England battle past Scotland
Graham Jenkins at Eden Park
October 1, 2011
England's Chris Ashton is engulfed by his team-mates after scoring the match-winning try against the Scots at Eden Park
© Getty Images
England booked their place in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals with a gutsy 16-12 victory over Scotland at Eden Park in Auckland.
A last gasp try from winger Chris Ashton completed an impressive second-half comeback after the Scots had led 12-3 early in the second half. The victory ensures England will top Pool B with a clash with France awaiting them in the knock-out stages next weekend. Scotland's hopes of progressing lie in the hands of Georgia who must upset Argentina on Sunday.
A dominant Scotland claimed a deserved 9-3 half-time lead thanks to the kicking exploits of fullback Chris Paterson and replacement fly-half Dan Parks with England No.10 Jonny Wilkinson suffering another forgettable day with the boot. But England rallied after the break and Wilkinson chipped away at the Scots' advantage before Ashton pounced with Toby Flood setting the seal on a memorable fightback.
A strong breeze and slippery ball played havoc with both sides' attempts to secure some early momentum but the loss of fly-half Ruaridh Jackson after just five minutes to a hamstring injury was a more significant concern for the Scots with Dan Parks stepping into the void.
Parks' first contribution was a cross kick that centre Sean Lamont failed to claim under pressure but a penalty against tight-head prop Dan Cole at the resulting scrum handed Scotland the chance to open the scores and Paterson stepped up to slot the kick.
The referee's whistle dominated proceedings early on with successive penalties against England prompting a warning from referee Craig Joubert and captain Lewis Moody spoke to his side as Parks landed a penalty although the score had to be confirmed by the Television Match Official Tim Hayes.
England scrum-half Ben Youngs was caught in possession midway through the half but his forwards came to his rescue and eventually earned a penalty but Wilkinson's kick fell wide to the left. Prop Allan Jacobsen's failure to retreat following a Paterson kick gave Wilkinson a chance to atone but this time his kick from the half way line fell short.
Scotland's eagerness to secure the ball at the breakdown gave Wilkinson yet another opportunity just two minutes later with lock Richie Gray penalised for going to ground but it was a painfully familiar result for the England playmaker.
Parks looked to turn the screw with a drop goal attempt as the game reached the half hour but his latest effort fell short of the target. With the wind and rain at their back, England persisted with an aerial bombardment but it was a thumping tackle from flanker Tom Croft that laid the foundation for the next telling raid with a penalty against the Scots a the breakdown allowing Wilkinson to finally break his duck and half the arrears.
A knock on from No.8 James Haskell at the re-start gifted Scotland a scrum inside the England 22 from which centre Joe Ansbro went close. The ball was recycled and worked wide to Ansbro once again but he was thrown into touch by lock Courtney Lawes.
Another crunching tackle from Croft earned a turnover on half way as the half drew to a close but the dominant Scotland scrum offered a swift reply with England loose-head Matt Stevens forced into the error. The kick went to the corner for the lineout with scrum-half Mike Blair snared as he looped around but the ball was retained and worked back to Parks who landed a drop goal with the last kick of the half.
A massive hit from centre Manu Tuilagi put England on the front foot at the start of the second half and the ball found its way to Armitage who exploited some space down the touchline only to be scythed down by Parks as he closed in on the line.
The scrum battle soon returned to centre stage with a rare win against the head giving England the ball and Youngs capitalised by wriggling through a gap before feeding Tindall who spilled the ball under pressure from the Scots' scrambling defence.
England's scrum claimed another minor victory soon after to heap further pressure on the Scots but the pressure was relieved as Wilkinson pushed a relatively simple drop goal attempt wide of the left upright.
The next England penalty found touch on the Scots' 22 and a rumbling maul had them under further pressure before Parks pounced for an interception only for replacement De Luca to bring a premature end to the move with a wild pass.
A chip and chase from Scotland winger Simon Danielli then had England under the cosh with fullback Ben Foden and Wilkinson forced into desperate measures to snuff out the danger as De Luca failed to pick up the loose ball and dot it over the line. The Scotland scrum then reasserted its authority and Paterson followed their lead by stroking the penalty through the posts.
England struck straight back with Wilkinson landing a drop goal from range after some good work from Tuilagi at the re-start and a further penalty soon took them back to the Scotland 22. Tuilagi was again the weapon of choice before another Wilkinson drop goal attempt was charged down with Foden eventually called upon to sweep up back inside his own 22.
A great touch-finder from Ashton took the game back deep into Scotland territory where their lineout also rediscovered some venom, robbing the ball from their rivals and earning a penalty in the process. Wilkinson stepped up to land the kick from out wide and bring his side back to within three points with just under a quarter of the game remaining.
Ansbro was soon proving elusive down the touchline before a cross kick set up a foot race with Croft outpacing Gray to get an all-important touch on the ball in the in-goal area. England's next opportunity also proved fruitless with Wilkinson's penalty attempt denied by a strong breeze after Ford had been penalised for not releasing.
Toby Flood entered the fray for England as a replacement for the injured Tindall as part of a raft of changes as the game entered the final ten minutes. But it was Scotland who appeared to have the fresh legs with Ansbro eluding defenders down the wing before being bundled into touch.
A penalty with five minutes remaining enabled the Scots to take the game to the England 22 and Parks' subsequent high kick was safely claimed by Armitage and cleared by Ashton. Within moments De Luca was penalised for not rolling away and Flood, now in the fly-half spot after Wilkinson was withdrawn with an injury, to kick to the corner.
The catch and drive took them close before Tuilagi also took a direct approach. The ball was then recycled to Flood whose excellent floating pass found Ashton with the winger given the time and space to score in the corner. Flood's stepped up to add the extras and set the seal on the comeback.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
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