England 23-29 Scotland: Duhan van der Merwe settles Calcutta Cup tie as Steve Borthwick suffers opening loss
Duhan van der Merwe stepped off his wing, inside Marcus Smith, Owen Farrell and Max Malins, and sealed Scotland’s first Calcutta Cup treble in 51 years.
The Lions wing’s second try handed a dagger blow ending to Steve Borthwick’s first match at the England helm, as Scotland triumphed 29-23 at Twickenham to open the Six Nations in some style.
Malins claimed his first two England tries, with Ellis Genge also crossing as Borthwick got the Red Rose attack firing and then some.
England’s defence simply proved too leaky, too often, with Huw Jones and London Irish’s Ben White also claiming scores for the jubilant Scots.
Gregor Townsend’s men delivered three Calcutta Cup wins in a row over the Auld Enemy for the first time since 1972, leaving Borthwick and company as stunned as they were shattered.
The sheer scale of new England boss Borthwick’s task was laid bare here by a red-hot attack, revamped by specialist coach Nick Evans – but a defence marshalled by Kevin Sinfield that appeared too ragged to thrive at Test level.
England handed the Twickenham crowd more than enough to toast with their drinks tonight, but another defeat still leaves the drawing board the sole port of call.
Borthwick’s men will be encouraged but frustrated, but even despite the loss, this still represented major progress from the shambles that was the end of Eddie Jones’ tenure in November.
England scored two tries in the first half that they would never have managed in the final throes of Jones’ tenure. The hosts also leaked two scores that should not really be anywhere near a Test match.
For the oh-so good, Malins twice profited from fine England attack. First England punched and punched through tight phases in the Scotland 22, but crucially stayed patient.
And when the ball was shifted into midfield, Kyle Sinckler cut back a fine pass to give Smith time to couple the right decision with excellent execution.
The Harlequins fly-half jinked then dinked, feigning step before pinging a perfect cross-field bomb to the right wing for Malins to dot down on the slide.
For England’s second score of the Borthwick era, Jack van Poortvliet and Farrell combined to send Joe Marchant racing through the Scotland line. Van Poortvliet lingered after finding Farrell, and his presence outfoxed Scotland allowing Marchant to power away.
One quick ruck later and England moved the ball along the line for Malins to score in the corner. For the never-should-happen, Huw Jones ghosted through a midfield dogleg, then England raced out to let Sione Tuipulotu grubber into a vacant in-goal area – and Jones added the facile finish.
And then Van der Merwe cantered in from halfway, breaking five attempted tackles as England’s alignment and poise deserted them. A mixed bag, but still hugely encouraging. Especially as Farrell’s penalty sent the hosts into the break with a 13-12 lead.
England bulldozed the Scotland scrum to start the second half with a morale-boosting penalty. The hosts then conjured another fine try, with Alex Dombrandt cutting a cute line off Ben Curry at the lineout tail. Genge powered home to hand England the ideal opening.
That momentum was drained by another costly error though, as Curry’s missed tackle let Ben White sneak in for Scotland’s third try.
Finn Russell’s conversion had England leading 20-19 just ahead of the hour. Dan Cole toasted his first Test since the 2019 World Cup final by stepping off the bench to demolish the Scotland scrum and win England a vital penalty.
Farrell and Russell traded penalties to leave the game in the balance heading into the final 10 minutes. England attacked deep into the Scotland 22, only for a grubber from Smith to prove too cute.
Scotland recovered and cleared, and in a flash Van der Merwe had stepped inside Smith, Farrell and Malins to score. Russell’s conversion put the Scots into a 29-23 lead with some five minutes on the clock.
England pressed again, powering upfield and back into the Scottish 22. But their final attempt came to nought as Scotland held firm for a win that will rightly reverberate around this grand old tournament.