There were echoes of the 2019 World Cup final on Saturday as England coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell appeared totally perplexed by how their team failed to perform as they were totally outplayed by Scotland and fell to an 11-6 defeat.
The fired-up Scots deservedly took the plaudits with their first Twickenham win for 38 years but the game was a tale of woe for the toothless defending champions and the only saving grace was that there were not the usual 82,000 fans in the famous old ground to witness it.
The scoreboard flattered England, who never looked remotely like scoring a try and barely entered the Scots’ 22 all match. The visitors enjoyed 63% possession and 59% of the territory. They conceded six penalties to England’s 15, missed eight tackles to England’s 27 and made five line breaks to the faintly embarrassing nil of the 2019 World Cup finalists.
On that occasion at least South Africa’s total scrum dominance explained away England’s inability to compete but on Saturday there was nothing so obvious.
“We just couldn’t find a way to get into the game,” said Jones. “On a day like this the set piece will always be important, the contest in the air will be important, the gainlines will be important, and we couldn’t win any of those areas. The backs in that situation become almost secondary. We just seemed to be off the pace.
“Sometimes you have those days and we had one today. Scotland played very well. They had a particular game plan which they stuck to and executed really well. We’ve got ourselves to blame for the discipline issues.
Farrell scored England’s points with two first-half penalties but he was unable to fire his backline as England struggled to create any momentum.
“They put us under a lot of pressure early on, managed to get in front and it was hard to get into the game. They kept us in our own half quite a bit,” he said.
“Every aspect of the game is joined up together. You get to attack when you defend well and when you are disciplined and vice versa. We will look at the game and see where we can improve. There are some pretty obvious ones.”
One of those is England’s shocking penalty count, which reached double figures inside the first 35 minutes.
“Sometimes it’s almost like you are trying too hard,” said Farrell. “There wasn’t a theme to the penalties, there were a lot of different individual ones. We will have to see what we can all do better and improve ourselves which in turn improves the team. It comes from being under pressure but we have to be able to cope with that.”
England will expect to rediscover their attacking verve back at Twickenham next Saturday against Italy. However, Jones and the rest of the teams involved in the competition know that that match against the team swatted aside by France earlier, will have little bearing.
“You never atone for a game like this, this stays with you for a long time,” said the Australian. “But the most important thing is that we get together and we find a way to improve our performance and play like England do against Italy next week.”