England got their Six Nations campaign off to a winning start at Murrayfield on Saturday, edging Scotland 15-9 to lift the Calcutta Cup.
Eddie Jones hinted it wouldn’t be pretty but a victory is all the English wanted to start their new era on a positive note after a poor World Cup.
Tries were scored by second-row George Kruis and wing Jack Nowell, with Owen Farrell kicking five points to Greig Laidlaw’s nine for Scotland.
It was a pulsating first-half in Edinburgh as England edged the opening quarter before Scotland finished strongly, making the 7-6 scoreline a fair reflection of the first 40 minutes. Those points came via England lock Kruis’ converted score and two Laidlaw penalties in reply.
However, Scotland would rue a Laidlaw penalty miss and also a 40th minute drop-goal attempt from fly-half Finn Russell that went well wide.
England had a pot shot of their own in the first opportunity of the game on ten minutes as George Ford sat back in the pocket. That effort drifted just wide of the post but the visitors did not have to wait long before Kruis reached out after a series of close carries for 7-0.
At this point England were enjoying 80 percent of possession in decent areas so when Scotland came to life in the 17th minute, Murrayfield was full of relieved faces as their charges began to improve. Laidlaw landed a penalty for some reward after Chris Robshaw didn’t roll away.
It could have been 7-6 on the half-hour mark when Ford was penalised for not releasing under pressure from Stuart Hogg and Tommy Seymour. But Laidlaw was off-target as Scotland had to wait until the 38th minute for their next points, this time Joe Launchbury the man not releasing.
As mentioned though, Vern Cotter’s side would possibly feel they should have gone into the dressing room in front after that Russell miss.
The momentum continued to be with Scotland after the turnaround but once again they had little to show for their dominance, with a second crooked lineout throw from hooker Ross Ford not helping their cause, allowing England to clear their lines for a much-needed respite.
Enter Mako Vunipola whose fine form this season in club colours continued for his country, with lovely hands leading to Nowell racing over on the right wing. Farrell though could not land the difficult touchline extras which meant Scotland remained within a score at 12-6 down.
It was predicted that England’s powerful bench would have a say on proceedings and that proved to be the case coming up to the hour as they set up camp in the home 22.
Fortunately for Scotland a loose pass from Ben Youngs gave them a welcome escape up to halfway. However, had that ball been kept in hand there was more than a chance of a breakout try.
The clearance wouldn’t shield them from three key points in the game though as a scrum penalty led to Farrell sending one over to make it 15-6.
Scotland were gifted a route back into the game on 69 minutes when England replacement Courtney Lawes was caught offside from a Mike Brown kick, Laidlaw making no mistake from in front of the uprights as the gap was cut to six points with plenty of time still on the clock.
But England held on and deservedly won the match, seeing out the clash on the front foot as the Jones era began on a positive note.
Man of the Match: A force throughout at number eight for England, Billy Vunipola gets the nod for our star man. Scotland struggled to keep a lid on his power as Vunipola made good metres with his carries. Despite a mixed day off the tee, and one careless penalty, centre Owen Farrell was also impressive.
Moment of the Match: Maybe Scotland fly-half Finn Russell will be kicking himself for booting the ball upfield after intercepting a pass in his 22. Had he looked to his left he would have found full-back Stuart Hogg who would surely have won a foot race with George Ford. Costly.
Villain of the Match: All in all, a clean game with no mischief.
Pens: Laidlaw 3
Tries: Kruis, Nowell
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Mark Bennett, 12 Matt Scott, 11 Tommy Seymour, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw (c), 8 David Denton, 7 John Hardie, 6 John Barclay, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Ross Ford, 1 Alasdair Dickinson
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Zander Fagerson, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Blair Cowan, 21 Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Duncan Taylor
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jack Nowell, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 James Haskell, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Paul Hill, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Alex Goode, 23 Ollie Devoto
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)