Six Nations: Scotland v England mirrors the past once again

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer
Highlights: Scotland 9-15 England

A familiar post-match article in this digital era is the 'Five things we have learned' formula. We've all done it - treating a game as a sporting education, pulling out the pearls so we can all feel much wiser afterwards.

Except sometimes we learn nothing. Sometimes what we see is exactly what we would expect to see, because it's exactly the same as the last time, and the time before that.

So it was with Scotland v England at Murrayfield on Saturday evening. For all the talk of an Eddie Jones revolution, this was the old guard and the old order. For all the talk of a Scottish rebirth, this was the same character struggling in the same fashion.

Five things we have learned? Maybe another time. Welcome to Five Things We Already Knew.

1.England have great strength in depth

Dylan Hartley and England line up before the Six Nations meeting with Scotland
England's five second-half replacements helped take the game away from Scotland

This match was in the balance until five minutes into the second half, when England sent on Courtney Lawes for Joe Launchbury and, shortly afterwards, Mako Vunipola for Joe Marler.

Energy, power and drive, and from that, momentum and then control. When Ben Youngs came on shortly afterwards, England pulled away a little more again.

Jones, after just seven training sessions with his new team, handled the replacements well, not only in bringing those men on but in resisting the temptation to change his hooker until the very end and his tight-head Dan Cole at all.

But England always have enjoyed this advantage in this fixture. You'd expect them to. The RFU has four times the turnover of the SRU, 12 professional teams to choose from rather than two, 166,000 regular male players to 15,000.

Strength in depth has not been the problem. Truly world-class starters have been, as last autumn's World Cup once again illustrated.

2. Scotland can't score tries in this fixture

Stuart Hogg makes a break against England
Stuart Hogg made 90 metres with ball in hand. The next best Scot - David Denton - made only 32

Since the start of the Six Nations 16 years ago, Scotland have scored two tries against England at Murrayfield. That's not an average of two, but the grand total.

The last one came back in 2004. So to see them go tryless on Saturday, despite plenty of promising possession and territory, was as surprising as seeing men in kilts walking into Edinburgh boozers.

Once again Scotland failed to capitalise on their opportunities - five clean breaks, several half-chances, several more errors or wrong decisions when the English line called.

The stats keep coming. Seven straight defeats against England. Only one win in their last 13 Six Nations matches. Only one victory in their previous 16 opening games in a Six Nations tournament.

Nothing new. Nothing to surprise. Lots to work on.

3. England should be old-fashioned up front and remodelled at the breakdown

Chris Robshaw, James Haskell and Billy Vunipola
England's back row combination may need more tweaking before it challenges the world's best

Many of England's failings at the World Cup they hosted, for all the focus on Sam Burgess and penalties kicked to corners and stodgy selections, came from a scrum that was too often going in the wrong direction.

Not on Saturday, however.

The best English teams have always been indomitable up front: aggressive, gnarly, staying strong as the game goes long. Eddie Jones, a former hooker, recognises this and will be pleased that his front row at Murrayfield looked more old-school than schooled.

That's the good news. The bad is that he still needs to uncover a proper back-row combination for the breakdown.

In a first half where England scored first, they were frequently held back by slow ball and penalised for their labours when Scotland were in possession.

Neither Chris Robshaw nor James Haskell won a single turnover; Haskell, at open-side, made a commendable 16 tackles, looking even more the classic blind-side than a jackal in disguise.

The best teams at the World Cup had not one but two scavengers. England are still searching for one.

4. Billy Vunipola can be a world-class number eight

Billy Vunipola
Billy Vunipola made more carries (19) and beat more defenders (five) than any other England player

Seldom has a man of the match award been more straightforward.

After a World Cup in which he too often received the ball standing still, the 23-year-old showed how a man of 6ft 2in who weighs almost 20 stone should be used.

Even when England were slow, the younger Vunipola was dynamic: 19 carries, five men beaten, 51 metres made.

Which is exactly what Vunipola has always been capable of. And who would want to reinvent the wrecking-ball?

5. World class sides maintain skills under pressure

Mike Brown offloads
The two teams racked up a total of 23 turnovers on a day of often frenetic action at Murrayfield

When all four semi-final places at the World Cup were taken by southern hemisphere sides, the gnashings of teeth about the failings of the north were at least partially alleviated by the quality of the rugby on display.

Sure, the dry, warm weather may have helped. But in the performances of those nations, and in particular the last two standing, New Zealand and Australia, came the perfect definition of perfection: producing nerveless rugby when nerves should be shot to pieces.

England decelerated into that tournament and by the end were falling apart. On Saturday they instead grew stronger as the contest developed, but the mistakes were still there, just as they were for Scotland.

During one period in a frenetic first half, error from one side followed error by the other and led to another from both. It was entertaining and it was breathless, but underlined why only one team from the Six Nations has ever won a World Cup: excitement is one thing, quality is often another.

Match stats
1 (0)Scrums won (lost)11 (1)
11 (3)Line-outs won (lost)14 (1)
9Pens conceded12
86 (3)Rucks/mauls won (lost)83 (5)
26Kicks from hand33
134 (12)Tackles made (missed)113 (15)
309Metres made268
5Line breaks3
Data provided by Accenture


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