Crashball Rugby analyses England's 25-13 loss at Murrayfield.
The dust has settled, criticism and commendations have been handed out like the last of the day's cakes in the local patisserie in the wake of Scotland's first Calcutta Cup trophy in a decade. English fans find themselves reflecting a loss for only the second time since Eddie Jones stepped in as England's saviour in 2016. Flashbacks to the pre-Jones era in which high penalty and error counts and the feeling of being that one step behind the opposition were a common feature.
We take a thorough look at where England went wrong and what Scotland did so right. Breakdown frailties, indiscipline, errors in skill execution and an inability to adapt to the opposition all feature in Scotland's emphatic 25-13 victory over England.
Start as you mean to go on
The majority of the time, you can tell exactly what a side will set out to do in the opening ten minutes. On the odd occasion, a team will spend the opening portions of the match testing their opponents, implementing their game plan in reaction to their findings. England did so against Wales in round two, spending plenty of time testing the structure of an inexperienced back three before cracking on with their game plan.
Scotland went about their business in typical Townsend fashion, testing a bulky English pack with agile runners and mobile breakdown specialists.
At international level, 43 kilos is a huge disparity, with the top teams rarely giving away more than 10-15kg to their opponents.
Straight off the mark we see Scotland fly-half and attacking leader Finn Russell is keen to shift the ball from one side to another. This is in hope of running the extra 43kg of England-forward off their feet by the end of the match. A regular feature, with plenty of tap penalties and quick lineouts taken to that effect.
Russell proved he is unafraid to continue throwing high-risk high-reward passes after the widespread criticism in the weeks leading up to the fixture. The first of many such passes reared its head as early as the 43rd second of the match. Below we see the Scottish stand-off send the ball across the faces of Chris Robshaw, Dylan Hartley, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje and a shooting Nathan Hughes, allowing left wing Sean Maitland space down the touchline.
As events would transpire, this became a common theme.
Shortly after, the ball had been shipped across to the opposite touch line, with Scotland's outside centre Huw Jones chipping the ball to test his opposite man, Jonathan Joseph, and the English sweepers. An area we highlighted in our preview of the Murrayfield clash.
Fortunately, Joseph spots this and has turned to gather before Jones has even put boot to ball. However, England's front row duo of Dan Cole and Mako Vunipola are forced to run around the back of the ruck before being able to secure possession. Another clever tactic in which Scotland will either gain excellent attacking momentum or further chip away at the legs of the English pack.
From the get-go, Scotland set out to take advantage of a pack built for a slower pace of game.
The most telling factors of England's game plan in these early exchanges show how they set out to control the pace of the game, as they did against Wales. Danny Care starts out with a short kick for wing Anthony Watson to chase and shut down Ryan Wilson before he has a chance to run or pass.
An area in which they saw a positive return against an unfamiliar Welsh back three.
England's attack in comparison was the polar opposite to Russell's fast pace space- finding. Dylan Hartley and his men set up one-out runners looking to outmuscle their opposite number as opposed to outfoxing them. With Nathan Hughes returning to fitness at eight and Courtney Lawes continually selected in the backrow ahead of Sam Underhill, Jones stamped clear intentions on bringing a battering ram to the siege of Murrayfield.
The battle of the breakdown
Two phases after Jones' chip highlighted earlier, second row Grant Gilchrist earns the first of many Scottish turnovers of the day.
The lanky pairing of Launchbury and Lawes fail to get themselves in the appropriate body position fast enough to prevent Scottish hands latching on. England are in turn forced to concede the penalty for not releasing, taking the lesser of two evils in fear of fast turnover ball. Russell and co are well adept at turning defence into attack. Conceding territory or three points will always be preferential to a potential seven.
Gilchrist's turnover came following the predictable set up of England's one-out runners. Keep an eye on Launchbury in the bottom right hand corner of the clip below.
Launchbury has only just returned to his feet after involvement in the previous ruck, while Lawes is too upright to clear out Gilchrist efficiently, allowing the Scotsman to turn a positive Mako Vunipola carry into Greig Laidlaw's first three points of the day.
In the absence of younger brother Billy, Mako is one of England's key carriers in the tight but the yardage he makes is useless without accurate and timely securing of the ruck.
England failed to adapt to the threat of the Scottish pack at the breakdown and continually arrived late or proved inaccurate at securing their own ball. Below we see Jones' side become repeat offenders at three breakdown's in succession.
Following a Hughes carry, Ford and Joseph, two of England's smallest backs, are forced to secure the ruck.
Itoje accelerates into the tackle to gain momentum, but in turn nearly isolates himself, with Cole securing the ruck in the nick of time.
In the third consecutive phase, Launchbury and Lawes are yet again too slow to secure their own ruck, with Hamish Watson earning the turnover on the third attempt.
This became a constant until ten minutes into the second-half, when England finally boosted their urgency at the breakdown and diminished the chances for Barclay, Watson and Stuart McInally to do their best impressions of molluscs at ruck time.
Jamie George and Sam Underhill, in particular, had the greatest influence on England's ruck security. The substitutes or 'finishers' used fresh legs to do what the starting XV neglected during the first 50.
In their previous round's triumph over Wales, England's speed to the ruck was markedly increased, acutely aware of the menace of Welsh breakdown merchants. The biggest disappointment of the day for Eddie Jones will be the drop-off only one game later. Whether they underestimated their opposition or simply lost focus, the questions facing the English set-up are deafening.
The issues at the breakdown fused with a quick tap, to once again take advantage of immobile English forwards, a high-risk high-reward Russell pass and a missed tackle by Farrell all led to Scotland's second try via Sean Maitland.
In the lead up to Maitland's score, Barclay pounced on a George Ford carry and managed to make the tackle, return to his feet, show a clear release and latch onto the ball before any English hands touched him.
Russell spots the opportunity to tap and go whilst the English forwards are clumped together in apparent frustration in Barclay's poaching. Yet another chance for Scotland to continue subverting energy from English reserves.
The exquisite, inch-perfect Russell pass in the ensuing phases sees Huw Jones slice through the gap between Joseph and May and make his way 40 metres up the pitch.
Above, we see Joseph is caught too narrow, anticipating the pass to go to either Ryan Wilson or Stuart Hogg. The Bath man is looking to force Hogg back inside and pressurise in an attempt to force an error or poor decision.
Given Joseph's history of intercept tries for England, Russell was doubling down on the gamble button, and it paid off, spectacularly. While those moments may not have worked out for Russell's Scottish compatriots during the opening two rounds, the Paris- bound fly-half deserves all the plaudits he gets for backing his skillset end executing flawlessly following extensive criticism during the week.
Gustard's defence countered on third attempt
England and former Saracens defence coach Paul Gustard is well known for his 'wolf pack' mentality in defence, in which both club and country have reaped the benefits over the last few years. A common feature in Gustard's methodology is the sight of one man darting out to meet his opposite number. This is an attempt to force mistakes, turnovers and perhaps frustrate adversaries, once again prevalent on Saturday. Below we see Hughes shooting out of the line prior to Maitland's previously highlighted break, with Joseph doing much the same for Russell's pass to Jones.
We see Farrell leading the rush up in defence only a few moments later, resulting in loosehead prop Gordon Reid carrying into England's smallest defender, George Ford. Reid, in turn, is able to free his hands to release inside centre Peter Horne, who makes the most of the gap left vacant by Farrell.
This is the third time this particular coaching and player group met the England/Saracens defence. Whilst still head coach of Glasgow Warriors, of which most of this Scotland side is comprised, Townsend met a heavy defeat at Saracens hands at Allianz Park 38-13 in the Champions Cup playoffs. Whilst under the guidance of the former head coach and current Montpellier boss, Vern Cotter, Scotland suffered a record 61-21 defeat at Twickenham last year. Last Saturday was Townsend's and Scotland's third attempt at cracking the code. Clearly, they succeeded in spectacular fashion, tailoring their game to counter a stodgy English game plan.
As with their issues at the breakdown, England took too long to adapt and suffered the consequences by the final whistle.
Scotland's tries were not purely the result of analysing England's defence. Huw Jones' opening score was a direct result of a Russell grubber, with the bounce of the ball getting the best of Watson, acting as the sweeper, allowing Jones to cross for the first of three scores of the day. One of Joseph or Farrell arguably should have managed to launch themselves on the ball before Jones managed to get a boot to it, but the Scotland sensation proved too swift for the English midfielders.
For Jones' second and Scotland's final try, he spots a gap between Nathan Hughes and Owen Farrell from a mile off. He also shows extremely impressive strength to drag both Mike Brown and Anthony Watson over the try line.
Farrell is caught ball-watching slightly and Hughes is unable to slow down the former Stormers centre. Strangely, Farrell seems to pull out of the tackle at the last second, expecting Hughes to make the hit. Whether it was his man or not, Farrell's mistake is leaving Hughes to deal with Jones himself, despite being further away.
In the face of a dominant Scottish performance, the English backline allowed errors to seep in. While Barclay and his charges scuppered plenty of English possession, unforced handling errors and penalties saw momentum cut short.
A chance for Watson to take a shot at getting past Maitland down the right wing was rudely curtailed by a pulled pass from Mike Brown.
Ten minutes later, England again build up momentum and look to expose Scotland's defence out wide. After Itoje makes good ground through Finn Russell, Brown is penalised for taking the man beyond the ruck. Watch how Hamish Watson (Scotland 7) falls back after Brown holds onto his leg.
Once again, English momentum is brought to halt.
Well into the second half, in the 62nd minute, England are well and truly rattled and are guilty of forcing their attack. The visiting side have a prime strike opportunity with a scrum in midfield. Once again they look to expose Scotland's defence out wide, as Wales and France did, but Ford puts the pass too far in front of Leicester Tigers teammate Jonny May. Once again, England hand possession back over to Scotland.
These are just a few examples of mistakes England were guilty of, with the issues affecting the rest of their game having a knock-on effect on the sides overall performance.
Did Eddie Jones get selection wrong?
As we've seen, there were a number of areas England failed to compete with Scotland, with the most prevalent being at the breakdown. With no real openside to lead the charge, ball retention and disruption was in short supply. Courtney Lawes provides the side with plenty of go forward and could tackle his way through the Brexit negotiations if he needed, but his lack of mobility compared to out and out blindsides proved too much of a hindrance.
When Sam Underhill came from the bench to fill the openside berth, with Robshaw shifting to six, England's breakdown improved tenfold, with Jamie George and Harry Williams also proving instrumental when they arrived from the bench. Underhill's card for a no-arms tackle on substitute prop Jamie Bhatti once again halted any momentum that had begun to build. Not only did Eddie Jones' side no longer have their breakdown specialist, they had to make up for a missing backrow around the park. Arguably, Jones should have gone with Robshaw at blindside and Underhill at openside, with Lawes coming from the bench to fill the famous 'finishers' role.
Nathan Hughes proved in the opening 30 minutes that he could provide the ball-carrying England were so short of during the opening rounds. The Fijian born eight's fitness was always under question, starting for the first time since December following a knee injury, and his impact on the match was significantly hampered relatively early.
Jones' options at eight are significantly limited of late, with Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds both injured and no other standout candidate looking likely to oust Hughes. However, the former apprentice turned fully-fledged squad member Zach Mercer was having a stormer for Bath over the weekend. The 21-year-old scored two tries, made 40 metres, two clean breaks and beat three defenders. Mercer may not have provided the same blunt force carrying ability that Hughes can, but an additional option in the lineout and added mobility may well have offered significantly more to the performance of the side. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing and Jones went with his tried and trusted, but Mercer is an option the Australian head coach should well consider for his sides away trip to France in a fortnight.
There will be plenty of debate in the ensuing weeks, with the likes of Sam Underhill, Zach Mercer, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te'o and Jack Nowell all hunting a start in Paris. Jones will have to decide whether the starting side that travelled to Murrayfield can right the wrongs of last Saturday or whether a few changes are needed. To stand any chance of winning the Six Nations for a record third consecutive time, England will have to ensure victory over both France away and Ireland at home.
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