Steve Borthwick admitted England “should have won” their high-octane Calcutta Cup encounter as his side threw away an eight-point lead and succumbed to back-to-back defeats to Scotland at Twickenham for the first time in their history.
Scotland led in a bright first half courtesy of tries through Huw Jones and a spectacular 60-metre effort by South African-born winger Duhan van der Merwe, who guillotined England’s porous defence in scintillating style, brushing off five defenders in the process.
England hit back through a brace of tries from Max Malins and an Owen Farrell penalty and looked like they were marking a fresh slate under their new head coach when Ellis Genge crashed over early on in the second half to go 20-12 up.
But Borthwick was left rueing his side’s lack of ruthlessness as a determined Scottish outfit pushed on in the topsy-turvy encounter which culminated in the superb Van der Merwe gliding over in the 74th minute for his second as Scotland continued their dominance at the home of English rugby.
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“We were in a position where we should have gone on and won that Test match,” said Borthwick. “While I was really pleased with the response in the first half to a couple of setbacks - really pleased - because that wasn’t always the response previously. We got ourselves in a position where we should have won the Test match in the second half.
"That’s what we want to do, we want to be a really good team and really good teams go on and [would] win that. At 20-12 up, we shouldn’t have let the opposition back in, but we did.”
Borthwick bristled at questions about whether he was out of his depth given it has been 47 days since he took the top job in English rugby and instead was at pains to point out his side’s resilience which was woefully lacking during their dismal autumn campaign last year.
“Did I see signs of improvement? Yes,” he said. “People like Max came in and did really well. Ollie Hassell-Collins did really well on his debut. There were really strong performances across the team, which is a positive because if you look back, I was looking for those performances and I couldn’t see them.
“I think it’s clear to say right now that the England set-piece in recent times has not been strong. You always want to have a strong set piece and a strong maul. Those are going to take time to build. We’re going to persevere with those. Those things don’t happen quickly.”
When asked whether taking the top job in English rugby was a harder gig than he anticipated - especially given the success he enjoyed at Leicester Tigers after steering the club to their first domestic title in nine years last summer - he replied: “I’ve not compared it in a sense of that,” he said.
“I know it’s a challenge. I know it’s a big challenge. I watched those games in the autumn, but what I’ve seen today, again, the team in the autumn who conceded a couple of scores early, didn’t come back for that.
“These guys did and showed great resolve in that first half, considering the position they were in. I thought they came out in the first part of the second half and were strong, unfortunately we let the opposition back in and we shouldn’t do that and we’ll make sure we don’t do that going forward.”
Despite missing England’s first two conversions, Farrell remained optimistic about his side’s prospects for the remainder of the championship and assured his group of players would take learnings into their home clash with Italy next week.
“The result is disappointing, obviously, but we’re at the start of our journey at the minute,” said the England captain. “Over the past 11 days that we’ve been together, we feel like there’s been some growth. And we feel like there’s been some growth in the performance today.
"Ultimately, we said we’d look at ourselves after this game and want to get better, regardless of the result. I guess there were always going to be some errors coming from our first game together in new systems. I know that these boys will make sure they fix them.”