A round-up of what’s hot and what’s not from the Calcutta Cup match at Murrayfield
The 2016 Calcutta Cup clash was a tight, edgy affair in Edinburgh, with England coming out on top thanks to tries from George Kruis and Jack Nowell. Both sides showed plenty of endeavour, but their execution was lacking. Eddie Jones will be pleased to have started his reign as England coach with a win but his team did not assert themselves as convincingly as he would have liked in the physical exchanges, earning parity in the scrum but often being caught out at the breakdown by quicker Scottish reactions. Scotland, too, will be disappointed they did not threaten England’s line more regularly.
Contrasting back rows – As expected, England’s trio favoured big, powerful surges, Man of the Match Billy Vunipola in particular making ground, while Scotland’s back row were more dynamic and far quicker to reach the breakdown. Openside John Hardie was a notable presence with ball in hand and the men in blue certainly reaped more rewards at the contact area.
It could make for an interesting scavenging tussle in Cardiff next week if Hardie and John Barclay get the nod again and Wales field Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric. England might need to rethink their back-row balance, though. Chris Robshaw and James Haskell certainly got through a lot of work, but the team still lack a turnover specialist; Matt Kvesic is the one man in the squad who can deliver this.
Energetic wingers – Anthony Watson was the first wide man to make a significant run, jinking in and out of defenders and using his rapid speed to good effect. Jack Nowell got himself involved early on, too, putting in a smart chip over Tommy Seymour and chasing down Stuart Hogg over the try-line, earning England the scrum from which George Kruis scored. In the second half, he got on the scoresheet himself with a pop pass from Mako Vunipola allowing Owen Farrell to send him over. All in all, Nowell was England’s standout back.
For the Scots, Tommy Seymour was lively and while he dropped a few balls in attack, he was a determined chaser whenever the high balls went up and put pressure on England’s catchers. Sean Maitland also got involved regularly, coming off his wing to offer himself as an attacking option like the game’s other wide men.
Leaders – Dylan Hartley had a good first outing as England skipper, helping provide a solid platform at the set-piece, while Chris Robshaw was a workhorse in the tight phases, leading by example even though he no longer leads the team. George Kruis and James Haskell deserve a mention for their work-rate too. Greig Laidlaw was as solid as ever at nine and Jonny Gray yet again tackled himself to a standstill, showing the qualities that mark him out as a future Scotland captain. The leadership shown by players on both sides will be welcomed by the management teams.
Ball control – Both teams showed a desire to run the ball and such a frenetic pace was bound to lead to a few errors, but the number of knock-ons will be a worry for the two coaching teams. Looking after the ball is the most important part of the game and players for England and Scotland coughed up possession too easily too often. It’s a minor thing given his performance around the park, but Billy Vunipola also needs to work on his control at the base of the scrum.
Decisions at No 10 – Finn Russell is sure to rue the choice he made after intercepting an England pass in Scotland’s 22 midway through the second half. He opted to kick the ball rather than draw the defender and offload to Stuart Hogg outside him. Had he gone for the pass it could well have led to a try.
In the white No 10 jersey, George Ford lacked the authority and decisiveness seen in last year’s Six Nations. He seemed to ponder his next move that second too long and often took a poor option, running into a wall of defenders or putting up an aimless high ball. His club travails have no doubt knocked his confidence but he needs to rediscover his natural instincts fast in this championship.
Whistling! – It’s long been a bugbear of Rugby World but despite the signs popping up around the stadium calling on fans to respect the kicker, whistles and jeers were continually heard during penalty and conversion attempts. And it wasn’t just Owen Farrell who got the brunt of it; even Greig Laidlaw felt the force of negative crowd noise. Then during his post-match, on-field interview, Dylan Hartley was booed. These sort of crowd reactions must stop. All players and officials should be respected.
19 – The number of ball carries made by Billy Vunipola, more than any other player. Stuart Hogg was Scotland’s top carrier with 17 and the top metre maker with 90.
9 – The number of lineouts won by George Kruis, more than twice as many as Richie Gray (four).
12 – The number of penalties conceded by England compared to nine by Scotland.
5 – The number of rucks/mauls lost by England compared to three by Scotland.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, M Bennett, M Scott, T Seymour (D Taylor 66); F Russell, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (G Reid 58), R Ford (S McInally 65), WP Nel (Z Fagerson 69), R Gray, J Gray (T Swinson 70), J Barclay (B Cowan 59), J Hardie, D Denton.
Pens: Laidlaw 3.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J Nowell; G Ford, D Care (B Youngs 55); J Marler (M Vunipola 49), D Hartley (capt, J George77), D Cole, J Launchbury (C Lawes 47), G Kruis, C Robshaw (J Clifford 69), J Haskell, B Vunipola.
Tries: Kruis, Nowell. Con: Farrell. Pen: Farrell.
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
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