It goes without saying that any Calcutta Cup match will be keenly contested. This time, though, despite Scotland succumbing to an out of sorts Rose in RWC ’11 and England having a new look, a new coach and a new ethos Murrayfield still expected something historic. Scotland went in with the unfamiliar tag of ‘favourites’.
What they got was two teams prodding and pawing at each other.
In the first twenty minutes there were fisticuffs, torn shirts and curious through kicks but England always kicked it to bounce in front of Scottish cover and Foden was always waiting for Parks’ bombs.
England perhaps had an edge in the scrum first half, but it was more that Scotland had lapses in concentration. They showed later in the game that they could be solid on their own ball. There were so many knock-ons because there were only a few flowing passing moves.
So kicks characterised this game. Nothing happened for 12 minutes. Farrell lined up a 47m monster after Denton killed it, but as boos rang around the packed stadium the youngster pushed it wide. He made up for it on the 22nd minute, however, knocking over a short penalty to calm himself.
Before this England showed a few signs that their backline wasn’t quite at clicking point yet. As a big blind hit came in from De Luca a rushed pass headed for Hodgson. He slung it wide in a rush and it skidded to deck. A hitch-kick and a pass followed but it was too high for Ashton.
On the other side Ross Rennie, Jim Hamilton and David Denton were working hard and running round corners. The scrum was creaking but the Scottish tight five carried well into their opposition. There was even a nice period where Botha carried and then his opposite number carried back at him phases later.
It could not stay 0-3, though. Parks eventually got Scotland’s first points, his kick successful at the first asking. It was built on the back of solid, if unspectacular carries. His second penalty on the 21st minute was also knocked over, but it was built on more impressive Scottish work.
As England put into a scrum just over 22m from their own line the ball was quickly fed to lone wing Ashton, with Cusiter bearing down on him. He turned 20-odd degrees and tried to skip out of any tackle but the 9 leapt towards his ankle and clung on. Pressure poured over him. A penalty followed and Parks chipped it over for 6-3.
It half finished like this, despite adventurous offloading rugby from the home side into the last minute.
Then the second half started in disastrous fashion for Scotland.
Parks –entrusted to continue in the second half –tried to clear his lines and was charged down by his opposite man, Hodgson. Farrell converted and the mood in Murrayfield turned sombre.
6-10, little noise and an England pack on the march. Kicking to touch went awry for Scotland and Parks looked forlorn. It had to be slowed down or rethought.
So the ball was handed off to Denton again.
The eventual Man of the Match carried hard and dragged Scotland into the fight. He was having a dream debut. Others felt they could play around him. When England broke there was scramble and all hoped Scotland could get the ball again, if only so the Zimbabwean-born back-row could get the hand-off once more.
Without carrying responsibilities Gray had less pressure. He was dominating lineouts and on the 56th minute made a half-break that got the people standing on their feet.
The mood changed. Robinson saw his chance and brought on the cavalry. A minute before an hour struck Barclay, Kellock, Blair and Greig Laidlaw came on.
Pace picked up. Passes went wider into lovely green space. Scotland sensed gaps. They worked up field. 61mins. Truck, truck. 62 mins. Laidlaw looks, chips over, runs. Youngs bears down on it and Laidlaw pushes a hand through, grazing the ball. Youngs chest collapses onto it.
The TMO didn’t give it, but Scotland were on the move. Rennie made a break two minutes later that almost created a two on one. It was Scotland’s biggest chance. It came to nothing, though.
England rebounded, aided by the addition of a solid Jordan Turner-Hall, Stevens and then Morgan. They waited for their moment to come back. Farrell missed another monster kick, but they fought hard. When Farrell slotted a penalty in the 73rd minute it was England’s to lose.
Do Scotland change everything in their half-back positions for Wales next week? Their pragmatic moves have failed and Scotland have a tough week of preparation ahead.
SCOTLAND: R. Lamont; Jones, De Luca, S. Lamont; Parks, Cusiter; Jacobsen, Ford (c), Murray, Gray, Hamilton, Strokosch, Rennie, Denton.
RES: S. Lawson, Cross, Kellock, Barclay, Blair, Laidlaw, Morrison.
ENGLAND: Foden; Ashton, Barritt, Farrell, Strettle; Hodgson, Youngs; Corbisiero, Hartley, Cole, Botha, Palmer, Croft, Robshaw (c), Dowson.
RES: Webber, Stevens, Parling, Morgan, Dickson, Turner-Hall, M. Brown.
Ref: George Clancy (IRFU)
Assistants: Roman Poite (FFR), Leighton Hodges (WRU)
TMO: Nigel Whitehouse (WRU)