LONDON - England outclassed old rival Scotland to justify its billing as a hot Six Nations title contender, running in four tries in a comfortable 38-18 win at Twickenham on Saturday.
The victory was never in doubt once winger Chris Ashton went over for England's opening score on the half-hour mark, helping them to a 19-11 halftime lead. Debutant Billy Twelvetrees, Geoff Parling and Danny Care grabbed further tries after the break, with flyhalf Owen Farrell excelling and kicking 18 points.
"I'm really pleased with the scoreline — we definitely would have taken that at the start of the day," England coach Stuart Lancaster said. "We've been building steadily, getting more consistent."
The Scots, coming off a humiliating loss to Tonga in November, were second best in almost every department and tries on the counterattack by New Zealand-born newcomer Sean Maitland and Stuart Hogg book-ended the match, giving the score line some respectability for them. They remain without a win at Twickenham since 1983.
This assured, disciplined effort in the oldest fixture in international rugby was another demonstration of the strides England has made under Lancaster since he took charge following a sorry 2011 World Cup campaign, which was an embarrassment on and off the pitch.
A memorable and historic win over New Zealand in its final autumn test had raised the expectations levels on the English, with many considering them the best bets with France for the title. Upcoming matches in Ireland next Sunday and at home to France on matchday three will be truer tests of their credentials but they will certainly be challenging on this evidence.
"Ireland are an outstanding side," Lancaster said of Declan Kidney's team, which beat Wales 30-22 earlier Saturday. "It'll be a big step up."
Scotland's best hope of ending its wretched run at Twickenham would have been if the heavens opened and the match turned into an all-out forwards battle.
No such luck.
England controlled possession and largely did the basics well, going through the phases and punishing any Scottish indiscipline through Farrell's unforgiving kicking that is already being compared to that of Jonny Wilkinson's. He missed just one of his eight kicks at goal and his miss-pass for Parling's try was arguably the highlight of the match.
"The mental toughness he possesses was in evidence," England attack coach Mike Catt said. "Cool and calm under pressure."
The home side did have to come from behind, though, after Maitland, who qualified for Scotland by virtue of his grandparents, dived over in the corner in the ninth minute after Hogg's piercing break from inside his own half.
That put the Scots 5-3 up — it was the only time they were ahead.
"We gave them too many easy yards and we're really disappointed," interim Scotland coach Scott Johnson said. "We let ourselves down."
Farrell booted two penalties to regain the lead for England before Ashton buried himself between Greig Laidlaw and Hogg to ground one-handed, moments after Joe Launchbury had been held up on the line. That helped England to a halftime lead and the signs were already apparent that Scotland would be in for a long second half.
Just three minutes after the break, Twelvetrees ran onto a crash-ball from scrumhalf Ben Youngs to mark an impressive debut with a try. The highly rated Twelvetrees could yet be the creative centre England has been lacking since Will Greenwood's international retirement in 2004.
With the English pressure relentless, Launchbury had a try disallowed for an infringement in the build-up by hooker Tom Youngs but his second-row partner, Parling, followed up with a legitimate score of his own.
Farrell showed he has a devastating pass to go with his clinical kicking, sending over a long, floating pass that Parling ran onto and dived over in the left corner.
Hogg broke clear on turnover ball and hacked ahead to ground ahead of replacement Toby Flood to give Scotland some respite as much as anything else, but England deservedly had the final say when Care plundered through a morass of bodies under the posts.
"We are moving forward," England captain Chris Robshaw said. "Everyone is starting to understand each other a bit better."
England 38 (Chris Ashton, Billy Twelvetrees, Geoff Parling, Danny Care tries; Owen Farrell 3 conversions, 4 penalties), Scotland 18 (Sean Maitland, Stuart Hogg tries; Greig Laidlaw conversion, 2 penalties). HT: 19-11.