TO travel hopefully is better than to arrive, or so the saying goes. But when it comes to following Scotland to Twickenham, the lesson from this most painful of defeats is surely that it is better not to travel hopefully at all.
When you go to London with little or no expectation of seeing the team compete on something approaching equal terms, at least you arrive already anaesthetised – and that’s before any alcoholic consumption is taken into account. Conversely, when there is not only the Calcutta Cup at stake but also the Triple Crown and a possible crack at the Six Nations Championship itself, and all that because Scotland have been playing well and won a couple of games while losing a third narrowly, the abject failure to deliver is all the more excruciating.
There is no disputing the fact that England were very good, and fully worthy of the 61-21 triumph which equalled the record margin of victory for the fixture. They are solidly established as the No 2 team in the world, and if they win in Dublin on Saturday they will not only complete back-to-back Grand Slams under head coach Eddie Jones, they will also set a new record for a senior nation of 19 consecutive Test wins.
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Yet, while on this form England would be more than a match for anyone barring the All Blacks – and Jones now has the best team on the planet firmly in his sights – Scotland made it easy for them. Had the visitors been at their best, they would still have lost, but perhaps by around 20 points, and with a try bonus. Instead, they made things difficult for themselves right from the start, and while the scoring of three tries proved they had not forgotten all the positive aspects of their previous matches, it was still no more than the slightest of consolations.
Fraser Brown’s senseless second-minute sinbinning for a late and dangerous tackle on Elliot Daly was the start of Scotland’s problems, but it should not be seen as the sole catalyst.
Defending while a man down is difficult, but the flaws displayed by Scotland, and so punitively exploited by man of the match Jonathan Joseph, ran far deeper than a simple numerical disparity.
Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones have worked well as a centre partnership, but in the first half on Saturday they did not seem to be on the same wavelength at all. Dunbar could do no more than get a hand on Joseph for the latter’s first try, and with Owen Farrell adding a conversion and two penalties to put the home team 13-0 ahead, the game was as good as gone in 15 minutes.
An injury-enforced reshuffle hampered any prospect of a comeback, as first Stuart Hogg went off with a head knock and then his replacement, Mark Bennett, injured a leg within minutes of coming on. That meant Henry Pyrgos had to come on at scrum-half, with Ali Price moving to the wing in place of Tommy Seymour, who had taken over as the last line of defence.
Scotland have improved their strength in depth in the past year or so, with competition being particularly keen at centre and in the back row. But the pool of talent remains shallow compared to four other teams in the Six Nations, something that is exposed when the injuries start to mount.
Perhaps those enforced changes also adversely affected the already fragile confidence of the team, as they only regrouped towards the end of the half. A flat pass from George Ford had put Joseph through for his second score before Finn Russell sent a penalty to touch and Gordon Reid scored from the resultant drive.
But Farrell, whose only miss out of 12 attempts was a penalty from his own half, soon added three more points, and before half-time a bamboozling run by Joseph was finished off by Anthony Watson.
That took the half-time score to 30-7, and there was no let-up in the second half as Joseph completed his hat-trick three minutes after the restart. Jones added to his growing reputation as a fine finisher with a brace of tries either side of one from Billy Vunipola, but two tries from Danny Care stretched England’s lead up to that record margin.