Scots expose England’s frailties

As the England team trudged off the Twickenham pitch late on Sunday afternoon, you could be forgiven for thinking that these weary bodies were not those of a team who had just beaten their oldest rival and were now one victory away from achieving their first Grand Slam since 2003. England had experienced their greatest test yet in this year’s competition against this unfancied Scottish team, and left with rather more grounded expectations, if aspirations of glory still intact. This was not the comfortable English victory many fans had expected and, perhaps, taken for granted.

As England struggled for rhythm, Scotland were relentless and showed clear signs that that they could build upon the blueprint laid down by the French two weeks previous. They competed at every breakdown and played with the great line speed in defence that France had used so effectively to swamp the English midfield. Against both Wales and Italy, England scrum half Ben Youngs’ service had been near immaculate, which in turn allowed Toby Flood the platform to further assert himself in international rugby.

Here, however, both Youngs and Flood were suffocated by a fearsome and hungry Scottish defence, not helped by an English pack offering little in the way of ball protection. Working largely off only first phase ball, England’s more threatening backs were summoned to make the breaks into Scottish territory, but with the powerful Scottish pack competing ferociously at each ruck, helped by the openside John Barclay who was later unlucky to be sin binned, many of these attacks invariably halted soon after.

It was this ball protection, or lack thereof, that should have the England coach Martin Johnson most worried. England lost one lineout out of their total of fourteen, whilst their scrum was an immovable object, yielding many penalties in the process. But the sheer number of English turnovers, many coming from handling errors or simply greater Scottish power at the breakdown, meant that England could not take advantage of their set piece dominance and failed to build momentum. Many attacks broke down after little more than a few phases.

England’s first half against France saw similar problems at the breakdown, but the team responded with vigour and, more importantly, increased muscle. That England suffered from the same problem this week was initially strange, but the inability to respond as they had done against France was bizarre. Where Johnson’s team previously appeared to be adept at learning from mistakes, this canny ability seems to have gone missing for now. James Haskell’s fine display of tackling and ball carrying was rewarded with the title of man of the match, but one suspects that England may have been more successful had Haskell, along with blindside Tom Wood, been better employed at the breakdown.

The English midfield again flattered to deceive, tackling honourably whilst offering little incision, but England have shown that they have enough pace and guile in their back three to accommodate less subtle beasts in the centre. If England are to reign in Dublin then they must replicate some of the defensive work that has returned the England team to the peak of northern hemisphere rugby. This means committing more men to the job of ball retention at the tackle area, whilst similarly counter rucking the opposition’s ball to disrupt their fluidity. If this means one less Haskell or Louis Deacon in the midfield then so be it.

England still travel to Dublin this weekend with a very real chance of winning the Grand Slam, but if they do not learn from the experience of the last two weeks then they risk succumbing to a raging Irish team fresh from a controversial loss against Wales and eager to gate crash England’s victory parade.

By Tom James

14 thoughts on “Scots expose England’s frailties

  1. Totally agree with this. I ended up shouting at the TV as yet another ball was turned over whilst Haskell and Deacon loitered around clogging up the mid-field

    If they are not involved in the breakdown, they should be coming onto the ball at speed around the fringes, in order to get England over the gainline. Instead they were just hanging around, receving the ball whilst static, going nowhere and then getting turned over cos they hadn’t committed enough forwards to the ruck.

    Seriously infuriating and a problem from the bad years that I thought they had solved

    I am hoping it re-surfaced because they were a little too cocky about beating Scotland rather than it being a coaching issue

    Although the failure to change when it clearly wasn’t working is rather worrying

  2. I agree England had a scare over the weekend. However, England currently have a un-parrelled luxury in key positions, depth. Youngs-Care and Wilkinson-Flood are fantastic to have in your locker. With the help of Croft and senior players like Shaw and Thompson you could see the instant effect their presence had one the game. International rugby has always shown, on their day anyone can beat anyone. The resilient scottish came close, but England always looked like they had more in the locker. If England can keep the half back and back row positions competitive until the world cup they will be hard to beat. Now they just need a centre. Who’s got Manu Tuilagi’s number?

  3. Agree about Manu. Im a huge fan of his really rate him. Better than anything else we have available and he still has alot to learn. (I know im gonna get shot down because hes too inexperienced) but doesnt matter that he makes a few mistakes now and then because even making the mistakes he is better than Banahan/Tindall etc.

  4. In case anyone was wondering what sort of form Cipriani is showing at the moment then check this out:-

    Surely MJ can’t ignore this as it’s a try that Flood and Wilkinson can only dream of. It’s this kind of spark that England need to compete against the super powers in New Zealand later this year. Just need to keep that ego in tact


  5. If you then watch the end of the game he throws a shocking pass and so the rebels lose the game. Not something you see Flood or Wilkinson do very often at all

  6. Paolo, agree that it was a return to the dark years. I can only think that it was a coaching issue as there were only 2 or 3 england players hitting each ruck. Combined with strong scottish competition at the breakdown, we didn’t have any quick ball all game. And like you say, once the ball did come out, no-one was injecting pace…although this is difficult to do when the defence have had enough time to line up their men.

    Youngs was trying to inject some pace into the game with quick taps at penalties, and he nearly succeeded in doing so – the injuries to Kelly Brown and the ref blunted the momentum just when it threatened to pick up.

    If Scotland showed the same desire and tenacity they do when they play England, they would surely win a few more close matches against other nations. England have a lot to work on if they’re going to get a win from the Dublin trip.

  7. Just throwing something out there…

    What about a 10,12,13 combo of Wilkinson, Flood, Manu Tuilagi.

    Wilkinson’s passing is crisp and precise at the moment, Flood can pass behind the tackler beautifully and makes Greenwood like breaks,Tuilagi runs good lines with power to break tackles and puts in big hits in defence, enough to worry any oncoming attacker!


    p.s. Anyone else think Richie Gray is a lion in the making?

  8. An interesting idea Jules, but not convinced it’s the answer. Flood has played 12 for England before, but you’d be shifting your playmaker and one of the best players at the moment to a different position which doesn’t make sense.

    I’m excited about Tuilagi, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he becomes part of Johnno’s squad.

    Flutey has been called up into the squad as cover for Tindall apparently, although it hasn’t been announced yet.

  9. Jimmymc – I’m a big fan of Warburton too. As a 7 myself I think there are a number of good young opensides coming through, Warburton and Pocock are clear examples. Shame about Tom Rees really..

    Lions discussion sounds like a great idea.

    Paolo – Agree with what you’re saying. I think we were probably shouting at England at the exact same times last weekend!

  10. The Scotland match and the France match both highlight the fact that England have no plan B. France rushed Youngs and Flood, causing Youngs to delay his pass leaving Flood with no room to work. The obvious thing to do was for Flood to kick for touch and pressure through defence at the line-out, or bring Hape closer and slightly behind but then that would highlight the fact that he isn’t an impact runner like Jamie Roberts of Wales for example. However, Hape’s speed into the gaps and off-loading ability would probably do the damage. In the 2nd half, France simply stopped applying the pressure and let England off. Scotland put the pressure on in all areas and England didn’t adapt again. Flood stood in the pocket as Wilkinson usually does, so there was no go-forward. I am pleased England has played a ball-in-hand attacking game rather than kicking it away all the time, but it is beginning to seem that this game plan owes itself more to Flood naturally attacking the line and Ashton, Cueto, and Foden, working really hard to get up to the guy with the ball – Ashton stands out in this area with his Rugby League background. The question in my mind is, how much of England’s current form is coached or just a happy coincidence? On the last two matches’ perfomance then I am leaning towards the latter! I have not been impressed with the England coaches for a while and in particular with the fact that there never seems to be a plan B – there are all these coaches with headsets and computers but there doesn’t appear to be any changes in tactics when things aren’t going well. England need someone other than Wilkinson as Flood’s backup and they need an alternative centre pairing – not that I think that Hape/Tindall are bad, but they just need an alternative.

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