• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Flickers of light

IT is a hard thing to admit, but I loved watching the way England played at Twickenham yesterday.

Scotland debutant Sean Maitland dives over for the first try of the match    Photograph: Getty
Scotland debutant Sean Maitland dives over for the first try of the match Photograph: Getty

They were outstanding. I really didn't think they could play at that tempo and intensity for as long as they did, but that's what made it extremely difficult for Scotland because they were a few levels above us.

As a result, we got no real opportunity to see what Scott Johnson's team is all about. England were right on top of us whenever we did get the ball, our scrum was under a lot of pressure, we gave away too many unnecessary penalties and referee Alain Rolland did not do us too many favours.

We just couldn't get the ball for any length of time and we all know you can't win games if that's the case.

It could have been a lot worse than it was had Scotland not stuck to their task as manfully as they did in defence, but we simply did not have the sort of ball-carrying power England boast, not just in the forwards but in the backs as well.

That is not to say there were no signs of encouragement. Johnnie Beattie looked good on his return to the international scene, Richie Gray put in yet another good shift with a string of impressive tackles and Stuart Hogg simply looked a class act, carrying a threat every time he got the ball.

For me, that raises a real question because I wonder if he could be more influential by being moved closer to the ball in the midfield. That is the main area the Scotland management could look at as they focus on next week's meeting with Italy when we can expect to have more opportunity to play because there is no way the Italians can make it as tough as that.

They will obviously try to get in our faces and upset our rhythm, but we will not be up against the same sort of pace and intensity, so we should be able to get greater continuity and go through the phases more effectively.

A feature of yesterday's match was that Brad Barritt did a good job of shutting down the 13 channel time and time again, but I feel we have to think about moving Hogg in to outside centre where he might be able to do more to bring the back three into play.

That would probably mean shifting Sean Lamont back to the wing, with Sean Maitland, who had a very encouraging debut as another who always looked dangerous on the counter-attack, going to full-back. We need to get Hogg on to the ball as much as possible and I would also be thinking about a change at stand-off because I felt Ruaridh Jackson was a bit slow at times, most noticeably when he was charged down in the first half, although that was by no means the only occasion.

I would bring in Duncan Weir against Italy because any meeting with them is always likely to be a kicking oriented game.

The suspicion has to be that Johnson will not do that right away, but I don't think he seems like the sort to be scared to change, so I hope his instincts tell him to alter those things because they could make a significant difference.

Elsewhere, I would not be looking at too many changes. There is not a lot of scope to do that in the pack and if Al Strokosch is out I would probably stick with Dave Denton in the back row. He did make a bad error with the pass he threw that put us under pressure not long after he came on, but he was by no means the only one who has to work on eliminating mistakes and is a good player. On the plus side, I really thought the attitude was great throughout, the way Scotland worked hard for each other, and we do have a threat, but unfortunately the only time we really got the chance to see it was from turnovers rather than anything we did ourselves.

What opportunities we created came down to Hogg recognising the chance to counter and even then we made it more difficult than we had to. You can score a lot more easily than we did, without all that rigmarole.

In all, then, there were some encouraging signs and perhaps some inspiration to be drawn from yesterday's opposition when you see the way England have developed in the year since Stuart Lancaster took over as their head coach on an interim basis.

Contextual targeting label: 
Sport

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

138802