England edges Scotland at Rugby World Cup
Chris Ashton dived into the right corner minutes from fulltime to ensure England progressed to the World Cup quarter-finals with a 16-12 comeback win over its oldest rugby rival on Saturday, leaving Scotland on the brink of elimination.
The Scottish lineup played with predictable passion and courage, spoiling desperately and leading until the 78th minute until winger Ashton took advantage of an overlap and crossed out wide.
Replacement flyhalf Tony Flood converted from the sideline to put a nail into Scotland's coffin at the World Cup.
"We didn't really get a foothold in the game. We didn't get an opportunity to attack them," England manager Martin Johnson said, praising his squad for managing to score the last 13 unanswered points. "We kept our nerve … We had the character to win the game."
The Scots needed to win by eight to ensure progression and held a nine-point cushion at 12-3 in the 56th before the English rallied with a dropped goal and a penalty from Jonny Wilkinson.
Wilkinson, the star of England's 2003 World Cup winning campaign, missed two dropped goals and four of his six shots at goal — the last which could have levelled the scores in the 68th.
So when England was awarded a penalty in kicking range late, skipper Lewis Moody opted to go for touch and a lineout. The decision paid off when the English backs spread it wide to produce the only try of the first Anglo-Scottish clash on neutral soil, stunning a 58,213-strong crowd at Eden Park which got right behind the underdog Scots.
It was the second time in two weeks the Scots have let a lead slip in the dying minutes, following last week's 13-12 defeat to Argentina, leaving them needing Georgia to upset the Pumas on Sunday to extend its record of reaching the quarter-finals at every World Cup.
"It's heartbreaking but I've got to say the guys gave it everything," Scotland coach Andy Robinson said.
Unbeaten England, runners-up four years ago, topped Pool B with four wins after a challenging opening 13-9 defeat of Argentina.
"Yeah, it was an incredibly tough day," Moody said. "Full credit to Scotland, they came out and played a fantastic game. We knew they would. We didn't make it easy for ourselves by any stretch of the imagination."
Scotland captain Alastair Kellock could barely speak.
"I'm gutted," he added. "I'm gutted. We're going home. There are things we can look at in a few weeks' time and maybe drag some positives out of it but right now we're going home so I'm gutted.
"We knew it would take an outstanding effort to beat England. I think we produced that outstanding effort for a lot of the game but once again we slipped at crucial times. That's been the story of the last couple of weeks."
The England-Scotland rivalry is the oldest in international rugby and lived up to its billing for intensity, despite the lack of tries.
England now has 69 wins in 129 tests dating to 1871 and has won both World Cup encounters — the previous being the 9-6 semifinal victory at Twickenham in 1991.
A light drizzle which made the field slippery and the ball greasy set a familiar scene as the anthems were sung, but stopped just after kickoff.
The Scots took a 9-3 lead into halftime when Dan Parks, who replaced starting flyhalf Ruaridh Jackson in the fifth minute, snapped a dropped goal from in front seconds before the break.
Fullback Chris Paterson, now the most capped World Cup player in Scotland history, opened the scoring with a penalty from the left touchline in the 9th and Parks just got his long-range shot over the crossbar into a stiff breeze -- after it was referred for a video replay — to give Scotland a 6-0 lead after 17.
Wilkinson missed his first three shots at goal in another uncharacteristically bad performance with the boot before sailing one over in the 34th for England's first points.
Scotland used some unconventional lineout moves to retain possession and pinch a few of England's throw-ins, and scrumhalf Mike Blair had an inspirational impact with his busy work behind the sturdy pack.
The Scots attempted to shift the ball wide at every opportunity to break down an English defence that had conceded only one try in the tournament but never managed to cross the line, despite getting within inches a couple of times with some enterprising work on the wing by Simon Danielli.
But as the match wore on, the English ground Scotland down.
The England backrowers shut down a try-scoring opportunity by grounding the ball in goal as some flying Scotsmen were chasing through on an angled kick coming into the last 15 minutes.
Parks made a try-saving tackle on a runaway winger Delon Armitage in the left corner, but the Scots ran out of defenders when Ashton converted England's best scoring chance of the match.
Scotland finished with two wins and back-to-back losses.
"We're hugely disappointed to lose the game," Robinson said. "But you've seen a great spirit among these Scotland boys and the way they've carried themselves throughout the World Cup.
"We're going to be supporting Georgia tomorrow, hoping they can do a job for us with (Scotland-born) Richie Dixon as coach. The big thing is the sport is won and lost by inches, and in both games when it's come to winning the game we've lost out."