By Daniel Schofield, Deputy Rugby Union Correspondent at Twickenham
A new England era under Steve Borthwick began with many of the same old problems blighting a performance which showed enough promise to keep Twickenham from voicing any discontent.
Given all the gloom that has enveloped rugby from all sides, this was a magnificent advertisement for the sport, a high-octane rollercoaster of a match. There was plenty of ambition and some glorious skill, not least from Duhan van der Merwe who may well have scored the try of the Championship in the first half, as well as bagging what proved to be the match-winning score six minutes from time.
England still had the opportunity to wrestle back the lead in the final moments, but after kicking for touch their maul was sacked and the attack failed to generate any momentum. Finally Scotland captain Jamie Ritchie clamped over Ben Earl to earn the penalty that ensured the Calcutta Cup went back north of Hadrian’s wall again. After a ten-year stretch in which England had exclusive possession of the trophy, Scotland have now held it for five of the last six years.
Defeat in this fixture should never be considered acceptable for England, particularly when you consider the huge gulf in resources. Yet after the lows of the autumn, when England were booed off against South Africa in Eddie Jones’ final match, the crowd recognised the endeavour and increased ambition of Borthwick’s team.
After what seemed like three years of muddled backline play, England attacked with purpose and penetration. It was not perfect. Several offloads failed to go to hand, particularly those of Alex Dombrandt. Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell are still finding each other’s wavelength – their partnership always feels like it will work better in theory than it does in practice.
At least there was a discernible structure, shape and, most importantly of all, speed following the talk of structure-position free attack which resulted in a glutinous mess at the end of the Jones’ era.
The second try scored by Max Malins just before halftime was an excellent exhibition of Nick Evans’ influence as attack coach. Joe Marchant and Dombrandt changed the point of attack with runs against the grain, sucking defenders in so when England went wide there was an overlap to exploit which was expertly executed, as Ellis Genge, Freddie Steward and Lewis Ludlam combined to put Malins over in the corner.
Malins’ first try was also well worked. England stayed patient in possession even as they seemed to lose ground from taking a five-metre tap penalty. Eventually Marcus Smith pulled the trigger with a wonderful crossfield kick, which arced into the stride of Malins who did well to ground the ball.
Yet there were plenty of familiar failings. The scrum is still more of a liability than a weapon. Twickenham used to be a graveyard for Scottish props of a certain vintage. This time, the Scottish front row looked comfortable and were able to keep the ball in the scrum in the hope of milking a free kick if not a penalty. Borthwick had labelled the scrum as one of his overwhelming priorities and, as the game went on, England started to gain the ascendancy. How sweet it must have been for Dan Cole to win a penalty in his first act as an England player since the 2019 World Cup final.
England’s indiscipline also reared its ugly head again, with ten penalties conceded, usually at the most inopportune of times. Several promising positions were compromised by unnecessary penalties such as a Steward neck roll as he tried to clear a ruck.
More costly still Ollie Hassell-Collins, sensing the crowd’s impatience with a prolonged bout of kick tennis, decided to run the ball back only to forget his support and get turned over. Scotland kicked into the 22 from where Huw Jones scored the opening try.
It was beautifully constructed. George Turner threw over the top to Ritchie who shipped it on to Finn Russell, releasing Jones who was eventually hauled down. England, though, were wobbling. Scotland moved left and then came right where, with a penalty advantage, Sione Tuipulotu superbly executed a grubber under pressure to put Jones into what seemed like 20 acres of unguarded space to put Scotland ahead.
If the exploitation of a set piece move will be a cause for concern for Kevin Sinfield, then Van der Merwe’s try could well induce a spell of insomnia for the new defence coach. It would be churlish to ignore the majesty of the score, however. It was one of the finest individual efforts to have graced international rugby’s oldest fixture. The left foot steps and change of pace was simply magnificent; the tackling which saw six England players left on the turf far less so.
If the blame could be shared for the Van der Merwe try then Ben Curry was clearly culpable for Scotland’s third. Perhaps the flanker sensed the ball was loose at a ruck, but he shot up too quickly allowing Ben White to spin past his tackle and step past Steward. The greater crime was the dog’s dinner England had made of gathering the restart of Genge’s try, which gave Scotland the field position to bring it back to a one-point game.
From there, Farrell and Russell exchanged penalties before a tiring England’s defence was once again broken apart too easily as Scotland spread the play. It was left to Ritchie to administer the last rites.
England v Scotland, as it happened:
England v Scotland player ratings
Scotland win back-to-back matches against England at Twickenham for the first time ever as Borthwick starts his new era with defeat.
The visitors defended heroically and attacked with vim, marshalled by the brilliant Finn Russell and while England far from disgraced themselves there were too many errors from the hosts.
So who had a match to remember and who had an 80 minutes to forget?
Read Fiona Tomas’s verdict here.
Nicola Sturgeon offers her congratulations
Worth having a look at Van der Merwe’s sublime score from another angle
Scotland lift the Calcutta Cup
Owen Farrell’s thoughts
We started 11 days ago. There has been massive improvement and I thought we did it in large parts.
For now, we will give credit to Scotland for sticking at it like they did. They played well and scored that try in the end but it never felt like we went away, we caused them some problems and we’ll make sure we build on it.
The thing we were gong to do, regardless of the result, was get better and we will do that. There were blips but it felt like we had good energy and were in the fight all the way through.
Gregor Townsend speaks with ITV Sport
Some result for us and just to do it in the last 5, 10 minutes, they’re the most emotional games to watch in the coaching box. Much better second half for us and a brilliant win.
The message we had given [at half time] was that we’ve got to up our energy. We’d got into a bit of a kick battle. Our effort defensively was there and we just needed more.
And here’s Van der Merwe’s stunning solo effort
Van der Merwe speaks to ITV Sport
We came here wanting to start the campaign on a high. We came out with a bang, we knew we needed to stay in the fight and we got the result.
As a winger you don’t get many opportunities, so I knew I had to take them, that’s my job.
We spoke about getting our first win, and hopefully we’ll get our second next week.
Here’s his winning try:
Full time: England 23 Scotland 29
The Borthwick era ends in defeat after another pulsating Calcutta Cup.
Brilliance from Van der Merwe at the end delivers the goods for Gregor Townsend’s men. They were bold and brave and hung on in the contest when it threatened to get away from them after half-time, weathering the pressure of everything that England threw at them.
A magnificent performance from Scotland, a real confidence about them at Twickenham this evening.
76 mins: TRY England 23 Scotland 29 (Van der Merwe)
Van der Merwe!!! Will this prove decisive?
Scotland stretch England on the right, and then cut the ball back rapidly to the left to a waiting Van der Merwe who cuts inside, evading Marcus Smith before clattering into two more England shirts as he goes down, but he’s able to stretch out and put the ball down behind the try line. Rapid and dynamic from Gregor Townsend’s men.
74 mins: England 23 Scotland 27
It’s game of fine margins – Russell’s kick is deemed to have hit the line on first bounce and it’s brought back for an England lineout on the halfway line.
But Scotland’s accuracy and pace of passing is really stretching England as they overturn the ball and smash down the left.
65 mins: England 23 Scotland 20
England push back Scotland’s scrum and win a penalty. They march on, but the Scotland defence is resolute and there’s no way through. Another penalty to come after Scotland hands are all over the ball at ground. England elect to take the points – which Farrell, who has been bandaged up, gets in the bag.
60 mins: England 20 Scotland 19
Scotland spring an attack down the right side, they look very prepared to keep ball in hand as England struggle to get enough players across. Scotland come back again inside with intensity, but the pass to Steyn is too far behind him and the ball drops down and then forward. England scrum.
England cannot afford to take their foot off even for a second as Scotland will exploit it. This game is on a knife-edge and could go either way as we enter the final quarter.
Questions for Charlie Morgan’s Q&A?
Leave them in the comments below.
54 mins: England 20 Scotland 19
There’s a confidence in Scotland’s attack play, they’re not afraid to put ball in hand and wait for the opportunity.
50 mins: TRY England 20 Scotland 19 (White)
And they do respond. Ben White is the one to put is down, exploiting Curry’s missed tackle, dodging a final white shirt a couple of metres out before diving in.
48 mins: TRY England 20 Scotland 12 (Genge)
Genge scores a well-constructed try to extend England’s lead
There’s a bit of daylight in the score line now – a call for Scotland to step up.
47 mins: England 13 Scotland 12
But Scotland got little out of the attack and England are now back on the attack. They’ve won a penalty which Smith boots out for a lineout 15m out on the left. Dombrandt rams his way through. The Scotland defence shows real signs of splintering.
Get involved! Q&A with Telegraph Sport’s Charlie Morgan coming up
43 mins: England 13 Scotland 12
England give away a penalty following a sloppy lineout, giving Scotland a chance to have a crack at an attack.
Second half begins
And we’re back under way at Twickenham. The first 45 delivered an absolute belter – looking forward to more of that.
Half-time: England 13 Scotland 12
A pulsating first half of rugby which has provided us with one of the greatest Calcutta Cup tries courtesy of Duhan van der Merwe’s solo effort. Malin’s from Smith’s attacking kick wasn’t half bad either.
If it weren’t for Farrell’s errant kicking, England would be another four ahead, but it’s a fair score line as the teams have matched each other.
Will Greenwood at Twickenham
Duhan van der Merwe has just scored one of the great Twickenham tries.
40 mins: England 13 Scotland 12
The attack lines of England’s structure are superb and have led to a penalty just before half time – which Farrell makes.
38 mins: TRY England 10 Scotland 12
Second for Malins, second for England.
England held their depth, inviting in the Scottish defence to create the space on the right. It’s sent out that way rapidly, Ludlam receives, takes a few forward strides and straightens the line before offloading to Malins on his right who swings in past the try line and puts down. Farrell misses the conversion chance.
30 mins: TRY England 5 Scotland 12
Incredible. You won’t see many better tries than that at the Six Nations.
Van der Merwe runs over 50 metres of the pitch, evading five tackles and dancing through the England defence, threading a path through and putting down between the posts. Brave, bold and adventurous. Scotland are taking the game to England with confidence.
This from Charles Richardson at Twickenham
Telegraph columnist Will Greenwood is sitting beside me at Twickenham. Ahead of Scotland’s first try he was screaming that the backfield had been left entirely unattended by England. The visitors could have scored three phases prior; a real technical fault from the hosts, exploited fabulously by the Scottish centre pairing.
23 mins: TRY England 5 Scotland 7 (Malins)
Smith kicks over the top, spotting Malins making a run into space on the far side, and he pounces on top of the ball in the corner. Make no mistake, it takes some skill to carry this off successfully – the ball could’ve bounced anywhere there.
Scotland were keeping a surging England at bay up until that point, frustrating Borthwick’s men, but that bit of flair from Smith has allowed them to get a foothold into the match.
14 mins: TRY England 0 Scotland 7
It came from a brilliant lineout ploy. Jones then found a huge gap in the middle, charging towards the posts. He offloads and Tuipulotu finds a gap with a kick beyond the tryline and Jones is able to jump onto it. Russell converts.
13 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
Hogg kicks long, Hassell-Collins picks it up and sprints into the acres of greenery ahead of him. He holds onto it for too long and it’s a Scotland penalty – which they take quickly.
11 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
Russell kicks and is clattered into, slightly late, by Farrell. Some early heavy-handedness from England – part of the game plan? A cagey opening 10 minutes at Twickenham – and the pace of the game is high.
9 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
England take the lineout quickly. It’s reflective of the superior pace that Borthwick has attempted to inject into the side. They don’t get anything out of it, but it forces Steyn to touch down.
7 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
Another Scotland scrum now. The free kick goes against England and Scotland elect to pump it up in the air, designed to earn some territory.
The sides trade kicks and England win a lineout on their left.
4 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
A mighty surge from Steward after picking up the Scotland kick. He knocks away his first man and is eventually stopped on the second attempt.
2 mins: England 0 Scotland 0
Smith with a questioning little kick to set England onto Scotland’s right-hand side. Borthwick’s men have come out the traps quickly here. A forward pass from England closes down the attack – Scotland scrum to come.
England get us under way
Paul Williams is the man in the middle today. Marcus Smith kicks.
Flower of Scotland followed by God Save the King – the first time its been been heard at the Six Nations.
More from Charles here – on Scotland
Clarity and fight have been the buzzwords of Steve Borthwick’s opening month as England head coach, but for his adversary in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup, Gregor Townsend, it was a different concept hammered home at the pre-match press conference. Fight has not been an issue against their auld enemy of late – Townsend’s side have won their last two on the trot against England in gritty fashion – and, as the longest-standing head coach in this year’s Six Nations, one could presume that clarity is not lacking, either.
It was cohesion. The word that Townsend repeated when justifying his team selection for England at Twickenham, was cohesion. Owing to injury, Scotland’s head coach was forced to make changes from the side that hammered 14-man Argentina in their final autumn international – Darcy Graham, Zander Fagerson and Jonny Gray all started in the win over the Pumas but due to injury are either on the bench or left out altogether on Saturday – but the non-enforced changes have all been borne out of a hell-bent wish for cohesion.
Pre-match thoughts from Telegraph Sport’s Charles Richardson
Out with the old and in with the new. Gone is the formal matchday attire of Eddie Jones; Steve Borthwick is in full flow, tracksuit on, leading England’s warm-up on the greasy Twickenham surface, barking orders at his troops. Owen Farrell ran a line in the unopposed drills that was more suggestive of a traditional crash-ball inside centre than a second playmaker. A sign of things to come?
With 15 minutes to go, the preparations are coming to a close and both sides have headed into the changing rooms. Borthwick’s England era is upon us.
Teams for this afternoon
Talking points ahead of kick-off
After nearly a decade of English dominance, the oldest rivalry in international rugby has been tipped on its head since Scotland triumphed at Murrayfield in 2018.
The Scots have won three of their five meetings since and also engineered a stunning 38-38 draw in London four years ago, during which they fought back from a 31-0 deficit.
To call it a banana skin fixture for England is to downplay the talent in Scotland’s side and having stormed Twickenham for the first time since 1983 in their most recent visit, there will be no shortage of self-belief.
Borthwick has cut a statesmanlike figure since replacing Eddie Jones last month and following a 2022 of dismal underachievement, fans are eager for the new head coach to lift the gloom hanging over English rugby.
The former Leicester boss has been given a hospital pass by Jones, inheriting a muddled group of players in search of an identity.
In a welcome departure from his predecessor, there has been no mention of this autumn’s World Cup with Borthwick picking form players who have been given clear instructions in the hope of wrestling back the Calcutta Cup.
Life beyond Manu
For the previous two coaching regimes, Manu Tuilagi has been central to the game plan with only his lengthy succession of injuries resulting in omission from the team.
Seeing a player who is not operating as his explosive best, Borthwick has taken the brave decision to leave him out of the 23 altogether by choosing a centre partnership of Owen Farrell and Joe Marchant.
What the midfield loses in punch, it gains in dynamism. One connection with the Jones era remains, however, with Marcus Smith and Farrell continuing in the contentious playmaking axis that has yet to convince.
Scotland may be missing five members of the Lions squad that toured South Africa in 2023 in Ali Price, Chris Harris, Zander Fagerson, Rory Sutherland and Hamish Watson – the first two left out on form, the others on injury grounds – but they field a side bristling with attacking promise.
Ben White’s inclusion ahead of Price at scrum-half rewards his form for London Irish and he will bring tempo, while Huw Jones is a greater offensive threat than Harris at outside centre, but it is swashbuckling stalwarts Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg who will really put England on edge.
Eddie who? Jones erased from England media centre wall
Eddie Jones may have had the best win percentage of any England coach, led the team to a Six Nations Grand Slam and a World Cup final but the Australian has been quietly erased from the RFU’s England rugby media collage at Twickenham.
One wall of the stadium’s media work room has long boasted a splendid collection of newspaper front pages, with the 2003 World Cup triumph taking pride of place.
At the end of last year it also featured several snapshots of Jones highlights, including England’s clean sweep series win in Australia in 2016 and their superb World Cup semi-final victory over New Zealand in 2019.
However, reporters arriving for Saturday’s Six Nations opener against Scotland were greeted by some “revisions”.
England greats Jonny Wilkinson and Martin Johnson are still in place but instead of Jones there are new pieces celebrating referee Wayne Barnes, the England women’s team, a new community rugby initiative and Jones’ replacement Steve Borthwick.
Jones was sacked by England in December and took over as Australia coach last month.
Your thoughts please…
England and Scotland fans are spared this today. Phew, some might be thinking…
What to watch out for today and the tournament ahead
The Six Nations is usually defined by determination rather than innovation, but some new ploys could catch the eye and here is our very own Charlie Morgan with what could catch the eye at Twickenham and the next few weeks.
READ: The ‘butterfly’ and Slide 2.0: Tactics to watch out for this Six Nations
We need to talk about Owen…
Well, we don’t really but it is weird that for such a fine player, one who’ll likely end up breaking plenty of records, he isn’t more loved. He’s not adored like Jonny Wilkinson, not worshipped like Martin Johnson, and not thought of as a flair player like current No 10 Marcus Smith. If anything the fly-half – playing at inside centre today – attracts ambivalence.
Farrell does not lack universal acclaim because of his guarded character or even his dubious tackling ability, which has forced him into a chastening spell at “tackle school” to relearn the fundamentals. If he attracts ambivalence, it is more a reflection of the fact that, even after 101 Tests, he is still searching for the one moment to define his international career.
Here’s Oliver Brown’s piece on why Farrell isn’t loved. The Owen Farrell mystery – why is the love withheld?
Scotland have also arrived
England are in the building
From Charles Richardson at Twickenham
The clouds might be swirling above Twickenham, but beneath there is a curious optimism among the England faithful.
Most here at the home of English rugby are predicting a win in Steve Borthwick’s first match in charge but, given the new head coach’s side are yet to show any cards, not many can explain why. This is a breach into the unknown for the hosts, and their status as a surprise package could end up benefiting them.
Regardless, after the boos that rang out the last time England played at Twickenham – that dismal loss to South Africa in Eddie Jones’ final match in charge – it is refreshing to see and hear a welcome wave of optimism. There has certainly been a conscious effort to move on from that; on the media room’s poster wall – where newspaper clippings of the best days of English rugby are displayed – there is no sign of Eddie Jones. All have been replaced by his successor, Borthwick, and his lieutenant, Kevin Sinfield.
Now, Borthwick’s charges must back it up on the field.
Here are the two XVs
ENGLAND XV TO FACE SCOTLAND: 15-Freddie Steward, 14-Max Malins, 13-Joe Marchant, 12-Owen Farrell, 11-Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10-Marcus Smith, 9-Jack van Poortvliet, 1-Ellis Genge, 2-Jamie George, 3-Kyle Sinckler, 4-Maro Itoje, 5-Ollie Chessum, 6-Lewis Ludlam, 7-Ben Curry, 8-Alex Dombrandt
Replacements: 16-Jack Walker, 17-Mako Vunipola, 18-Dan Cole, 19-Nick Isiekwe, 20-Ben Earl, 21-Ben Youngs, 22-Ollie Lawrence, 23-Anthony Watson
SCOTLAND XV TO FACE ENGLAND: 15-Stuart Hogg, 14-Kyle Steyn, 13-Huw Jones, 12-Sione Tuipulotu, 11-Duhan van der Merwe, 10-Finn Russell, 9-Ben White, 1-Pierre Schoeman, 2-George Turner, 3-WP Nel, 4-Richie Gray, 5-Grant Gilchrist, 6-Jamie Ritchie, 7-Luke Crosbie, 8-Matt Fagerson
Replacements: 16-Fraser Brown, 17-Jamie Bhatti, 18-Simon Berghan, 19-Jonny Gray, 20-Jack Dempsey, 21-George Horne, 22-Blair Kinghorn, 23-Chris Harris
Referee: Paul Williams
Steve Borthwick tells England to show fight and desire
There is never an easy Six Nations match but Steve Borthwick may well have wished for a simpler clash with which to get his new era under way. England begin life without Eddie Jones against a Scotland side that over the past five years has had England’s number.
Gregor Townsend’s men have won three and drawn one of the pair’s past five matches and arrive at Twickenham today confident they can keep that run going. The last time they played in south west London they won 11-6, but it was in front of empty stands due to the lockdown. And keen to experience a first win at England’s HQ in front of thousands of fans since 1983 Jamie Richie and Co have been told to go inspire a nation.
“[Winning in front of a packed Twickenham] would be massive,” Townsend said. “2021 meant so much, too; we were sent videos from people at home who had been confined to their houses during lockdown. That gave us a massive lift. But we’re here to win and we’re here to inspire our nation and make them proud. For that, there’s no better fixture.
“The atmosphere at Twickenham is always of anticipation and excitement. It’s their first Six Nations game, it will be loud. The first few minutes, the crowd will be supporting their team.
“It’s a challenge to focus the mind. We’ve had England first up the past two seasons. It means more than just a one-off fixture. But it’ll be hugely challenging away from home against England. We have to be at our best for 80 minutes and that does focus the players’ minds.”
For Borthwick the key is to get the crowd on England’s side early on and use them as a 16th man.
“There are few fixtures in the rugby calendar that excite both players and supporters alike more than the annual Six Nations meeting of the Auld Enemy as they battle for the honour of lifting the Calcutta Cup,” the new England coach said.
“Another packed Twickenham will witness the start of the next chapter of English rugby in one of the most keenly contested tournaments in the world.
“To a man, the players are determined to play with the commitment, fight and desire that is at the very heart of representing England, the sort of passion that our tremendous supporters rightly expect.”
Stay here for all the pre-match build up and action with kick off set for 4.45.
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