Oval Talk

England must learn Braveheart lessons

Oval Talk

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Martin Johnson had been insisting all week that England would have to fight tooth and nail to down Scotland, and that was how it proved as they narrowly maintained their challenge for a first Grand Slam in eight years.

England had come undone against supposedly inferior Scottish opposition too many times for Johnson not to have hammered home the perils of over-confidence.

But until Jonny Wilkinson nailed a last-minute penalty the game was still very much in the balance, as an error prone England struggled to match the tenacity of a Scottish side that have now lost all four of their Six Nations games.

All the talk from the England camp had been highly respectful of the Scottish challenge, as it should be. Andy Robinson's men have ruffled some serious feathers in the last 12 months, despite their potential wooden spoon status.

There was no way the Scots were going to roll over at Twickenham and to a man the England team said they were prepared for the challenge that lay ahead.

And yet. And yet, despite one or two reasonable individual performances - James Haskell in particular - England seemed strangely muted; complacent even.

Leadership in the England ranks was lacking and there was a sense about their play that suggested they were taking their firm favourites status for granted.

Had they been reading too much of their own positive press? Perhaps. This is a young England side still with much to learn. For long periods they were sluggish, lacking in urgency.

Players who had scrapped like tigers in the previous round to get the better of a what was considered a superior French pack, all of a sudden appeared to lose the 'mongrel' in them.

They were out-played at the breakdown, and had the Scottish pack managed parity at the set piece there is every chance they would have caused an upset almost on the scale of Italy's defeat of France.

It was the sort of game that called for England to perform the basics well. They managed that with their dominant scrum and in the lineout, but in the loose they were, well, far too loose.

England lost the error count 18-5, with Johnson's men spilling the ball more times than they had in their three previous championship matches.

Scotland got in their faces, committed more men to the breakdown and deprived England of the quick ball that their superior possession should have produced.

Against France, Johnson succeeded in getting his players to change tactics after the break, but against Scotland they lost the tactical battle.

Of course credit must go to Scotland for the way they battled and took the game to England. Their defense was magnificent and Robinson used his intimate knowledge of the England set-up to good effect.

But just as the three earlier wins did not make England a great team, nor does this struggling performance make them a bad one. Scotland may actually have done them a favour.

Johnson certainly sees it that way. In his post-match comments he insisted it was better for his team to head to Dublin after winning a tight encounter than had they piled on the points.

Last weekend, Ireland and France both lost matches that could have gone either way. England did not, and a flat dressing room after winning their fourth match on the bounce is not a bad place to be.

England will be slight underdogs going to Dublin, which will suit them. They were over-confident against Scotland but it is hard to see them doing the same against the likes of Brian O'Driscoll, Paul O'Connell and Tommy Bowe.

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