The oldest international fixture saw an impressive England put Scotland to the sword at Twickenham on Saturday to win the Calcutta Cup 38-18, England outplaying and outscoring their opponents four tries to two.
Tries from Chris Ashton, debutant Billy Twelvetrees, Geoff Parling and Danny Care ensured an assured start to England’s Six Nations campaign, even though Scotland opened the scoring through Sean Maitland and rallied late on with a breakaway try from Stuart Hogg.
Scotland’s abysmal autumn showing left new interim coach Scott Johnson looking to match England coach Stuart Lancaster’s successful start in last year’s Six Nations. They produced a committed and at times exciting performance, never struggling for motivation against their oldest of enemies.
England, though, with rose-tinted memories of thrashing the All Blacks in November, looked to emulate their erstwhile opponent’s tactics, forwards and backs running with vigour, offloading frequently and spreading the ball back and forth across the pitch to build drives of devastating momentum.
Scotland set out to spoil England’s attack, the match beginning with much toing-and-froing, England playing positively but spilling the ball or being frustrated by astute Scottish defending.
Owen Farrell opened the scoring for England with a penalty, but a slapdash Mike Brown clearance kick was returned to within five metres of England’s try-line by speedster Hogg, creating space for debutant Maitland to dive through a startled England defence to score in the corner.
Scotland’s lead was to last all of four minutes, however, as poor discipline gave England six points from Farrell’s boot. Greig Laidlaw reduced the deficit with a penalty of his own as both sides went at it hammer and tongs, charges from England’s Twelvetrees and Ben Morgan and Scotland’s David Denton and Richie Gray epitomising the physicality of both teams.
After 20 minutes England sprang to life; the ball spread to the flanks and back again with impressive speed. The slick handling was building momentum and half-breaks by Parling and Joe Launchbury paved the way for Ashton to burrow through a double tackle from Laidlaw and Hogg to ground one-handed after 30 minutes.
The teams traded penalties after an attack late in the half from Scotland, Johnnie Beattie running with flair and verve to trouble the English defence. An entertaining half-finished 19-11 to England.
England charged out of the blocks in the second half, running and offloading non-stop to rout the Scottish defence, Twelvetrees capping a first-rate debut by crashing over for a try two minutes after kick-off.
Farrell continued his 100% kicking success with the conversion but England showed no signs of slowing down, Alex Goode the next player to jink through, an extended period of quality Scottish fringe defence eventually broken as Launchbury scored under the posts, only for the try to be annulled due to foul play in the build-up by Tom Youngs.
Scotland looked to rebuild, but James Haskell ripped the ball out of a maul in the middle of the pitch to allow Ben Youngs to surge through a broken field. The ball was quickly shipped out to Farrell who looked up and launched a pass over the heads of the Scottish rush defence for Parling to touch down on 54 minutes.
Farrell’s missed conversion left the score at 31-11, with England retaining 60% possession and ramming relentlessly deep in Scottish territory. Yet Care was caught isolated and the ball turned over, Denton finding Maitland in space to kick ahead. Hogg capitalised, kicking ahead once more and diving over for an impressive length-of-the-field try on the 70 minute mark.
Scotland rallied, within two scores of victory at 31-18, and earned a line-out five metres from the English line. The defence held strong, though, and England were able to ice the cake with a score from Care.
The end result will be largely welcomed in both camps: England played entertaining and at times irresistible rugby. Man of the match went to Farrell but many players shone: Twelvetrees’ debut provoked comparisons with Will Greenwood; Morgan and Tom Wood menaced the Scottish defence; and Robshaw, an increasingly convincing captain, was at the centre of everything good for England.
Scotland, meanwhile, although probably smarting from yet another loss to the auld enemy at Twickenham (where they have not won in 30 years), will welcome Italy to Murrayfield with confidence as two tries from an exciting, potentially world-class, back three as an encouraging return for a team back under construction after a long autumn of discontent.