George Kruis and Jack Nowell scored for England as they clinched a 15-9 win over Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
There was plenty of pre-match hype that surrounded this encounter, with Eddie Jones taking charge of his first game as England coach, while Scotland’s impressive showing at last year’s World Cup gave their fans hope of seeing their side end a seven-game losing streak in the Six Nations.
With Saturday’s match being played in ideal conditions in front of a capacity crowd at Murrayfield, the scene was set for a captivating clash. Both sides duly displayed plenty of intent, but at times their accuracy and execution reflected the fact it was a season-opening encounter.
England and Jones will happily take the result and run, but they’ll also know this was far from the sort of commanding performance that would strike fear into their likely title rivals, Wales and Ireland.
Having bossed both territory and possession in the opening quarter, England struck an important early blow when lock George Kruis showed good strength to bustle over for the opening try in the 14th minute. Earlier, flyhalf George Ford had seen his drop-goal attempt slide just wide of the poles.
Scotland gradually worked their way into the match, though, and finished the half looking like the stronger team. Captain Greig Laidlaw struck two penalties, in the 17th and 38th minutes, as the hosts cut the deficit back to just one at the break.
They could well have enjoyed a lead at half-time, which wouldn’t have been completely undeserving, with Laidlaw uncharacteristically missing one relatively easy penalty, while flyhalf Finn Russell skewed a drop-goal attempt with the final play of the half.
The closely-contested nature of the match was also reflected in the half-time stats, which showed territory had been evenly split, with England only just shading the possession stakes, while both teams had beaten seven defenders.
Scotland started the second half by launching a multi-phase attack, but they eventually conceded a penalty. Soon after, the Scots spilled the ball after launching a lineout in England’s 22, with the errors serving to release the pressure that had been gradually building.
England then made the hosts pay when they worked a beautiful piece of play to put winger Jack Nowell away in the corner in the 51st minute, but the missed conversion meant just six points separated the sides.
However, a powerful scrum won England a penalty just after the hour mark, enabling centre Owen Farrell to open up some breathing room.
It didn’t last long as Laidlaw struck his third penalty to keep things interesting heading into the final 11 minutes of play, but England showed good composure to close out the match from there and claim the Calcutta Cup bragging rights again.
Scotland – Penalties: Greig Laidlaw (3).
England – Tries: George Kruis, Jack Nowell. Conversions: Owen Farrell. Penalty: Farrell.
Scotland – 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson.
Subs: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Duncan Taylor.
England – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Alex Goode, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Photo: David Rogers/Getty Images