As the last of the sunshine set over Twickenham Stadium England and Scotland completed their final preparations ready for the 2015 Calcutta Cup; England hadn't lost against Scotland at Twickenham for 29 years and after the hurt of Dublin the expectation was for them to deliver a ruthless, show stopping performance whilst Scotland needed to prove that they are light years better than their bottom place in the table indicates. Personally, I believe that across the eighty minutes of rugby both teams did make their points; Scotland proved to be great warrior's and delivered positive rugby whilst England didn't make theirs as emphatically as they should have done but the opportunities created were some of the best of the Championship, even if they all weren't converted, in short they did right many of the wrongs of two weeks ago.
The theme of the match from an English perspective was making and indeed breaking chances, the opportunities and breaks created resulted in roars of approval from the 82,000 strong crowd. George Ford dictated from the Fly Half jersey as he ran some sterling lines, distributed with precision and kicked strongly out of hand and off the tee. The line breaks were delivered from all over the park; Mike Brown, Ben Youngs, Luther Burrell and Jack Nowell in particular all exploited Scottish defensive holes. However the pertinent point is that many a time a pass went forward, a strong Scottish cover tackle came in or a decision to go to the wrong side was made. Naturally this is disappointing and the sentiments of all the coaches and players I spoke to afterwards, Stuart Lancaster, James Haskell, Luther Burrell, echoed this however the disappointment and frustration is a positive one and it is a different type to that felt following the Dublin defeat. Stuart summarised this perfectly following the game;
'From a performance point of view we are delighted with the opportunities that we created but equally we'll look back at the tape and think, about the tries that were disallowed, and the opportunities that we missed and it is frustrating without a doubt. You don't get try scoring opportunities without good attack, and I think you could see by the shape, the way we played and our intent to play, our breakdown work was much sharper and more effective. We created twelve line breaks I understand but only to convert three obviously is frustrating. The boys are frustrated in the changing room and we'll definitely review the game, honestly as we always do and we'll need to sharpen up to beat France.'
If England hadn't created any opportunities then we should worry, if England have been static, stuttering and nervy, then we should be throwing the sword at them, however England weren't. The over arching feeling from the players was that those final errors were the result of it being 'one of those days' where the final glue just doesn't quite stick. Anyone that has played sport to any level, professional or otherwise, knows that those days are a fact of life and it is the way in which you deal with that, that is the most important factor.
Following the game Stuart proclaimed a clean bill of health for his side and this is hugely important going into the final game, where I expect him to name a largely if not fully unchanged side. The few mistakes from James Haskell may mean that Tom Wood is given a run out however it depends how costly the coaching staff believe them to be and how much they weighted the positivity of his work elsewhere on the field. The men that came back into the side in my eyes were phenomenal and did exactly what they were asked by the coaching staff which was 'to impart their own game on proceedings'. Courtney Lawes' physicality and work rate were World Class and Mike Brown's splendour in the 15 shirt shouldn't be skipped over.
Overall we all know that it was not a pristine performance, there is no doubt England should have put at least 6 tries on the board and at times defensively they were looser than they should have been. The missed tries may prove to be costly in terms of the Championship however England must take the positives and press on. Stuart shared that, as always, they will 'honestly analyse the game' and you can guarantee that they will be tough on themselves, and will get to the crux of why they were so inaccurate with the try line in sight.
England would be more annoyed if they didn't create any opportunities at all, if their set piece was shaky and if they didn't show the coolness of mind to continue to press and press when final passes didn't stick. Next weekend France will be an altogether different challenge, England have the luxury of playing however they must focus solely on winning the Test Match. In the early stages of this week they'll be some sore English bodies and pensive players however their hearts and minds will be in a much better place than they were this time two weeks ago knowing that they have laid the foundations for one final, winner takes all, Six Nations' showdown.