The Eddie Jones revolution started right here at Murrayfield two years back with a scrappy 15-9 win over Scotland; a game in which the home side’s inability to do the basics allowed England’s new coach off the hook.
An unremarkable match was the start of something meaningful as the little Australian magician has turned England into an efficient winning machine with just one reversal, to Ireland last year, on his watch in 25 outings.
Steve Borthwick worked with Jones at Saracens, with Japan and now with England, so how have this squad progressed since that 2016 debut?
“I think from that point there has been a lot of growth in a lot of different areas,” said the forwards coach. “The team is fitter than they were, a lot of players have joined the England team, had the opportunity to play for England and develop as international players since then but the key thing we have always talked about is we look ahead and not look back.”
Borthwick played in the last England team to lose to Scotland, way back in 2008, another era almost, and he declines to take any lessons from that reversal, although at the time Borthwick was quoted as being unhappy at the tone and temper of the Scottish celebrations that day. Still, any team with Mike Brown in their ranks can’t be too judgmental, as Wales’ Scott Williams will testify.
England have moved on and moved up in the world, second in the World Rugby rankings and reeling in the All Blacks, little by little. They arrive at Murrayfield as firm favourites although if Borthwick tells the assembled media that “Scotland are a very, very good team”, once, he repeats the mantra a dozen times.
England look like they could win this one any way they want. They have much the same classy backline that ripped the Scots to pieces last year at Twickenham while they also boast a powerhouse pack of forwards, although that includes Courtney Lawes packing down in the third row. With Chris Robshaw in the No 7 shirt England are without an openside specialist while the Scots field two, John Barclay and Hamish Watson, not that Borthwick seems unduly worried.
“All the back row are very good in the breakdown area,” he says, so where will this match be won and lost?
“As a forwards’ coach you have to start looking at the set piece play, that is going to be a great challenge tomorrow,” Borthwick replied. “Scotland have developed a long way and are a very good team but I also look throughout the team and I see a lot of talent in both teams and what that makes for is a very exciting challenge.
“When you see the quality of the players they have, the quality of the players we have, this could be a fantastic game.”
England flew the Georgian pack over to London in the down week to practise their set scrum against a recognised powerhouse, although no one mentioned that the Scots’ big men enjoyed the whip hand in that area when Georgia last visited these shores. If Scotland prop Simon Berghan can replicate his form against France then England loosehead Mako Vunipola may have an uncomfortable afternoon.
“The week we had last week was a really important step in our training to test ourselves against a different type of scrum and a very, very powerful scrum,” said Borthwick. “I think we learned an awful lot from it. Do I think we have improved? Yeah, I think we have improved. Do I think we have plenty of room for improvement? Yes, we know that tomorrow is going to be a good challenge in that area against a pack that has done well so far in this Six Nations.”
Is there one area where Borthwick thinks this match will hinge upon?
“Adapting to situations,” said the Englishman. “Whilst we have a game plan, as soon as you walk on the field it’s up to the players to adapt to that. We don’t know exactly how Scotland will play, they are a very good team with a lot of top quality players… Within that game, from that kick-off, being able to adapt to the situations that are in front of us. I think we have grown as a team, I think our players do that very well now.”