Grand Slam beckons for England

Tom Croft scored England's only try against Scotland

Tom Croft scored England’s only try against Scotland

England saw of a tough and dogged performance from a Scotland side looking for their first win of this year’s championship as they came out victors 22-16 at Twickenham to keep their Grand Slam aspirations in full sight.


It had been a close first half dominated by the boot of two players, England’s Toby Flood and Scotland’s Chris Paterson, which saw the score at 9-6 to the home side with just seconds remaining on the clock before Martin Johnson and Andy Robinson were able to get their sides into the changing rooms. A score of that margin would have been fair based on the two side’s performances, if not on the amount of possession that Johnson’s side wasted.


As it was the scores were even closer at the break as young Scottish fly-half Ruaridh Jackson, making just his second start with the Scottish thistle emblazoned on his chest, kicked a long range drop goal to draw the sides level at the break.


The red rose onslaught continued in the second half even though captain Mike Tindall did not reappear after the break, Matt Banahan taking his position in the centre. First Tom Wood went close to scoring following a run from Chris Ashton, however he could not make it to the line.


The pressure was beginning to tell as John Barclay was forced to infringe at the breakdown under the shadow of his side’s posts as England again looked to attack. This saw a penalty ensure, which Flood kicked as England took the lead, but more importantly Johnson’s men were given further hope of extending their lead as Barclay was sent to the sin-bin for his actions.


Ben Foden was next to stretch the Scots defence as he was set up by the man of the match James Haskell, who made a semi-break before passing to Ashton. Ashton then released Foden, his Northampton team mate, down the left touchline. It appeared as though England would in for their first try however Paterson matched the pace of Foden to haul his opposite number down tantalisingly close to the line as the home side were again denied.


England finally put light between the two sides as Johnson brought on four players. Amongst them were Johnny Wilkinson and Tom Croft, who were both involved for their side’s only try of the match just minutes after coming on. Wilkinson passed deep to Shontayne Hape who in turn passed to Mark Cueto. The Sale winger straightened his run before releasing Croft who was free to race the last ten metres along the left touchline before battering through Scotland’s last line of defence to score.


Wilkinson added the conversion to stretch England’s lead to ten points as Scotland had still failed to add to their half time score.


With five minutes remaining it looked as though England had done enough to claim the Calcutta Cup and keep their Grand Slam hopes alive, however Scotland clearly had other ideas. In a rare foray into England’s 22, Max Evans, in the fly-half position, chipped over the white line of defence before gathering his own kicked to score next to the posts and give his side hope. Paterson added the extras to take the score to 19-16.


Scotland looked to rally further however it was England who claimed the ball from the restart before forcing a penalty near the Scotland line. Wilkinson stepped up and gladly took the three points as England saw out the match 22-16 and thus allowed Tindall the collect the Calcutta Cup, played for between the two sides since 1879, from his soon to be mother-in-law Princess Anne.


For Scotland, they take on Italy next week needing a win to have any chance of not collecting the wooden spoon; for England, if Johnson is pleased with the result he will not have been pleased with the performance. England face Ireland next weekend in Ireland, a place they will be required to play much better if they are to clinch the Triple Crown, and more importantly, their first Grand Slam since 2003.

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