Stuart Lancaster’s side squandered a host of simple try-scoring chances in the first quarter and found themselves trailing 13-10 at the break against a Scotland side who had lost all three matches in this year’s championship and not won at Twickenham in 32 years.
They could have done with taking those chances as well to boost a points difference that only narrowly favours them going into next weekend’s final round of the Six Nations.
England host mercurial France, while Ireland visit Scotland, a fixture not as easy as it may look given the character shown by Vern Cotter’s side on Saturday night.
Lancaster’s men top the table with a points difference of plus 37, four better than Ireland. Wales, who are also on three wins after beating Ireland earlier in the day, have a points difference of plus 12.
From the minute Huddersfield-born Luther Burrell skipped through after 30 seconds it looked like it would be a rout, but the big centre threw the ball away.
Jonathan Joseph did not make the same mistake moments later, skipping past Stuart Hogg to score from a pass by George Ford.
But after Ford’s conversion, England missed glorious chances through Jack Nowell twice and Mike Brown, with the latter possibly hindered by the fact he wore only one boot after losing it in contact in an earlier phase.
Emboldened by those numerous reprieves, Scotland responded with a try on their first attack through centre Mark Bennett, and after Greig Laidlaw scored two penalties to Ford’s one in the final 10 minutes of the half, Scotland had an improbable three-point lead.
That was erased within two and a half minutes of the second half as Ford dummied his way through the gaping holes in the Scotland defence, converting the score and then adding a penalty to give England a 10-point lead.
After Ford struck the upright with another penalty, the ball fell kindly for England and after a number of phases, Nowell finally got the try he should have had much earlier; a score that put Lancaster’s men top of the table.
But still they laboured in what was a flat performance from a side who can still win the title despite not producing a high-calibre performance since the opening-night win over Wales in Cardiff.