England claimed an unconvincing 13-6 victory against Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday.
The Scots went into the game as favourites having not lost to their arch-rivals at home since 2004. They also boasted the more experienced line-up, with 499 Test caps in their starting XV compared to new-look England’s 233.
England were fielding three debutants, including former Sharks centre Brad Barritt, who made a good start to his Test career when he won his side a penalty at the breakdown.
The visitors had 70% territory in the first quarter, thanks mainly to some poor tactical kicking from Scotland, who put boot to ball every 35 seconds. But it took England 23 minutes to get on the board when debutant No 12 Owen Farrell kicked a penalty having missed his first attempt earlier on.
Scotland, though, dominated the rest of the half and two penalties from flyhalf Dan Parks gave them a 6-3 lead. England made several basic errors during that period, losing possession through a forward pass from Barritt, a kick from scrumhalf Ben Youngs that went directly into touch, and then a lost lineout inside Scottish territory.
The pressure England were being put under was evident by the fact that they had to make 79 tackles in the first half compared to Scotland’s 32.
Neither side had scored a try in this fixture since 2004 but that drought finally ended in the first minute of the second half when England flyhalf Charlie Hodgson charged down Parks’ clearance kick to score.
They almost crossed the line again 10 minutes later when Hodgson’s cross-field kick found winger David Strettle, but Scotland’s Zimbabwean-born No 8 David Denton, who was named Man of the Match, made a try-saving tackle.
Both coaches turned to their bench in the final quarter, with the introduction of Scottish halfbacks Mike Blair and Greig Laidlaw followed shortly afterwards by that of Lee Dickson and Jordan Turner-Hall for England.
Laidlaw made an immediate impact when he chased his own kick and only just failed to ground the ball over the tryline before Youngs dotted down. A minute later, Scotland butchered a certain try when flanker Ross Rennie broke through the defence but couldn’t find Laidlaw on his inside.
With six minutes to go, Farrell kicked another penalty to extend the lead to seven, and while Scotland finished the game on the attack they once again couldn’t make it count.
By Simon Borchardt