England’s carelessness, sloppy handling and poor kicking all contribute to their downfall at Murrayfield

Scotland’s captain Finn Russell displays his golden touch, while left wing Duhan van der Merwe has become a try-scoring titan

England’s postgame review is going to be painful, individually, and collectively, as it reveals the level of carelessness, manifest in turnovers, sloppy handling and poor basics skills that contributed to their downfall at Murrayfield. They kicked away the ball indiscriminately, often too far and poorly directed, and when chasing the game late-on it beggared belief to pursue that policy.

That’s not to denigrate Scotland’s triumph – they played some cracking rugby at times, and in captain Finn Russell had a rugby alchemist with the golden touch. In left wing Duhan van der Merwe they have a phenomenal try-scoring titan, 26 in total after a hat-trick in Edinburgh and now just one behind Stuart Hogg’s all-time record.

England coach Steve Borthwick won’t have to trawl too deeply to find the genesis of his team’s problems. In trying to play more rugby than previously in the tournament the stress test on even the most mundane skills failed miserably as they essentially handed Scotland 14 points.

Mistakes from restarts, in passing, in kicking, in handling, at the set-piece and in general option-taking basically undermined the ambition to play more rugby. In the final quarter they reverted to type, putting boot to ball as the favoured gambit, the irony that their peerless aerialist Freddie Steward wasn’t playing. It was that muddled.


The afternoon had started promisingly for the visitors, a beautifully executed set-piece try off a scrum, number eight Ben Earl and Elliot Daly coming off a blindside wing, prised open the Scotland defence for fullback George Furbank. Apart from a try for replacement Immanuel Feyi-Waboso it was the high point of the afternoon.

England’s fault list included conceding four free kicks at scrum time, an area in which they had an edge, particularly when Scotland tighthead Zander Fagerson wasn’t on the pitch. Halfbacks Danny Care and George Ford enjoyed torrid afternoons, distribution, decision-making, kicking, all areas that were substandard.

England got their defensive alignment wrong for van der Merwe’s first try, Henry Slade jumping out of the line and creating a dog-leg through which the excellent Huw Jones escaped. Ford hit Furbank in the face with a pass that was too high and hard, Jones grabbed the turnover, flicked it to van der Merwe and the wing finished brilliantly outpacing the cover down the touchline.

His third try just after the interval came after Cameron Redpath, facing his posts, pirouetted to escape England’s pursuers, and set off for the visitors’ 22. Russell’s cross-kick was exquisite, the bounce favourable.

Care was gone after 47 minutes, Ford by 59, and while there were one or two nice touches from Fin Smith, England were rudderless at halfback and that distraction spread like a malaise. It would be a surprise if the starting halfbacks were retained for the visit of Ireland unless Borthwick decides to revert to a previous incarnation, a kicking-dominated strategy chasing territory and muscling up on the gain-line.

England are now at a crossroads and the road they take against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday week in some respects will reveal the priority, probably in parking progress to chase the result.

Scotland: B Kinghorn; K Steyn, H Jones, S Tuipulotu, D Van Der Merwe; F Russell (capt), B White; P Schoeman, G Turner, Z Fagerson; G Gilchrist, S Cummings; J Ritchie, R Darge, J Dempsey. Replacements: C Redpath for Tuipulotu (41); E Ashman for Turner, A Christie for Ritchie (both 52); A Hepburn for Schoeman, E Millar-Mills for Z Fagerson (both 61), G Horne for White (62), S Skinner for Gilchrist (67), B Healy for Redpath (73-76)

Sin Bin: Van Der Merwe (78).

England: G Furbank; T Freeman, H Slade, O Lawrence, E Daly; G Ford, D Care; E Genge, J George (capt), D Cole; M Itoje, O Chessum; E Roots, S Underhill, B Earl. Replacements: B Spencer for Care, G Martin for Roots (both h-t); W Stuart for Cole, C Cunningham-South for Underhill (both 56); I Feyi-Waboso for Slade, F Smith for Ford, J Marler for Genge (all 61), T Dan for George (67).

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU).

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer