England held on for a 15-9 win against Scotland at Murrayfield
George Kruis try, converted by Owen Farrell, give Eddie Jones men a 7-6 lead at the break
Two penalties from Greig Laidlaw kept the Scots’ very much in the contest
Jack Nowell’s try plus a penalty from Farrell after the break was enough for the visitors to hold on
This was a quite heroic victory for England, being their first game since a disastrous Rugby World Cup campaign, and a hugely important success because it keeps their chances of winning the 2016 Six Nations very much alive.
They won simply because, when the going got tough especially after the break, they remained robust and repelled everything the Scots’ had to offer to protect their line and did not concede a try over the full 80 minutes at Murrayfield.
It was such a different display from at the World Cup and the overall performance and leadership of the much-questioned Dylan Hartley on the day was undoubtedly crucial to that significant improvement. The decision to make him skipper from new head coach Eddie Jones seems to be an inspired one. Billy Vunipola was also outstanding with his powerful running and robust defence particularly impressing.
But, in truth, this was more about the team, and their collective desire not to buckle in what was an intimidating atmosphere in the Scottish capital. Their spirit, even when they were put under pressure by the Scots’, was remarkable, and Jones must take praise for that turnaround in attitude.
Scotland, for their part, were wonderfully committed, challenging England ferociously hard at the breakdown throughout the clash but just couldn’t find a try for all their territory and missed a few crucial kicks. The Dark Blues though not scored on home turf against the men in white since 2004.
A George Kruis try, converted by Owen Farrell, give England an early seven-point lead, but a pair of Greig Laidlaw penalties meant the pair were separated by the narrowest of margins at the break, setting up for a compelling second-half.
The visitors edged further in front through a Jack Nowell try before a penalty from Farrell put England nine points ahead. Laidlaw reduced the deficit to six points with another penalty but in truth, the hosts rarely threatened the try-line in the closing stages as Jones men held on for a deserved victory.
It was nerve-shredding stuff at Murrayfield from the off with both teams making frantic starts full of handling errors in the opening exchanges.
England thought they had taken the lead after 10 minutes when George Ford fizzed a drop-goal attempt towards goal, but it spun wide to the delight of the home fans.
Two minutes later though the visitors had the opening try. A stable scrum from England allowed Vunipola to break from the base, and the ball was worked to Kruis, who busted through the tackle of Richie Gray to stretch over for the score. The first international try for the Saracens lock.
Farrell, deployed in the centre, took on the kicking duties and added the extra two points with the conversion, 0-7.
A sweet strike from the tee via Scotland captain Laidlaw soon after though give the hosts their first points of the match and cut England’s lead immediately to four-points.
The scrum-half then doubled his and Scotland’s tally two minutes before the break with another sweetly struck penalty, which is how the score remained heading into half-time, 6-7.
A missed kick each after the break was followed up with a spectacular second try from England as Nowell finished spectacularly in the corner after 50 minutes. Mako Vunipola, who had just come on, made an immediate impact with a neat pass behind himself to work the space out wide for the winger, who crossed in the corner. Farrell though failed to add the extras, 6-12.
Farrell failed to add the extras but made up for it by slotting a penalty on the hour to extend England’s lead to nine-points, 6-15.
Scotland though were back within six points soon after as Laidlaw slotted his third penalty of the contest. Mistakes and turnovers though cost the hosts in the closing stages with England holding out for the win.
MAN OF THE MATCH
England: Dylan Hartley
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
Date: Saturday, February 6
Kick-off: 16:50 GMT
Referee: John Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)