England were on the edge of defeat to fierce rivals Scotland before claiming a 16-12 win in the first game outside Britain between the two in their Rugby World Cup pool match at Eden Park in Auckland.
It took 76 minutes for England to claim the lead courtesy of a try to wing Chris Ashton, before a sideline conversion by replacement Toby Flood ensured Scotland would return home, their first failure to reach the quarter-finals in World Cup history.
Hitting England where they were regarded as strongest, in the scrum, Scotland embarrassed the higher ranked side and put in 76 minutes of endeavour to win plenty of friends but no points.
England’s efforts to win were based around the relentless effort to use centre Manu Tuilagi as a battering ram in midfield – it failed to work.
Scotland suffered an early setback when flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson was forced to leave the field after five minutes. Inside-centre Sean Lamont provided an early example of Scotland’s willingness to move the ball, fending off opposite Mike Tindall with ease.
Scrummaging problems also unsettled England as they struggled with the engagement and they suffered with penalties being conceded. During the first half the Scots snared four England feeds for themselves.
Scotland fullback Chris Paterson made the most of his chances and landed two penalty goals while, by comparison, England’s ace flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson had a horror start missing his first three attempts. He finally landed his first 33 minutes into the first half.
Neither side looked like crossing the goal-line but it was Scotland that looked the more likely showing a degree of invention and enterprise while England’s advance was generally on the end of nothing more basic than a Wilkinson up-and-under.
But in the tactical kicking department it was the deftness of replacement flyhalf Dan Parks and fullback Paterson that proved more productive. And it was Parks who snapped over a dropped goal on half-time to give his side a 9-3 lead.
England started the second half with more imagination and a stunning midfield tackle by Tuilagi on Lamont rocked Scotland, while wing Delon Armitage streaked along the sideline before being cut down just short of the goal-line in a superb cover tackle by Parks.
Scotland cleared their line to absorb the early pressure but suffered a worrying moment after the ball was kicked through a scrum by Scotland but a knock-on by halfback Ben Youngs allowed Scotland to ease the pressure.
Once Paterson had landed a third penalty goal, in the 55th minute, Wilkinson responded a minute later with a dropped goal. However, a second attempt two minutes after was charged down and Scotland cleared out downfield again.
Scotland were unable, despite their best efforts, to prise open a gap in England’s defence, and they would be left to rue that as Ashton crossed over before Flood sealed the win with his conversion.
Pen: Wilkinson 2
Dropped goal: Wilkinson
Pen: Paterson 3
Dropped goal: Parks