England lost to Scotland at Twickenham for the first time in 38 yearsWikimedia Commons

England came into the Six Nations as the defending Champions, the recent Autumn Nations Cup winners, and a team that had an 89% winning record in 2020. 80 abysmal minutes later and England were suddenly staring at a mini-crisis. Sport can be a cruel world.

However, this was by no means the case of a strong English side suddenly collapsing under a ferocious Scottish blaze. As impressive as the Scots were on Saturday, this defeat revealed a more gradual rotting of English rugby that has been developing since the World Cup Final defeat in 2019. Their achievements since then have seemingly only served to paper over the cracks of decline that have gradually grown over the past 12 months.

England were convincingly defeated by the French in Paris in the opening round of last year’s Six Nations, and only went onto win the Championship due to France’s untimely habit of self-imploding, as they did with the sending off against Scotland. Likewise in the Autumn Nations Cup, England were able to take advantage of Irish and Welsh teams in transition under Andy Farrell and Wayne Pivac, while in the final they only scraped past a second-string French team missing all of its star quality. This wasn’t an all-conquering English march to two trophies in 2020, but a team very much in decline. On Saturday, we saw Scotland brutally remove the gloss that the trophies had given to 2020 and reveal the growing cracks beneath.

“...this defeat revealed a gradual rotting of English rugby that has been developing since the World Cup Final.”

The Autumn had also shown that England’s attacking game was in need of a reboot, as, bar an exceptional Johnny May try vs Ireland, there had been very few moments of attacking fluidity. The announcement of England’s Six Nations squad, with the inclusion of Harry Randall and Paolo Idogwu, seemed to show signs of an exciting attacking rebirth. However, neither of these prodigious talents were included in the squad for the Scotland game, and it was far more of an attacking nightmare than a renaissance.

Despite the absence of Randall and Idogwu, England still had a team with plenty of attacking talent in Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Johnny May and Henry Slade as well as the exciting prospect, Ollie Lawrence. However, not even the most able attacking rugby player can do anything without the ball, which was precisely England’s problem; in the first half, neither Lawrence nor Watson touched the ball once. At the height of Eddie Jones’ time as England head coach, he beautifully dovetailed a powerful crash ball game with fast and fluid attackers, who were able to exploit the space opened up by the big ball carriers. On Saturday there wasn’t a hint of a fluid attack. Instead, England looked thoroughly one-dimensional and Scotland were easily able to repel every English attack.

The attacking brilliance of Finn Russel, Cameron Redpath and Stuart Hogg brutally exposed an England team void of invention. If England adopt the same approach against a French attack containing the likes of Antoine Dupont, Romaine Ntamack and Teddy Thomas, then you would bet big money on an equally disappointing result. Much has been made of John Mitchell’s work in defence, but if England are to have a respectable tournament, then it’s the other side of the game that Eddie Jones needs to get to work on.

“On Saturday, we saw Scotland brutally remove the gloss that the trophies had given to 2020 and reveal the growing cracks beneath.”

The other problem that England had on Saturday was that, even though they were within a score of regaining the lead for the whole game, the players that came off the bench never looked like seizing the opportunity. When Jones started at England back in 2015, he revolutionised the way that subs were viewed, referring to them as ‘finishers’. In his eyes he doesn’t view a starting XV, but an equal squad of 23. However, yesterday – with the possible exception of Luke Cowan-Dickie and Courtney Lawes – England’s ‘finishers’ were unable to add anything to a team crying out for a boost. The key problem seems to be that Jones has developed a reasonably set view of his starting XV, and he doesn’t want to upset the balance of his squad by bringing in quality players who he believes don’t have the mentality to sit on the bench.

Likewise, while Finn Russel was pulling the strings for Scotland, England’s hottest creative prospect, Marcus Smith, was watching from home. How England could’ve done with some magic from him, but he’s another player who seems to have fallen into the category of not being trusted by Eddie Jones to perform the role of squad player and replacement (reminds you of a certain Danny Cirpriani). However, for England to go up to that next level, Jones needs to be willing to accept that greater competition in the squad is healthy. Rather than creating instability, having two or three high quality players competing for each position will help England to find that plan B that seemed to be entirely missing on Saturday.

However, there were clearly some mitigating factors to the defeat that need mentioning. The Saracens boys, for starters, who form such a core group of the England team, haven’t played since the Autumn Nations Cup due to Saracens relegation into the Championship. No training camp can prepare you for the brutality of 80 minutes of international rugby, especially the Calcutta Cup, and so undoubtedly they’ll improve as the tournament goes on.


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Secondly, it seems to be no coincidence that no fans were there to watch England lose at Twickenham to Scotland for the first time in 38 years. As we have seen in the Premier League, empty stadiums can produce strange results. Therefore, by no means is it time for panic stations. After all, Eddie Jones has the best win percentage record of any England head coach, and in his five and a half year tenure England have won three Six Nations, one Grand Slam, one Autumn Nations Cup and reached a World Cup final. He’s earnt the right to be given the time to turn this around and you wouldn’t bet against a coach of his expertise doing so.

Nonetheless, this abject defeat has certainly put a degree of pressure on his shoulders, and so it’s now time for him to prove to England fans why he’s the highest paid coach in the international game.