England kept their Grand Slam dreams alive, but only just, after seeing off Scotland 22-16 in an unconvincing performance at Twickenham.
England kept their Grand Slam dreams alive, but only just, after seeing off Scotland 22-16 in an unconvincing performance at Twickenham on Sunday.
It was by no means a performance to savour, but the result will be a relief for the home side. It was another tight contest that could so easily have gone the way of the Scots, but England held on.
England manager Martin Johnson should be livid with his charges. They produced a flat display in the first half, and were fortunate to head into the break with the scores all square at 9-9.
They played with more intensity in the second half though, but just couldn't convert their opportunities until replacement forward Tom Croft powered over for the match-defining try.
And although Scotland wing Max Evans crossed late on for the visitors to set up a nervous finale, the trusty boot of Jonny Wilkinson settled matters in the final minute.
Scotland enjoying an early lead after Chris Paterson got the first points on the scoreboard thanks to a fourth-minute penalty goal that barely made it over the posts.
England fly-half Toby Flood had a chance to level the scores, but pushed his relatively easy first attempt wide of the posts, but made amends with another straight-forward shot five minutes later.
The battle of the boot between the two pivots continued – Paterson banging over his second successful penalty of the match to reclaim Scotland's lead, before Flood tied up the scores once more.
England went in front for the first time in a tight encounter ten minutes from half-time after Flood raised the flags once more with his third successful attempt.
The Scots threatened England's line twice but were denied on both occasions through some fierce defence from the home side, but Martin Johnsen's men couldn't keep out a perfectly struck drop goal from Ruaridh Jackson on the stroke of half-time.
Jackson's strike meant the sides went into the break all square at 9-9 all – a fair reflection of a dull and uninspiring opening forty minutes.
As the teams ran out for the second half, it was interesting to see replacement Matt Banahan in for captain Mike Tindall, with word from the England camp putting it down to a 'tactical move'.
It nearly proved to be a masterstroke from manager Johnson as England came out firing from the restart, flanker Tom Wood getting hauled down inches from Scotland's try-line. And Banahan's damage was already evident after powering into Kelly Brown, that would leave the Scotland number eight having to be stretchered off the pitch – a horrible sight for any spectator.
Scotland continued to dig deep in pressure situations to hold out several England attacks, before John Barclay was sin-binned for an infringement close to the visitors' line – a decision that was perhaps a wee bit harsh by referee Romain Poite on the Scottish flank.
Flood then put England back in front with the ensuing penalty, while Scotland made their way back for the restart 14 men down.
The game was interrupted moments later when referee Poite limped off with a calf injury to be replaced by touch judge Jerome Garces.
Scotland needed a last-ditch tackle from Paterson to deny Ben Foden a try in the corner, and with 15 minutes remaining Johnson sent on England's reinforcements, bringing on hooker Steve Thompson, lock Simon Shaw, Croft and Wilkinson.
The new blood had the required effect and on 68 minutes, Croft crashed over after being released by Mark Cueto with what looked like a forward pass.
Wilkinson converted and England looked to be poised for victory at 19-9 up. However a clever individual try by Evans, chippping and gathering his own kick ensured a nail-biting finale before Wilkinson gave England a five-point cushion with a nerveless late penalty.
The win means that England will travel to Dublin next Saturday knowing that victory over Ireland will give them their first Grand Slam in eight years.
However England know they will have to improve significantly if they are to defeat the Irish at Lansdowne Road after a disjointed and error-strewn performance.
And as Scotland's 28-year losing streak at Twickenham continued, Andy Robinson's troops now face a must-win clash against Italy at Murrayfield to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon.
Man of the match: The official man of the match may have gone to England flank James Haskell, but we disagree. Our vote goes to veteran Chris Paterson who showed there's an abundance of life left in those old legs yet. The full-back made a superb try-saving tackle and other crucial defensive interventions, as well as being typically flawless with the boot. It's just a shame he was on the losing side after a complete performance.
Moment of the match: There weren't many in a rather dour encounter. Whilst Tom Croft's try brought on the loudest roar at Twickenham, and Max Evans' five-pointer gave the Scots hope of an upset – Paterson's try-saving tackle on Foden takes the cake.
Villain of the match: A yellow card to Scotland flank John Barclay but no malice in it.
Pens: Flood 4, Wilkinson
Pens: Paterson 2
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Mike Tindall, 12 Shontayne Hape, 11 Mark Cueto, 10 Toby Flood, 9 Ben Youngs , 8 Nick Easter , 7 James Haskell, 6 Tom Wood, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Steve Thompson, 17 Paul Doran-Jones, 18 Simon Shaw, 19 Tom Croft, 20 Danny Care, 21 Jonny Wilkinson, 22 Matt Banahan.
Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Simon Danielli, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Max Evans, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Rory Lawson, 8 Kelly Brown, 7 John Barclay, 6 Nathan Hines, 5 Alastair Kellock (capt), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Moray Low, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Geoff Cross, 18 Richie Vernon, 19 Alasdair Strokosch, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Dan Parks, 22 Nick De Luca.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)