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Scotland naive and bereft of ideas

IT IS always painful to see a big fat nothing on your side of the scoreboard, a fate Scotland had not suffered at England's hands since 1978 until yesterday's game at Murrayfield.

The scoreboard reflects brutal truth for Scots Photograph: Stewart Attwood
The scoreboard reflects brutal truth for Scots Photograph: Stewart Attwood

But, to be frank, they never looked like scoring. Had either of Greig Laidlaw's missed kicks gone over they would have been flattered by the points.

England dominated every facet of play. At this level of the game you cannot operate with a line-out that functioned as poorly as Scotland's did, but that was only the starkest of their shortcomings. As all the others became clear, we fed England's confidence, and they started to move the ball with positive intent.

They might wonder why more did not come of it, but that concern is a luxury Scotland can only dream about. We were naive in so many areas - particularly the kicking strategy - and we were completely outgunned at the breakdown. England had speed and physicality and they knocked our ball carriers over like skittles.

The only player in a blue shirt who gave a bit of go-forward was Dave Denton, but he was taken off only 13 minutes into the second half. What on earth was that about? Goodness knows what Scott Johnson was thinking, but it made absolutely no sense to me.

While Johnson highlighted Scotland's naivety and inexperience, Jim Hamilton and Sean Lamont, the two most experienced players in our side, were as guilty as any when it came to making silly mistakes, especially in giving away needless penalties. Things like that gave England easy field position, and our line-out problems only increased the pressure we were under.

Some credit has to go to the Scottish defence as the English back three looked good, but were not allowed to run riot. Certainly, they did not get bogged down as the Scots did. England are an improving side at the moment, and their clash with Ireland at Twickenham in the next round of RBS 6 Nations fixtures could be fascinating. They are building nicely towards the World Cup in 2015, while we just looked bereft of ideas.

When we did win, or even just retain, the ball it came back slowly. Laidlaw struggled to clear the breakdown area, while Danny Care, his opposite number, looked very sharp. Of course, Care had a bit of an armchair ride behind the England pack, but the contrast was still depressing.

It was just a horrible afternoon for Scotland. It was good that they managed to keep Luther Burrell out just before half-time, for the floodgates really could have opened if England had scored then. The brutal truth for Scotland is that it could have been a lot worse.

So what does the coach do now? Johnson ditched Kelly Brown last week, but this was a game that was made for him. Should Brown be restored, to the team and as captain? Would Johnson dare to drop Laidlaw? What coach has ever dropped two captains in consecutive games?

The statistics at the finish were dreadful. Scotland were absolutely wiped for territory, spending just 3% of the game in the England 22. Italy, our next opponents have kept Scotland off the bottom of the table a few times in the 14 years since they joined the championship, but I don't feel particularly confident that they will do us that favour this season. They have a tough game against France in Paris today, but they will enjoy watching replays of Scotland's games. It will be a tough, tough mission for us to go to Rome and take on an Italian side that will feel they can win. There is much more to Italy now than a good scrum and physicality in contact, because they have players who can use the ball as well as win it.

We have to pick ourselves up and think about how to approach the game. The Scotland forwards were given a roasting for the way they played against Ireland last weekend, but yesterday was far, far worse. The focus now has to be on a change of tactics rather than shouting them out again.

As for personnel, there aren't many options, but Scott Lawson really has to come in. He looked busy and hungry when he came on yesterday, and he won a few balls on the floor as well as tidying up the line-out.

Johnson will try to put a positive spin on things, but this was Scotland's poorest performance on his watch. Talking about progress is all very well, but there are precious few signs of it at the moment.

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