Six Nations
Vunipola brothers lead the way for stuttering England
Tom Hamilton
February 6, 2016
Highlights: Scotland 9-15 England (video available only in Australia)

MURRAYFIELD, Edinburgh -- As with Stuart Lancaster's era, Eddie Jones' tenure starts with a win, under the lights, in Baltic conditions at Murrayfield. Like four years ago, it was not pretty, at times frustrating but Jones will care not a jot. The last two months have been purely about preparing for this match; winning was the priority, excitement and flair be damned.

It was far from perfect from Jones' side. Had Scotland managed to make better decisions on their attacking ventures then they could have teed up a nervy finish. But the England 22 stayed largely uninhabited in the second half, ensuring the Calcutta Cup stayed south of Hadrian's Wall.

There was a pre-match nervousness in Edinburgh. England were the wounded World Cup flops bereft of time together as a unit, Scotland were the hard-done by, quickly improving, settled side. A man in full kilted attire said this is the best Scotland side they have had in 12 years but the wait for bragging rights over the Auld Enemy will have to wait until next year, as has been the case since 2008.

Instead it was Dylan Hartley who was handed the Calcutta Cup and as the final whistle went at Murrayfield, he rose from his solitary position on the sidelines, his shoulders eased a little and a smile broke out. Job done.

First, let's give credit to England's areas of improvement. The pack showed more snarl than it has in a year with Mako Vunipola's addition to the fray in the second half giving them a timely boost while his brother Billy was the worthy recipient of the Man of the Match award. At times he was playing Scotland on his own, carrying with ferocity and punching holes. His total of 52 metres made tells a story in itself. James Haskell was at his concrete best while Chris Robshaw performed well at blindside.

That Jack Clifford remained unused until the 69th minute showed Jones' faith in the back-row triumvirate that started the game. The front-row were bullish but the playbehind the scrum needs finessing.

Jones has been in charge of England's attacking game plan and the only sign of ruthlessness manifested itself for Jack Nowell's second-half try. But on other occasions they looked befuddled with the preference for up-and-unders stunting tempo and preventing any cohesion. George Ford looked desperately low on confidence and though he had Owen Farrell alongside him, it was the latter who dictated the tempo better.

There was an encouraging approach to attacking from deep with Mike Brown superb under the high ball but in the middle third of the field, the drift in England's ranks was predictable to defend against and only quick hands from Mako Vunipola and Nowell's speed over 10 metres caused panic in the Scotland ranks, leading to the try. The lack of quick ball was also a problem as was their discipline with their over eagerness inviting penalties from referee John Lacey while kicking from hand was at times loose.

But all of that played out under the umbrella of the end result: an opening win for England. Scotland will lament some ill-judged decisions - Finn Russell's call to kick long when he had the brilliant Stuart Hogg on his shoulder with one England defender in his way was poor. Hogg was one of the few players who had an attacking freedom about their play. You sense Scotland are a little short of the tempo we witnessed in the World Cup, but they should get that back over the coming weeks and if they can continue to utilise the superb John Hardie as they did against England, they will be well away from Wooden Spoon territory.

For England, attention shifts to Rome next weekend. It will be more of the same against Italy with the focus on a stable set piece and then taking any chances which come their way. But they will realise they have to improve if they are to break their Grand Slam duck. Thoughts of that can wait, tonight they will enjoy the win and, as Jones' approach allows, enjoy a beer.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Associate Editor of ESPNscrum.

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