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Scotland 6 England 13: Same old story as familiar failings return to haunt Robinson's men

Been there, did that, didn't get the T-shirt.

England players celebrate victory at Murrayfield   Photograph: Getty
England players celebrate victory at Murrayfield Photograph: Getty

The SRU's premature – if inadvertent – marketing of their notorious Calcutta Cup winner's garment was a bit of a giggle last week, but over-confidence came back to haunt their side in this maddening match at Murrayfield. Scotland had the better of their opponents in so many regards, but the only advantage that mattered at the finish was England's seven-point lead on the scoreboard.

The margin was created, with galling precision, by the try and conversio n England collected in the opening minute of the second half. It was a brutal period, for aside from the points they conceded, the Scots had to consider the recklessness with which they were given away.

What should have been a simple play to get the ball cleared from the 22 became an accident waiting to happen as Scotland boxed themselves into a corner. It duly unfolded when Dan Parks tried to kick from near his own line only for Charlie Hodgson to charge the effort down and scuttle over for the score.

It was a horrible one to give away, but a four-point deficit with 39 minutes to play is hardly the definition of a crisis. Yet Scotland appeared to have developed a perverse appetite for making things worse, and nothing went right for them from that point on. Yes, they rallied, and yes, they carved out chances, but they lacked sharpness in the execution of their moves and they were hopelessly error-prone at times.

They were given a gee-up just short of the hour mark when Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw came on for Chris Cusiter and Parks respectively. From then on, there was a more obvious urgency about Scotland, but a cynic would say that there wasn't much justification for patience at that stage.

Yet for all that they brought the crowd to their feet as they poured into the English half, they forgot to ask any searching questions when they got there. England were rarely stretched in the last quarter, and added a hefty pinch of salt to the wound by pulling away with one last penalty to make victory even more comfortable.

Ultimately, Scotland lost because, for the fourth game in succession, they could not get across their opponents' try-line. Earnest analysis would conclude that Scotland did many good things, but this is a team who can't buy a try. They suffered horrible luck when the TV official ruled that Laidlaw had been beaten in a race to the ball by England scrum-half Ben Youngs in the 63rd minute, but more assurance in the red zone would have ruled out the significance of video referees a lot earlier.

Bright spots? A few. In his first serious international Dave Denton, the 21-year-old No 8, lived up to his potential by putting in a magnificent shift. There was also a conspicuously effective contribution from Jim Hamilton, the lock who has shed a few pounds and gained a lot of gas since the World Cup. Max Evans darted and danced and caused panic in the English defence once or twice. But these were just cameos, nothing more.

By contrast, England had a lovely afternoon. Even the weather gods seemed to favour them; predictions of storms and tempests were as wide of the mark as Scotland's finishing skills. New coach Stuart Lancaster's makeshift and inexperienced side played with far more composure than Scotland, although the new coach is not exactly short of material to work with after what was also, by any analysis, a very limited display. It didn't help Scotland that referee George Clancy allowed England to get away with slowing down the ball at contact and with slowing down the match at every other opportunity. But any side would do that in similar circumstances, and Scotland can hardly pin the blame on him. They had the possession and territory to win three matches, but they butchered the handful of chances that came their way. Frankly, they didn't deserve to finish in front.

The Scots did have one golden opportunity to put England away when Ross Rennie went steaming off with the ball a couple of minutes after Laidlaw's effort had been disallowed. With Laidlaw sprinting up in support, joined by Blair a moment later, a try seemed virtually certain, especially given Rennie's proven distribution skills. However, they deserted the flanker at the critical moment and he naively went into contact with Ben Foden, the England full-back.

As Rennie tried to get the ball out, Foden stuck out an arm and knocked it to the ground. There was a case for a penalty for a deliberate knock-on, but not an overwhelming one. The move fell apart, and in that moment it seemed that Scotland were destined not to win the game.

Parks had kicked penalties in the 25th and 32nd minutes and Owen Farrell had landed one in the 22nd minute to create the interval scoreline. Scotland's three-point lead at that stage was unquestionably deserved, but their failure to cause the chaos in English ranks that Andy Robinson had demanded should have sounded alarm bells. Instead, the most chaotic episode came just after the turn, and Scotland were on the wrong end of it as Hodgson danced his celebration jig behind their posts.

Can they pull back from this? They could scarcely have asked for a better draw than to take on such an inexperienced England side at Murrayfield in the first game. And they could scarcely wish for a less attractive place to put the wheels back on than the Millennium Stadium next weekend when they take on Wales. They found themselves brilliantly, if briefly, in the equivalent match two years ago, but Robinson can hardly put his faith in the hope of history repeating itself.

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