England were on the verge of facing up to a premature exit from the RWC until a late flurry saw them pip Scotland 16-12 in Auckland.
England were on the verge of facing up to a premature exit from the 2011 RWC until a late flurry saw them edge out rivals Scotland 16-12 on Saturday.
As it was, Scotland are looking at returning from New Zealand early as they await the result of Argentina's fixture against Georgia on Sunday. The Scots need the Lelos to cause an upset of Tongan proportions in Palmerston North.
But despite England's four victories from four Pool record, questions will be asked following this performance, which lacked any real direction. They were flat for most of the first-half and will need to up the ante when they run out for what will be a last-eight date with France next week.
While the nations were warming up, it was almost comical seeing a suited Martin Johnson prowling about on halfway looking at the Scottish back-line. How he must sometimes wish he could roll back the clock and pull on the white jersey once again for what was the 129th meeting between the duo.
Just ten minutes before kick-off, the heavens had opened at Eden Park while Chris Paterson stood alone putting together the final touches to his goal-kicking routine. And that extra practice seemed to pay off as he was on the mark with his first kick, a tough attempt from wide on the left touchline.
Andy Robinson had not held back in bringing in fresh legs for their Pool finale as Joe Ansbro made only his second start of the tournament. But he was forced into making one other tweak moments before Paterson's effort when Ruaridh Jackson's night was ended due to what looked like a hamstring problem.
His replacement was Dan Parks, who in many people's eyes would be more suited to such weather conditions. He proved his worth too on sixteen minutes as his long-range penalty shot, struck with a low trajectory, crept over the crossbar following approval from the Television Match Official. It hadn't been the most memorable 24 hours for assistant referee Nigel Owens, who had thought the ball had not made the necessary distance. 6-0 it was.
What was more impressive from Andy Robinson's outfit was the fact that they were playing against the wind and winning the pivotal battle at scrum-time. Jonny Wilkinson had also missed three penalty attempts from three, with the booing Scotland supporters lapping it up.
That was all soon to change though on 34 minutes when Wilkinson finally found his range from the left touchline to cut the deficit in half. But a rather worrying statistic for England was that they'd not yet made a visit into the Scottish 22. There was plenty of food for thought for Johnson at the break, particularly after Parks had sat back in the pocket to push the advantage back to six points. Scotland were dominating all facets of play in Auckland.
England desperately needed a strong opening to the second-half and that was exactly what they got when Delon Armitage, in for Mark Cueto, raced down the left touchline before forcing a speculator back inside to a Scottish player. These were good signs for the Red Rose though as Ben Youngs was much quicker at the breakdown, Mike Tindall began to look for work and Matt Stevens seemed to had weathered an in-form Euan Murray.
Things were not improving for an out-of-sorts Wilkinson, however, as he missed a point blank drop-goal attempt that cause many Scotland fans to turn and smile at Johnson in the coaching box. England needed leaders to step up which wasn't happening as they walked to line-outs with their heads down. Johnson needed to make changes to liven up his team, the first was enforced though when Nick Easter came on for captain Moody who had to go to the blood-bin for some running repairs. One sensed though that the likes of Toby Flood and Dylan Hartley wouldn't be too far behind in making an appearance from the bench.
In fact is was Tom Palmer who arrived to join Easter just after Paterson had extended the arrears to beyond that golden seven points. If ever the English needed their own golden boy it was now and Wilkinson stepped up when it mattered with a sweetly-struck drop before the hour that eased some of the heat.
That trend continued soon after too when Wilkinson slotted a touchline penalty to bring England back to 9-12 with seventeen minutes remaining. At this stage, Scotland would have to hope that Georgia would do the unthinkable against Argentina on Sunday. And it was not like they had chances to claim that priceless try as Simon Danielli and then Richie Gray, from a Parks cross-field kick, came close to making England sweat further.
But Johnson's side held on and in fact finished with a flourish when Chris Ashton, a virtual ghost for most of the game, crossed to end Scottish hopes. Replacement fly-half Toby Flood's conversion made it 16-12 which was how it stayed at Eden Park.
Man of the match: Euan Murray was a rock for Scotland during the first 40 minutes while Al Kellock led well. But for his wet-weather masterclass, we have to go for Dan Parks. Thrown on minutes after kick-off, Parks took the right options at the right time and had a good day.
Moment of the match: The English had looked to be heading for more than a seven-point defeat due to Jonny Wilkinson's poor kicking early on. But as soon as he found his range their hopes of progressing to a third straight final improved. It was mighty close though.
Villain of the match: None to speak of.
Pen: Wilkinson 2
Pen: Paterson 2, Parks
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Mike Tindall, 11 Delon Armitage, 10 Jonny Wilkinson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 James Haskell, 7 Lewis Moody (capt), 6 Tom Croft, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Louis Deacon, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Steve Thompson, 1 Matt Stevens.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Tom Palmer, 19 Nick Easter, 20 Richard Wigglesworth, 21 Toby Flood, 22 Matt Banahan.
Scotland: 15 Chris Paterson, 14 Max Evans, 13 Joe Ansbro, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Simon Danielli, 10 Ruaridh Jackson, 9 Mike Blair, 8 Richie Vernon, 7 John Barclay, 6 Ally Strokosch, 5 Alastair Kellock (capt), 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Alasdair Dickinson, 18 Nathan Hines, 19 Ross Rennie, 20 Chris Cusiter, 21 Dan Parks, 22 Nick de Luca.
Referee: Craig Joubert (RSA)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (WAL); JÃ©rÃ´me Garces (FRA)
By Adam Kyriacou at Eden Park