Calcutta Cup: England’s experienced players must step up

Scotland defeats England 29-23 and wins the Calcutta Cup at Twickenham Stadium

England was 20-12 up going into the final quarter of a pulsating Calcutta Cup clash. Ellis Genge had thundered over and Twickenham was rocking. It was a moment where really good teams get the job done. England then dropped the restart and a few minutes later Scottish scrum-half Ben White later cantered over. It was the story of England’s match – some definite positives littered with errors and indecision. England’s experienced players needed to guide the team home but instead, an inspired Scotland team overran England to deservedly win the Calcutta Cup. So early in his coaching tenure Steve Borthwick may need to make some significant changes writes Charlie Inglefield.

England’s experienced players must step up

Matt Dawson, the former England scrum-half wrote in his BBC article that Steve Borthwick is now boxed in with the selection of Owen Farrell as captain. It is a very relevant point. As has been said countless times before, no one is questioning Farrell’s credentials or what he brings on and off the pitch. But, he is not an effective international centre. Farrell is a world-class fly-half. On Saturday Farrell and Smith looked like they were playing at 50% capacity. The concept of the combination looks good in theory but in reality, it does not work.

Italy looms as a massively important fixture for England. The Azzuri are improving but England has a great chance to get a win against their name and some much-needed confidence. All eyes will be on whether Borthwick dispenses with the Smith/Farrell combo or gives it another chance. By making Farrell captain it is highly unlikely that he will be dropped. Perhaps the answer will come when the England management gets the medical updates on Monday morning. Henry Slade, Raffi Quirke, Henry Arundell, and George Ford might come back into the mix.

England’s pack did enough to provide opportunities outwide but Farrell’s distribution gave Joe Marchant little chance in attack. Add in a couple of missed but infinitely kickable conversions and it made for an uncomfortable day at the office for Farrell.

Ludlam, Malins and Chessum – the positives

It was not all doom and gloom for England. We wanted to see energy, purpose and direction and for the most part, we got it. The returns of Max Malins, Ollie Chessum and Lewis Ludlam were successful. Malins was a bundle of energy from the get-go, and the soft hands and thunderous hooves of Chessum and Ludlam put England in the ascendancy for much of the match. England looked far more dangerous than we saw in the autumn and England’s management should take credit for that step up.

Honourable mentions should go to Freddie Steward, Alex Dombrandt and Ellis Genge for their performances as well. At times we saw England rugby at its best – the forwards bashing through defence and England’s back three in particular making some decent incisions. The set-piece was better although the line-out creaked at times all in all England was much improved from what we saw in the autumn.

Familiar problems that need fixing

England’s discipline was also better on Saturday but the error count was high. Alex Dombrandt did a lot of good things at number 8 but knocked on three times. England lost a number of restarts, which is the cardinal sin of having just scored. The kicking out of hand was more effective from Freddie Steward and Max Malins than it was from Jack van Poortvliet, Owen Farrell and Marcus Smith. England gave the outstanding Duhan van der Merwe far too much room to motor alongside Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg.

Kevin Sinfield will be quietly disappointed by how England’s defence was carved up continually by Scotland. Scotland had 104 seconds in England’s 22 and scored four tries. Too many times van Poortvliet’s box kicks were too heavy, the same with Ben Youngs when the latter came on in the second half. Teams like Ireland and France will relish that ‘free’ possession.

England’s replacements had a mixed impact in the second half. The scrutiny on Ben Youngs will not go away after an ineffective cameo. On the plus side, Dan Cole and Ben Earl brought some fire to the pack. They might be two inclusions for Italy, with Kyle Sinckler and Ben Curry swapping with them. The likes of Ollie Lawrence and Anthony Watson did not get much of a chance to showcase their skills.

READ MORE: Calcutta Cup: Desperate England to edge out Scotland (Preview)

Tough selection calls after nail-biting Calcutta Cup loss

In summary, there was a lot to like about this ‘new’ England but ultimately the Six Nations is now over in terms of winning the tournament. The Italian fixture is a godsend for Steve Borthwick as he looks to build his England team. There won’t be many changes from the 22 that played on Saturday but so early in his tenure, Borthwick may be forced to make some tough selection calls. Will we see Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell together again? The decision-making in the last 20 minutes showed that England has a long way to go and the senior players must step up in that regard.


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