No other opposition in England’s record-equalling 18-match winning streak has conceded as many points as Scotland did on Saturday afternoon, and that includes the amateurs of Uruguay in the 2015 Rugby World Cup, who went one better than Scotland, holding England to 60 points. Scotland also equalled the largest ever losing margin in the Calcutta Cup, sharing the 40-point humiliation with the class of 2001 who lost 43-3. It was a bitter pill to swallow for the tartan-clad fans who had been led to believe that their team would compete and could even win.
There is an important principle in the game that you don’t compound one mistake with another; Scotland did nothing but for the opening half-hour, and the long catalogue of errors was mixed with some genuine bad luck.
Fraser Brown’s yellow card in the opening minutes of play falls into the former category; unnecessary and dangerous, curtailing Elliot Daly’s afternoon. The loss of Stuart Hogg to a head injury a quarter of the way into the match falls into the latter. The full-back went to the sidelines on 18 minutes and stayed there; a wise move given what was about to unfold. There is little even he could have done to staunch the flood of white shirts heading towards the Scottish try-line. The Scots picked a bad day to have an off-day because England, who have stuttered their way through this championship, finally found top gear and ran riot, scoring seven tries, three of which fell to Jonathan Joseph, who reacted to being dropped for the Italy match exactly as Eddie Jones will have hoped.
The outside centre created one other score for team-mate Anthony Watson, on for Daly, in the standout performance of the tournament thus far, and it is going to take a monumental effort to upstage this showing on the final weekend. Joseph oozes class but Scotland made life easy for him, offering the centre oodles of time and acres of space, both of which he gratefully accepted.
Admittedly the Scots played most of the second half with scrum-half Ali Price on the right wing and reserve stand-off Duncan Weir at full-back, after Hogg, Mark Bennett and Tommy Seymour had all come and gone, and coach Vern Cotter’s words were surely directed at those individuals who were by necessity playing out of position.
“I thought the players did pretty well,” said the Scotland coach. “Ali [Price] went from half-back to wing and had to remind himself he had to chase a few kicks.
“I thought the boys tried very hard. It was just that bit off. And being off against a team like England, they certainly looked good and we helped them on several occasions, and that was the disappointing and frustrating thing.
“I thought our attack stalled at the start of the game. They had us pretty well-figured. We managed to get up and get three tries, which I thought was a positive. We would have liked to have another one but we didn’t control the game well enough at times.
“We seem to play with a lot more confidence at home. That’s a great thing, a good start, and once we develop that we can start taking it to these away venues. The injuries we had disrupted the way the game went.”
On the odd occasion that England’s back division wasn’t slicing the Scots open or the forwards weren’t bludgeoning them into submission, the visitors managed to score three tries. Gordon Reid powered over from short range following an attacking lineout and Huw Jones, pictured, grabbed two tries late in proceedings to ease some of the pain.
This Scotland team have reserved most of their best performances for Murrayfield and Cotter admitted as much. Warren Gatland was in the stands and, as someone pointed out, the British and Irish Lions don’t play too many matches at home. None of the Scots promoted their Lions’ cause on Saturday; instead Gatland has the perfect excuse he needs to overlook them yet again.
“We always said that this game, whatever happened, would be helpful for us,” argued Cotter. “At the moment it’s difficult, it hurts a bit. You get well beaten, feel you haven’t played well enough and you contributed to a lot of it. That’s annoying.
“There will be a firm desire to get back and play at home. We have something to play for. We can still finish at the top end of this competition.
“We’ll take this one on the chin. That’s just what you have to do. We’ll look at it honestly, review it and decide. Was it the week, the game, decision making, execution, preparation, communication? That will be done on Monday and I know that there will be real determination.
“Everyone is disappointed. We understand that people believed we would come closer than that. When you compete and get beaten you don’t like it. There are ways to lose and we are not happy with what happened here. We will try to put on a good performance next weekend.”
After Saturday’s slump the players owe the fans, and especially their Kiwi coach, a performance, on what will be Cotter’s last outing in charge.