Peter Butler column:
IT WAS nothing more than a par performance for England against Scotland in the Six Nations.
They played in fits and starts in a match which had a 'first game of the season' feel.
It was error-strewn and players clearly were getting used to being on the field with each other after a couple of months off since victory over New Zealand.
But a victory was the most important thing, as France found out to their peril, losing to Italy for the second straight Six Nations in Rome.
Billy Twelvetrees had an excellent debut, scoring a try and fitting into the back line excellently.
All the talk is of the selection headache created by Twelvetrees' performance and the return of Manu Tuilagi, but I think both should play, which means dropping Brad Barritt of Saracens.
Twelvetrees and Tuilagi is a well-balanced centre partnership in an area of the field England have looked a bit one dimensional recently.
The Gloucester centre brought his ball-playing skills to the fore against Scotland and although I thought he forced the pass once or twice too often, once he gels with his team-mates he could become a real force at international level.
The other Gloucester man on show, Ben Morgan, carried excellently until he hobbled off with what looked like an ankle injury. I hope it's not too serious and he can return against Ireland, although it did look painful.
Elsewhere in the back line, I felt Mike Brown looked out of place.
I simply don't think the Harlequins man can cut it at international level, particularly out of position on the wing.
The couple of times he received the ball in space he never looked like doing anything and I think there are specialist wingers, including David Strettle and Gloucester's Charlie Sharples, who could do a better job.
Although Scotland stuck at it admirably, there will clearly be tougher tests to come in the competition for Stuart Lancaster's men, particularly in the shape of Ireland who beat Wales in Cardiff.
England travel to Ireland this Sunday with the home side clear favourites.
In a way I feel victory in Ireland would be a bigger statement of the potential of this team than the recent win over the All Blacks.
Away victories against the top sides represent a clear marker of intent and capability. Good sides should win all their homes games, but champion sides do it away from home as well.
ACTIONS SPOKE FAR LOUDER THAN HOLLOW WORDS BEFORE BATH
ALL the talk in the press about Gloucester being as motivated as ever despite it being a dead rubber against Bath turned out to be just that.
The Cherry and Whites did the rugby equivalent of rolling over and having their tummies tickled to lose for the third time at Kingsholm this season.
My fears about the lack of depth in the squad were brought to bear with a far more experienced Bath really doing a number on a poor Gloucester outfit.
I hope things can be better this weekend, but you have to fear for the Gloucester side heading to Franklin’s Gardens on that evidence.
Northampton are by no means as seriously impacted by international call-ups as they have been in the past, whereas Gloucester are missing several key players.
That’s not to say those that are available cannot do better than they did against Bath. It’s time for a bit of character to be shown by the Cherry and Whites, or this Six Nations could be a rude awakening.
I hope Nigel Davies has some tricks up his sleeve and we see better performances every week from here until the end of the season.
PLAYING FARRELL AND BURNS IN THE SAME SIDE WOULD MAKE AN EXCITING FUTURE
THERE was a hint from Carl Hogg that Freddie Burns’ injury is a little more troublesome than first thought, and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for the young fly-half.
Had he been available when Manu Tuilagi pulled out ahead of the Scotland game, Burns would have been a genuine contender to come in at ten, with Owen Farrell moving to centre.
Now with Billy Twelvetrees stepping up so well, it means Burns falls further back in the queue to get the chance to prove himself on the international stage.
I’ve said before that the England of the future needs both Farrell and Burns in the back line.
Farrell has the accuracy of Jonny Wilkinson when kicking at goal, which means you have to have him in the team, whereas Burns possesses the talent to spark an attack from nowhere.
In my mind they both have to play and as soon as possible. Stuart Lancaster should build his team around the two of them but with the likes of Twelvetrees coming in and doing so well, it creates a selection dilemma once Burns is fit.
I just hope Lancaster gives Burns enough of a chance to bed in and prove himself and that Burns can be fit when he is needed, which he unluckily didn’t manage to be on this occasion.