Scotland’s optimism for the RBS 6 Nations was doused in sadly familiar fashion at BT Murrayfield as England’s swarming defence and powerful pack won a deserved victory to retain the Calcutta Cup for a ninth successive time.
Tries from George Kruis and Jack Nowell gave Eddie Jones’ team the edge, but it was the defence that set the tone, preventing Scotland from ever really being a consistent threat.
Billy Vunipola, who did a masterful job with ball at the foot of a scrum that creaked badly at times, won the man of the match award, and he was also a key defender as the English blanket made some thunderous hits to keep the Scots backtracking.
Stuart Hogg did his best to spark Scotland to life but the pack were unable to move the ball quickly enough from each phase to put the English under much pressure. A spell either side of half-time hinted that they could have taken control of the game, but despite plenty phases in the English 22 there was no way through.
Scotland’s recent habit of slow starts hampered them again, as England bossed almost all possession for the first 15 minutes and deservedly took the lead with the first try.
Their main tactic appeared a variety of kicks at Stuart Hogg, and early attempts to drive against the Scottish scrummage proved fruitless, but a neat piece of work from wing Jack Nowell set up the score.
The Exeter man got a yard of space on the right near halfway and chipped ahead perfectly so Hogg had no choice but to field the ball and take it in-goal.
The Scots held the scrum five but Billy Vunpiola got a crucial half-yard off the back, and on the second phase lock Kruis went through Richie Gray’s tackle and reached over for the try, Farrell converting.
Scotland did hit back immediately with Hogg’s pacy run and a penalty for not rolling away, as Laidlaw booted it easily and the Scots finally started to get a foothold into the game.
Poor hands and players getting isolated kept them from making a real threat, however, and when they did get a penalty after a fine kick chase by Hogg and Tommy Seymour snared George Ford, Laidlaw pulled the angled penalty chance across the posts.
But even though Seymour spilled the ball on their next promising attack, the Scots pack splintered the English scrummage and scrum-half Danny Care was penalised, Laidlaw kicking Scotland back to within a point.
The Scots missed a good chance to take a lead into the break after John Hardie spun off a maul and made ground into the 22, but after several phases were repelled Russell’s attempted drop goal was well off target.
Scotland got another great chance when England botched the re-start for the second half, but England’s blanket defence regrouped, held off a series of charges and won a penalty.
Farrell missed a chance to stretch their lead but the second try was barely delayed when another Ford high bomb was flapped at in defence by Russell.
England re-won possession and replacement prop Mako Vunipola tied in defenders to make space for Nowell to scream in at the corner, the conversion missing.
The visitors then went for the kill with two big lineout drives, but the Scts held this time and Russell’s interception looked promising until he kicked it and it bounced out of play.
The Scottish scrummage then creaked for Farrell to stretch England ahead by another three points from over 40 metres, leaving the Scots two full scores behind.
Laidlaw reduced the gap with a penalty with 10 minutes left, but although Scotland again had possession near halfway they could make no dents in the English defence, and they calmly played out time for the win.
Scotland: S Hogg; S Maitland, M Bennett, M Scott, T Seymour (D Taylor 66); F Russell, G Laidlaw (capt); A Dickinson (G Reid 58), R Ford (S McInally 65), WP Nel (Z Fagerson 70); J Gray (T Swinson 70), R Gray; J Barclay (B Cowan 59), J Hardie, D Denton.
S McInally, G Reid, Z Fagerson, T Swinson, B, S Hidalgo-Clyne, D Weir, D Taylor.
England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, O Farrell, J Nowell; G Ford, D Care (B Youngs 55); J Marler (M Vunipola 49), D Hartley (capt, J George 77), D Cole; G Kruis, J Launchbury (C Lawes 47); C Robshaw (J Clifford 70), J Haskell, B Vunipola.
J George, M Vunipola, P Hill, C Lawes, J Clifford, B Youngs, A Goode, O Devoto.
Ref: J Lacey (IRFU)