Scotland rip up George’s blueprint as England’s fast start fizzles out

<span>Jamie George (left) captained <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a> in defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield.</span><span>Photograph: Scott Heppell/AP</span>

Truth is, Murrayfield is a hell of a place to lose if you’re English. And some of the older players in this England team are starting to get awfully familiar with the feeling, more than they’d like, for sure, and more, perhaps, than a lot of the men who used to wear those same white shirts would ever have imagined was possible back in their own playing days. This was Scotland’s fourth win in a row against England, the last time they put that many together was back in the 1970s. At least the first three in the run were close. This one was such a rout that by the end the crowd were too busy laughing at England to boo or whistle them.

It reached a nadir when Ollie Lawrence came barrelling down the left side and threw a wild pass towards Elliot Daly that flew yards wide and straight out of play. Steve Borthwick and his coaching team were standing right over him too, in the glass coaching booth at the back of the grandstand, with just a few thousand hooting Scottish fans between him and his team.

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It was all the more painful because England had the run of the first quarter. They were leading 10-0 after 20 minutes. They had just scored the opening try through a peel off the back of a scrum, a ruthlessly efficient bit of shoving by their pack, who were bullying the eight men opposite them, which was followed by a tidy bit of knife-work by their backs. George Ford had a penalty, too. Murrayfield was pretty quiet at that point, apart from the swelling chorus of Swing Low that was struck up by the band of away fans in the west stand.

Worse luck for Scotland, their tighthead prop Zander Fagerson was forced off for a head injury assessment because of an impact registered by his instrumented mouthguard (Gregor Townsend was furious about it afterwards) and England’s front row were relishing the prospect of scrummaging against his rookie replacement, Elliot Millar-Mills.

You could see what England were about in those moments. Jamie George said later that he hoped that fans could see the way they played in that first period as the “blueprint” for what they want to do in the future. Trouble was they were so utterly outplayed in the hour after, you were left wondering whether their plan was fit for purpose to begin with. It felt, in the end, like the kind of defeat that’s going to take months to recover from. For England, the match was a challenge to take a step up. Instead they found that, by the end, they had been knocked right back down again.

The systems England and their coaches had been building in training these last few weeks, all those intricate attacking plans and defensive patterns, were so comprehensively dismantled by the Scots that you have to ask whether the players are going to have much faith that they’re going to be any more successful when they play Ireland and France in the final rounds of the championship. As soon as the flow of the game started to turn, through that brilliant first try, the match ran away from England altogether, and there didn’t seem to be anything much they could do to get it back under any sort of control.

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It was Duhan van der Merwe who did the killing. He scored one of the great freewheeling hat-tricks in the long history of the championship, the first by a Scotland player in the history of the Calcutta Cup.

“I guess I woke up this morning and felt like scoring some tries,” he said afterwards. It will be particularly painful for England that two of Van der Merwe’s three tries came directly from mistakes they made. One when Huw Jones gathered in a stray ball, after a high pass from Ford pinballed away off George Furbank’s palms, and another when Scotland won the ball off an English throw at the lineout.

They won’t be short of flaws to pick over in their Monday debrief. “If you give the ball to Duhan van der Merwe and Finn Russell you know they can create a bit of magic and they did that,” George said afterwards. “A lot of what we did was good, the endeavour that we showed was good but we just can’t hand the ball over to a team like that.” The England head coach made similar noises. Borthwick spoke about the number of handling errors the team had made, and said there had been too many “fundamental errors” in the way they had played.

It was a little dispiriting to hear all the talk afterwards about England’s “lack of experience”, and how the team are “a work in progress”, which they seem to have been ever since 2019. Especially when so many of these players were playing back then too. England seem to spend an awful lot of time building these days, then the Scots take them to pieces again.