Scottish hopes wrecked by merciless England

Date published: March 12 2017

So much for the tight contest. England, ruthless from the start at Twickenham, transformed Scotland back into pretenders once again with an astonishing romp of a win.

Such was the utter dominance of Saturday’s fixture, the fact that England had retained the Six Nations title was almost an afterthought in the wake of Scotland conceding over 60 points.

England have no doubt ridden their luck at times in this Championship, while not delivering close to their best, but the sense was always that an outstanding performance was somewhere in there.

That it coincided with Scotland’s abject, mistake-ridden horror of a display worked out perfectly for Eddie Jones and his team.

As ever there were elements that could not be avoided; the early loss of Stuart Hogg and Mark Bennett to injury for example, forcing scrum-half Ali Price out onto the wing.

But even those setbacks couldn’t excuse a persistent lack of discipline. Or missing touch from penalties. Nor the lack of awareness in defence as Jonathan Joseph scythed his way through over and over again.

Lineout overthrows, a restart out on the full, and Finn Russell’s wild pass inside his 22 would have left Vern Cotter’s hair on the ground in clumps, if he had any left.

Scotland promised so much after that second half against Wales. This was meant to be a struggle. A concrete chance for those mentions of 1983 to no longer be trotted out every couple of years. England would be harried, tested.

Instead Scotland coughed up a 20-0 headstart – which for any team currently, New Zealand aside, is the equivalent of forfeiting the contest – and from there they never had a hope.

What could go wrong, frankly did go wrong. No wonder Scotland captain John Barclay was struggling to process it all. “I don’t know what to say to be honest, we just didn’t show up.”

How the long-term psychological ramifications of this result play out will be closely monitored.

Scotland have made such significant strides under Cotter and there is still a chance to finish in second place with a bonus-point win over Italy next weekend at Murrayfield.

Winning at home is one thing, but it will take either accomplished performances and ideally victories on the road for Scotland to be recognised as true contenders. Being edged out by France was one thing. Ripped limb from limb by England was a new peak of concern.

As right as it is to feel let down by Scotland, so it is only fair to hail England’s accuracy and intensity from the off. The homework on the visitors’ defence paid instant dividends.

“They defend a certain way; they go hard on the inside and soft on the outside which creates opportunities,” Jones summarised having watched George Ford and Owen Farrell work hard to get the ball through the hands at pace in order to allow Joseph to do what he does best; find the space on the outside shoulder in between two tacklers before hitting the afterburners.

From spending the Sunday that England faced Italy playing for Bath in a one-point defeat to Bristol, Joseph returned to Twickenham and bagged a hat-trick that was so good it looked remarkably simple.

Alex Dunbar learnt the hard way in the first half what a lethal attacker he so often can be in that 13 channel. Nathan Hughes too deserves credit, after some criticism for his work with the ball in hand, for selling each and every dummy run well enough to catch Scotland out.

Which in fact sums up the whole day. Scotland never recovered from those early stunners, and were arguably lucky to not lose Fraser Brown to a red card in the second minute instead of the yellow he saw for a dangerous tackle on Elliot Daly.

Would Scotland, with two key leaders in Josh Strauss and Greig Laidlaw starting and at full strength, been able to get the better of an England side in this mood? The honest answer is probably not, and the tempo England set, having spent the last two weeks in training bristling at the fall out from their win over Italy, was truly something.

Twickenham around the 60-minute mark felt oddly quiet – what with the win, bonus point and title all secured – which might not have pleased those hoping for a classic Test like the encounter between Wales and Ireland on Friday night.

Then again those supporting the hosts already had more than enough to cheer about, as England continued to pile on the misery. A shot at the Tier 1 wins record, and the first ever back-to-back Grand Slam since the Five Nations became Six, now awaits in Dublin.

by Ben Coles at Twickenham