Ruthless England raise the bar
Graham Jenkins at Twickenham
February 2, 2013
England's Owen Farrell missed only one of his eight kicks at goal © PA Photos
England laid down a fear-inducing Six Nations marker with a ruthless demolition of Scotland at Twickenham that was laced with refreshing ambition and orchestrated by one of the true stars of the world game - Owen Farrell.
Stuart Lancaster's side entered this game under pressure to back up their dazzling victory over New Zealand in December with their critics suggesting that their win against the world champions was a freak result. Rest assured it was nothing of the sort. This England side are the real deal and their rivals for the northern hemisphere crown should heed this warning - on this evidence they are getting better.
The Scots may not be of the same calibre as New Zealand but even the All Blacks would have struggled to live with England again today. The hosts fizzed throughout, fuelled by priceless belief that is set to lay the foundation for the next stage of England's development that they hope will culminate in Rugby World Cup glory in 2015.
You could not help but be impressed by their desire to keep the ball alive as they thundered into a formidable Scotland defence. It is a high-risk approach and such a strategy will no doubt lead to errors but that is a small price to pay because it will be rewarded with tries, tries and more tries as long as they can maintain their standards and enviable level of precision.
As much as Farrell was at the centre of proceedings, there were plenty of willing and able cohorts with second-row duo Geoff Parling and Joe Launchbury, flanker Tom Wood and prop Joe Marler all hungry for work and possessing the kind of vision and deft touches more often than not the preserve of backs.
But it is Farrell who will quite rightly claim the plaudits for just his latest Man of the Match performance. His metronomic boot served England well once again in the form of 18 points and his awe-inspiring consistency and ability to keep the scoreboard ticking over will no doubt draw further comparisons to Jonny Wilkinson whose reliable right - and left - boot provided the platform for England's run to World Cup glory in 2003.
However, like Wilkinson, Farrell is more than just a kicking machine - he is an equally impressive playmaker with his most telling contribution to this game a sublime flat pass that accounted for a handful of defenders on its way into the hands of Parling who was then able to claim a simple score. It was the sort of pass that kids will be racing into the garden to practice - with the same enthusiasm that Farrell still exudes.
Not so long ago many scoffed when Farrell was shortlisted for the International Rugby Board Player of the Year award and while there may have been better qualified players worthy of selection, England clearly have a special talent on their hands who now stands head and shoulders above his rivals for the No.10 shirt. While his willingness to 'mix it' may be of slight concern, he has raised the bar for the likes of Toby Flood and Freddie Burns and will soon be worthy of mentioning in the same breath as eventual winner - All Blacks fly-half Dan Carter.
Perhaps most pleasing for Lancaster and alarming for their future opponents is that the belief and hunger extends to the fringe players - step forward Billy Twelvetrees. Tasked with filling Manu Tuilagi's boots, the previously uncapped centre not only survived the test but thrived to give his coach a welcome selection headache ahead of a trip to Dublin next weekend.
In addition, the work-rate of replacements Flood, Danny Care, Mako Vunipola and James Haskell highlighted how desperate they were to contribute but the sight of Courtney Lawes throwing himself headlong into a flurry of feet to secure a loose ball with only a few moments left in the game was the clearest example of the enviable team spirit Lancaster continues to cultivate.
Scotland more than played their part in what was at times a thrilling contest but for all their huff and puff they lost the battle of the breakdown and rarely found the game-breaking incision boasted by their rivals. Shocked by Tonga in their last outing, the Scots clearly had a point to prove to themselves and perhaps their former coach Andy Robinson who lost his job on the back of that embarrassing reverse in Aberdeen.
No.8 Johnnie Beattie impressed throughout but he could not eclipse the performance of fullback Stuart Hogg whose dancing feet lit up the occasion on numerous occasions. A blistering first-half break set up a try for his fellow winger Sean Maitland on debut and another ensured he got on the end of a length of the field move to claim a score for himself.
But he was also assured in defence under immense pressure and his endeavour alone offers hope that the Scots will avoid the wooden spoon this year. Do not be surprised if Hogg's dancing feet carry him all the way onto the British & Irish Lions' flight Down Under a little later this year.
England's Chris Ashton crashes over to score a try © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Graham Jenkins is the Senior Editor of ESPNscrum and you can also follow him on Twitter.
Huw Richards profiles French forward Walter Spanghero, a man who even rugby's hard men thought was a tough nut
"To be part of the Commonwealth Games, I'd wear anything. I'd wear a clown suit." Tom Hamilton talks to Scotland's Sean Lamont
Scrum Sevens looks back at how rugby has fared in both the early Olympics and the past four Commonwealth Games
"Cheika's been phenomenal. He gives you an incredible level of mental strength." Tom Hamilton talks to Waratahs star Jacques Potgieter