Steve Borthwick describes England’s defeat to Scotland as ‘real painful lesson’

By Sports Desk February 24, 2024

Frustrated Steve Borthwick felt his work-in-progress England team were taught “a real painful lesson” by a Duhan Van Der Merwe-inspired Scotland after the Red Rose crashed to a fourth consecutive Calcutta Cup defeat at Murrayfield.

The visitors arrived in Edinburgh hoping to make it three Guinness Six Nations victories in a row, but after a bright start in which a George Furbank try helped them carve a 10-0 lead in the opening quarter of an hour.

However, they lost their way and were put to the sword by their clinical hosts who ran out 30-21 winners.

Van Der Merwe – who scored a double in the Scots’ win at Twickenham last year – was again England’s tormentor-in-chief as he became the first man in a dark blue jersey to score a Calcutta Cup hat-trick.

“After a defeat and performance when you don’t think you’ve maximised your potential, it’s always disappointment,” said head coach Borthwick.

“I don’t think the team maximised their potential today.

“When you make that number of handling errors at this level, it’s very difficult to win, especially against a team of Scotland’s quality.

“Ultimately we made it too easy for Scotland to score, but they were very clinical.

“It’s a huge lesson for our team as we develop. The number of turnovers made it very difficult to win.”

England arrived in Edinburgh on the back of one defeat in nine matches, but they received something of a reality check at the hands of a Scotland side who are more established as a team under Gregor Townsend.

“We’d all love progression to be a nice linear path but ultimately it’s not, especially when you are trying to do it at this level,” said Borthwick.

“What you saw is a team that is trying to develop, a team that is trying to add layers to their game.

“We made errors today and got punished – sometimes you get away with it, sometimes you don’t. Against a team like Scotland, you don’t.

“It’s a big learning experience, it’s a real painful lesson against a Scotland team that’s been together a long time. They had a lot of experience.

“I think that’s the first time our 10, 12 and 13 had started together and it looked like that, didn’t it? There was a lack of cohesion and too many fundamental errors.”

Van Der Merwe’s match-winning treble – including a stunning burst from his own half to edge the Scots ahead – took him to 26 tries for Scotland, within one of the national team’s all-time record try-scorer Stuart Hogg.

Co-captain Rory Darge admitted it was a huge advantage to his side to have a powerful, jet-heeled outlet like the Edinburgh wing to get them up the pitch in such barnstorming fashion.

“It’s game-changing when he has a half-opportunity, takes it and scores,” said the back-rower. “That (second try while trailing 10-7) is a massive momentum-swinger.

“As a forward, it’s definitely nice when you’re working hard in the rucks and you see Duhan run the length. It’s such a good feeling.”

A fortnight after their agonising home defeat by France, Darge was delighted that Scotland got their championship back on track as they made it two wins from three, with trips to Italy and Ireland to come next month.

“It’s a very different feeling in the changing room compared to two weeks ago,” he said. “Even though there were bits we didn’t do well, to win with a nine-point margin, we’re delighted.

“It was scrappy to start with for sure, but we weathered that. We made a few mistakes and part of that was the pressure England put us under.

“But Finn (Russell) and Benny (White) controlled the game and put us in the right places, and the forwards went to work on the back of that.

“We had spoken about momentum through the week and when it was with us, we really leaned into it.”

Scotland have lost only one of their last seven meetings with England, although this was Darge’s first taste of the fixture.

The 23-year-old dismissed any notion that victories over the Auld Enemy can now be taken for granted by the Scots.

“We’re definitely delighted to get the win – it’s the Calcutta Cup,” he said. “It’s my first one so I’m delighted personally.

“I thought the atmosphere was outstanding and I’m going to enjoy it. You have to enjoy it then put it to bed so we can come back and really get after the Italy game.”

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