England playing Scotland is the oldest rivalry in the game, Saturday was the final game of the group stages and one team was going home and one to the quarter-finals. The stage was set, emotions were running high and the pressure was on the teams to respond.

England did not. After the relative highs of last week, the game against Scotland was weak and has flattened the glimmer of hope that emerged from the performance against Romania.

…little continuity about the play,

Apart from a few big hits flying around, England looked sloppy and scrappy. There was little continuity about the play: Ben Youngs was very slow in feeding his runners and the set-plays looked half-baked. Even the scrum – which has previously been a strength in the tournament – was being pushed around by the Scottish pack.

Wilkinson returned to a heroic solo struggle to score points oblivious to his poor form. The sight of him walking up to penalty spots brought a feeling of horror, matched only by watching him drop-kick England’s momentum out into the Auckland crowd.

…used innovative set-plays and took the chances offered…

Looking a tad in shock...

Scotland played very well – their kicking was creative, they used innovative set-plays and took the chances offered with Nick De Luca narrowly failed to finish a good break.

Nevertheless they were 12-9 up and were holding off an England side that had come out fairly rejuvenated from half-time until the 78th minute saw Toby Flood – on for Wilkinson – float a long pass out to Chris Ashton who scrambled over for a try.

…gives them the easier run against a poor French side…

The 16-12 scoreline sees England go undefeated into the quarter finals which gives them the easier run against a poor French side rather than the fearsome All-Blacks but does not tell much of their performance.

It was not all bad – the second half showed more spirit, the half-back combination of Flood and Wigglesworth looked far more promising and there were strong performances from Tuilagi, Foden and Armitage but the large periods of lukewarm play will really hurt the side in later games.

…no telling what side will take to the field…

It is hard to follow England at the moment. There is no telling what side will take to the field or what the strategy is. Johnson’s men will need a far more coherent game-plan and far better discipline if they want to have a chance as the competition hots up.

Image courtesy of Toby Flood and Rupert Matthews

 

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