nowell was a meagre return given England made 11 line-breaks and that Nowell's score was partly a consequence of Scotland's failure to grasp a ball bouncing back off an upright. "When the All Blacks create a line-break, they usually end up scoring," stressed Lancaster. "Ultimately to only come away with three tries is frustrating. I think the players know that as well." He also made clear England would need "to execute better" to ensure a place in the winners' parade ring for the first time since 2011.

Against tougher sides than Scotland – it remains to be seen if France will fall into that category – the squandering of three potential tries in the first 20 minutes alone would have been fatal. Luther Burrell either did not see — or did not trust himself to reach — Anthony Watson wide on the right, while Jack Nowell had almost too many options and took none. It was not entirely Nowell's fault; the All Blacks would have had someone lurking on his shoulder.

On the plus side England again reacted well to falling behind, Scotland having scored one well-worked try through the impressive Mark Bennett and been denied a second from Tommy Seymour by Mike Brown's last-gasp tackle. As in Cardiff, England regained control in a productive third quarter, Ford darting over for a deserved first Test try, and their replacements again made a positive impact, not least Tom Youngs and Geoff Parling.

Youngs may well come into the starting frame against France and, if there was more training time available, there would be a case for either Kyle Eastmond or Henry Slade at 12. Alex Corbisiero could also be a handy presence but, given Lancaster's desire to break his Six Nations title-winning duck, changes are likely to be few. "Having come second three times, [winning the title] would mean quite a lot," said the head coach.

The nagging memory of England’s final-weekend defeat to Wales in Cardiff in 2013 will also ensure the management tread carefully. “My experience of the Millennium game two years ago was that by Wednesday or Thursday we were almost ready,” said Lancaster. “When it came to the game itself we were probably emotionally beyond the point where we needed to be. We need to make sure we get the build-up right and play the game at the right time, which is 5pm on Saturday.”


There would appear rather more similarities with 2011, when Martin Johnson’s England had a good opening-weekend win in Wales, defeated Italy, France and Scotland at home and still won the title despite flopping in Dublin. They then travelled to the World Cup in New Zealand and barely troubled the scorers.

The difference this time is that England will be at home both this weekend and in the autumn. They have not had an opportunity to clinch the championship at Twickenham since 1996 and, compared with France, will have an extra day's preparation time. If they blow the title from here, it will be some achievement.

ENGLAND: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Burrell, Nowell, Ford, B. Youngs, Marler, Hartley, Cole, Attwood, Lawes, Haskell, Robshaw, B. Vunipola. Replacements: Cipriani for Brown (76), Wigglesworth for B. Youngs (66 mins), M. Vunipola for Marler (59 mins), T Youngs for Hartley (50 mins), Brookes for Cole (66 mins), Parling for Attwood (50 mins), Wood for Haskell (66 mins).
SCOTLAND: Hogg, Fife, Bennett, Scott, Seymour, Russell, Laidlaw, Dickinson, Ford, Murray, Hamilton, Gray, Harley, Cowan, Denton. Replacements: Tonks for Scott (41 mins), Hidalgo-Clyne for Russell (71 mins), Grant for Dickinson (59 mins), Brown for Ford (59 mins), Cross for Murray (54 mins), Swinson for Hamilton (47 mins), Beattie for Harley (66 mins), Ashe for Denton (54 mins).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).