England set up Grand Slam decider
March 13, 2011
England flanker Tom Croft scores the decisive try for his side
© Getty Images
England will head to Dublin next weekend in search of a first Six Nations Grand Slam since 2003 after seeing off a brave Scotland 22-16 on Sunday.
Martin Johnson's side were made to fight for every point registered by a Scotland outfit determined to prove their worth after demoralising losses to Wales and Ireland, with the second-half sin-binning of flanker John Barclay proving to be a turning point in a tight game.
Leicester flanker Tom Croft scored England's only try on his return to the side after a long lay-off with a shoulder injury, while Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson shared 17 points with the boot. Glasgow wing Max Evans scored a solo try for the visitors while the excellent Chris Paterson landed 11 points to keep his side in touch until the dying seconds.
Scotland began brightly and despite two notable wobbles from Ross Ford at the lineout, when penalties were needlessly wasted, they opened the scoring through the boot of Paterson on four minutes. The visitors then came within inches of the opening try as a smart step from their fullback opened a narrow gap, but Kelly Brown's offload was put to ground by the onrushing Rory Lawson.
England got an early advantage by marching a scrum forwards and winning a penalty, from which Flood was unable to level the scores from the tee, and the hosts wasted another good opportunity with a skewed lineout throw from Dylan Hartley. The scrum came to their rescue again on 14 minutes however, with Flood bagging his side's opening points after Allan Jacobsen had been penalised.
Scotland redoubled their efforts and peppered the English line, whipping the ball deep and finding little sway against an organised defence until Evans popped through a gap only to be halted illegally. Paterson picked himself up from a knock and took his side back into the lead on 20 minutes.
England were quickly back on level terms as the visiting tight-forwards coughed up a turnover with some misjudged offloads in close quarters, with Nathan Hines penalised for not releasing. Flood kicked the points from a simple angle but England lost out to Scotland at the breakdown immediately after, when the hosts' reluctance to commit at the ruck cost them a promising position.
Flood's third penalty, again won at the scrum, gave England the lead for the first time in the match after half an hour but Scotland ended the half the stronger, drawing level with a well-taken drop-goal from Ruaridh Jackson as reward for two smart turnovers.
England began the second-half with a renewed sense of purpose and immediately made inroads. Matt Banahan, introduced for the injured Mike Tindall at the break, flattened Brown to send Chris Ashton into space and the winger was able to keep the ball alive. Tom Palmer, Dylan Hartley and Tom Wood conspired along the touchline, with Wood eventually forced out inches from the line.
Banahan's surge ended Brown's game and after a long delay while the Saracens flanker was cared for, England flooded forward again. Ashton was again halted by Paterson, who tackled above his weight throughout, and Scotland cleared the danger through Lawson, even surviving a second assault on their line as a Banahan offload went astray.
Scotland enjoyed a brief spell of territory and possession but were robbed of their momentum by a hack ahead from Nick Easter, and England soon turned the game decisively. After Scotland had switched out their halfbacks, introducing Mike Blair and Dan Parks, a loose pass placed them under huge pressure.
England piled in, with Ashton again to the fore, but the chance was snuffed out by Barclay, illegally according to referee Romain Poite. The Glasgow flanker was sin binned as Flood landed a fourth penalty and was followed off the field by the official, who was left grimacing due to a calf injury.
Jerome Garces took over the whistle as Parks failed with a dismal drop-goal and England were soon denied by the grand old man of Scottish rugby. A strong run through midfield by Haskell put Ashton hurtling into space and the winger in turn sent his club team-mate, Ben Foden, on a charge to the corner. The fullback was free and clear before Paterson loomed with a wonderful bootstrap tackle.
Unfortunately for the visitors, their grace was short-lived. With Barclay a minute away from his return, strong work from Haskell on the floor allowed England to whip the ball across the backline. With a four-on-two developing along the flank simple passing put Croft on a charge from just inside the 22 and the back-rower smashed through Parks to score.
Wilkinson added the conversion but a moment of impudent brilliance brought Scotland back into the game. Evans chipped over some static defence five metres from the English line and rounded off his superb piece of skill with a catch and dive to score. Paterson curled in the conversion to bring Scotland back to within three points.
Wilkinson failed with a snap drop-goal after a handling error from Scotland replacement Nick De Luca but the Toulon out-half made no mistake when handed a penalty two minutes from time, sending the ball between the uprights to cue a mass sigh of relief from the Twickenham faithful.
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