SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: England’s dismal defeat to Scotland was the worst I have EVER seen us play given what was at stake… Eddie Jones’ men were bereft of ideas and it felt like a 30-point loss
- England’s lacklustre form can be traced back to 2019’s World Cup final defeat
- Despite 2020 seeing the team lift two trophies, performances were inconsistent
- Eddie Jones’ men lack identity and have resorted to playing a dull brand of rugby
- Mako Vunipola and Mark Wilson’s lack of pace was exposed by a clever Scotland
- Hamish Watson played brilliantly alongside Matt Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie
One way or another I’ve watched every England game since the mid-1970s. I supported England, I was honoured to play for and then coach England, and in the media have covered England around the world.
And that was the worst I have ever seen England play by some margin given what was at stake.
I lost some big games as a player and coach. Games when you underperformed or the opposition had your number. The worst loss and moment of my career was undoubtedly losing to Scotland at Murrayfield in 2000. I’ve been there, it really hurts.
Owen Farrell was unable to inspire his England players as they fell to defeat in the Calcutta Cup
Scotland won at Twickenham for the first time since 1983 thanks to Duhan van der Merwe’s try
But forget the 11-6 scoreline on Saturday, down on the freezing touchline at Twickenham it felt like a 30-point defeat.
And this was a first-choice England side, at home, supposedly prepared to the Nth degree after two weeks in camp and the best part of two months together in the autumn. A team which on paper looked more than capable of beating Scotland.
Excuses are cheap but with most big losses — whether it be 76-0 to Australia in 1998 or 44-21 to South Africa in the 1999 World Cup —when the dust settles, as well as acknowledging areas you fell short, there is a rationale you can identify to put things into perspective and learn from them.
There was no reason for England not to be at their best. Scotland were magnificent but England, other than a resolute defence which at least earned a losing bonus point, were indescribably bad.
They were off the pace, had no attacking ideas, kicked away what little quality possession they did earn and were ill-disciplined, coughing up nine penalties in the first 23 minutes.
The latter can partly be attributed to the huge pressure Scotland built, but good sides and one as experienced as England find ways to absorb it. It is exactly then that you must not lose it mentally and give away penalties.
England suffered a big 1999 World Cup loss to South Africa and must show similar resolve now
I’m afraid this can all be traced back to England’s non-performance in the World Cup final, which many at HQ have tried to brush away.
There was no professional inquest and debrief into a day when England looked all at sea from the moment they arrived 40 minutes late.
As with yesterday, Eddie Jones immediately put his hands up and said he got the preparation wrong, but there is no need to say that. It is a given in professional sport.
Eddie Jones took responsibility after England’s Six Nations title defence hopes suffered a blow
What did he get wrong? Why did he get it wrong? Where could England have been better? What needed to be done to ensure it never happens again?
In English rugby we are very good at becoming outraged when the horse has already bolted.
Think of the treatment of Martin Johnson and Stuart Lancaster after the 2011 and 2015 World Cups. Two sides and coaches who got it wrong for different reasons, but the inquests, the committees and the call for investigations came too late.
Eddie is vastly more experienced than Martin or Stuart, but he still needs somebody to challenge and advise him. For me it was Fran Cotton. But there is nobody at Twickenham qualified to undertake the job. Instead, the England hierarchy pointed to a decent campaign and an excellent semi-final win over New Zealand and seemed content with that. Big mistake.
That was a World Cup England should have won, but they blew it and serious questions needed to be asked.
The net result was a 2020 when, in performance terms, they trod water at best. Eddie and the RFU could point to a Six Nations title and an Autumn Nations Cup, but from the outside everybody could see a team struggling with its identity.
England’s displays in 2020 were patchy despite a Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup double
Back-rowers Billy Vunipola and Mark Wilson saw their lack of pace exposed by the visitors
England have been a side locked into the most conservative, talent-quashing kicking game plan imaginable, ensuring that they underperformed.
They kept winning, just, but Saturday was the moment of truth. They should have lost to a France third XV in December and now they have been played off the park by Scotland in a Calcutta Cup encounter at home.
This win is a big turning point for Scotland and Gregor Townsend. They have these wonderfully gifted, maverick attacking players in Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg, but on Saturday they mixed up that genius talent with a much more varied, pragmatic approach.
It must also be a big turning point for England, who must halt this delusion that all is well and that the team are progressing. They are not and a major rethink is needed across the board.
They have the rest of the Six Nations to do it and must start firing way more shots in attack.
Players with real pace must be introduced into the back row — where I’m afraid Billy Vunipola and Mark Wilson were badly exposed, which surprised me —while much more craft and trust in instinctive skills is needed in the backs.
Hamish Watson (pictured) performed heroically alongside Matt Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie
England must use this defeat. For 20 years after that defeat at Murrayfield my computer screensaver was a picture of the Scotland captain Andy Nicol and his team celebrating that win.
I used the hurt of that defeat for the rest of my tenure as England coach and still the lessons from that day keep my feet on the ground. I hope defeat is hurting this England team as much this morning.
Finally, I must finish by talking about the Scots. I was blown away by the collective contribution of their back row, led by the inspirational Hamish Watson. With Matt Fagerson and Jamie Ritchie they eclipsed the England trio, where only Tom Curry really contested the issue.
Wearing his Lions hat, I wonder what Warren Gatland made of it all. One thing is for sure, if the Lions tour goes ahead Scotland will be much better represented than on recent tours.
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