Borthwick admits England face ‘big challenge’ after letting Scotland lead slip

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Steve Borthwick admitted that England threw away victory after slipping to a third straight Calcutta Cup defeat, conceding there will be some short-term pain before he can turn things around.

England were 20-12 ahead against Scotland with half an hour to go in Borthwick’s first match in charge but tries from Ben White and a second from Duhan van der Merwe ensured the home side got off to another losing start in the Six Nations.

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Borthwick, who was appointed as head coach in late December, had just two weeks with his players before locking horns with Scotland. Although England were much improved in attack, they were defensively susceptible with Van der Merwe scoring a breathtaking try in the first half that was compared to something seen in the popular Jonah Lomu Rugby video game by his head coach, Gregor Townsend.

Borthwick acknowledged he has a “big challenge” ahead of him after inheriting a squad that was booed off in their last outing in November but believes there were improvements in the way England responded to early setbacks. “We should have won that Test match and really good teams would have gone and won and not let a team come back in at 20-12 up,” said Borthwick. “You cannot let good teams have those opportunities. I can see how we could have done things differently to win that game.

“At 20-12 up we shouldn’t be letting that game go away from us and we did. This is part of the growth of the team and you have to go through some pain – you don’t want to. We could have won the game and we didn’t. When you are putting in a new defensive system that takes time and we will keep working to improve. There are going to be mistakes with new systems.

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“I know it is a big challenge and I watched those games in the autumn, the team if it conceded a couple of early scores didn’t come back. These guys did and were really strong at the start of the second half but let them back in and we will make sure won’t do that again. We want to be a really successful team that wins a lot of Test matches.”

Scotland, meanwhile, can look forward to next Saturday’s home match against Wales with confidence after continuing their impressive form against England. They had not won at Twickenham for 38 years until 2021 but have now triumphed twice on the trot. “It’s just the start, we’re delighted to win and retain the Calcutta Cup but we’ve been in this position before and not backed it up,” said their captain, Jamie Ritchie. “Come Monday we’re starting again and ready to go. It wasn’t a perfect performance, that’s a good thing, there’s so much more that we can do better.”

Townsend reserved special praise for Van der Merwe, adding: “It was incredible, it reminded me of playing Jonah Lomu Rugby and suddenly someone can go quicker. To play like he did is a real testament. His finish for the last try was a brilliant finish but the first try was amazing. It gets the Scotland fans going crazy and silences the [home] crowd because you don’t see tries like that very often.”