JAMES HASKELL voiced his relief after England began rebuilding the ruins of last autumn’s World Cup misery with a 15-9 victory over Scotland at Murrayfield.
Eddie Jones’ first match as head coach was a tricky hurdle to negotiate, but the RBS 6 Nations was launched with a scrappy but effective win that keeps the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham for an eighth year.
There were few thrills and only one debutant in Jack Clifford, but a team containing 512 caps was picked with the sole purpose of departing Edinburgh with the result that offers the new regime breathing space.
Victory was sealed thanks to tries from George Kruis and Jack Nowell – plus five points from kicker Owen Farrell – but only after they shook off the determined hosts.
Scotland were perhaps the better team as the first half closed but they trailed 7-6, and England stepped up a gear after the break by producing some more adventurous rugby to give Jones the start he was looking for.
Four months ago England crashed out of the home World Cup at the group stage and Haskell hopes a chastening period in the nation’s rugby history is over.
“It is always a relief when you come away from Murrayfield with a victory,” said the Wasps back row.
“I grew up watching teams come to Edinburgh and have Grand Slams and Six Nations titles ruined.
“Scotland are a massively improved team. They were unlucky not to be playing in the semi-final of the World Cup and we knew they were going to be dangerous.
“We believed we could win, but this is a very difficult place to come and you want to start the Six Nations in a good way.
“It’s been difficult times for English rugby. This is the first time we’ve played since the World Cup and it was important to get that victory.
“But we haven’t done too much because it’s such a long journey through the rest of the Six Nations.”
England reacted to the demise of their World Cup dream after a mere 16 days by appointing a new coaching team led by Jones at a cost of over £1m.
Jones has had only two weeks to stamp his mark on the Six Nations favourites and among the discernible differences were the increased prominence of No 8 Billy Vunipola, who was named man of the match, and a willingness to adapt tactically.
“There was a bit of pressure on us to perform. Eddie has been very clear on what he wants,” said Haskell. “We have had some smiles but we know that he is a serious guy. Nobody wants to be on the wrong side of him.
“Some things were said about us after the World Cup which were not true, so we wanted to show what we can do. We are not going to get carried away – it’s the first game, there is a lot of rugby to be played and lots of improvement to be made. We will take it.”
England looked to attack from all areas of the pitch early on but with their ambition hindered by a lack of accuracy, they narrowed their objectives to pounding at the Scots through their forwards and using Ford to kick them downfield.
It was a policy that paid off when Jack Nowell ran in the second of their two tries, finishing a move that had its foundations in big carries from Billy Vunipola and Haskell and a clever offload by Mako Vunipola.
“At times we made life difficult for ourselves because Scotland went well but we ground it out,” said Haskell.
“I thought when we kept the ball and did what we wanted to do. We looked quite dangerous and there was some great finishing from Jack Nowell.”
Jones was full of praise for his new England side for overcoming their tricky first test.
The Australian has preached a back-to-basics approach since replacing Stuart Lancaster following last year’s doomed World Cup campaign and there were signs of promise.
“I was pleased with the attitude of the team,” said the Australian. “We wanted to go out and play some positive rugby but we were a little bit off our game.
“We had to adjust but the way we did in the second half was terrific.
“It became a set-piece defence game but I thought we excelled in that.
“Our second-half performance was quite commanding.”
England took the lead after a quarter of an hour when Kruis reached out to plant the ball on the line after No 8 Billy Vunipola made a daring break off the back of a scrum. Vunipola was also involved in the second touchdown as he popped a precision offload into Farrell before Nowell was released in the corner to score. “Billy was outstanding. with his carrying and defence work.
“He can be the best No 8 in the world” said Jones.
Scotland: Hogg, Maitland, Bennett, Scott, Seymour (Taylor 65), Russell, Laidlaw, Dickinson (Reid 57), Ford (McInally 64), Nel (Fagerson 69), R. Gray, J. Gray (Swinson 69), Barclay (Cowan 58), Hardie, Denton. Unused replacements: Hidalgo-Clyne, Weir.
England: Brown, Watson, Joseph, Farrell, Nowell, Ford, Care (Youngs 54), Marler (M Vunipola 49), Hartley (George 76), Cole, Launchbury (Lawes 46), Kruis, Robshaw (Clifford 69), Haskell, B. Vunipola. Unused replacements: P. Hill, Goode, Devoto.
Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).