Eddie Jones has admitted England let the country down in their dismal Six Nations defeat by Scotland and is set to call on the cavalry in the shape of Kyle Sinckler and Mako Vunipola. England will begin their inquest on Monday and have vowed to “have a good look at ourselves” following a first home loss to Scotland in 38 years.
On Saturday England scored their lowest Calcutta Cup points tally for 56 years with both Anthony Watson and Ollie Lawrence failing to touch the ball in the first half. The former captain Lawrence Dallaglio has branded Jones’s side “clueless” with the former full-back Mike Brown calling for the captain, Owen Farrell, to be dropped.
Jones cannot make major changes to his squad to face Italy this Saturday due to Covid-19 protocols but Sinckler’s ban has expired and the head coach revealed Vunipola is available after a calf injury. Jones will have to drop two players to stick to the 28-man limit but both British & Irish Lions props are expected to be included given how Ellis Genge and Will Stuart struggled at the scrum.
“Kyle has finished his suspension so he will be available and Mako Vunipola will be available [after a calf injury],” Jones said. “The refereeing of the scrums is difficult at the moment. Sometimes you get penalties you shouldn’t and sometimes you get penalties against you that shouldn’t be given. We will have to look at that.
“I take [the defeat] very seriously. I am disappointed that we let down England and we did not play to our full potential. I can assure you we will do everything we can to make sure we are right for next week. We will be forensic in our analysis of what we did in terms of preparing the team and trying to find ways to do it better.”
England’s discipline was a major problem – they conceded 15 penalties – while a number of players looked off the pace with the side picked having made a combined 23 starts in the previous two months. Four of the five Saracens starters had not featured at all since early December with Billy Vunipola turning out just once and afterwards the former Scotland coach Matt Williams claimed: “The Saracens players weren’t at the races. Vunipola, if we didn’t know the pubs were closed you’d swear he had been in one. He was out of shape.”
Jones, however, insisted he bears the responsibility for England’s miserable performance. “We get the players in certain conditions, like we did every tournament,” he said. “We are not using that as any sort of excuse or reason why we didn’t play well. We’ve got to put up with whatever’s put in front of us. I accept responsibility for not preparing the team well enough.”
Jamie George dismissed claims the Saracens players were rusty but England have had a habit of beginning campaigns slowly and lost last year’s opening Six Nations match against France. Jones intends to hold talks with his coaching staff and players this week to address their performance but George admitted Covid restrictions make things all the more difficult. “We have got to have a good look at ourselves,” he said. “When you play for England, you need to make sure there are certain standards you hold yourself to, and we didn’t do that. We are restricted, because of Covid protocols, in terms of how much time we can spend together as a team, how much social capital we can build as a team. We need to find a way of doing that.”
Jones had hoped by moving Farrell to fly-half and bringing the more direct-running Lawrence into midfield, England would enjoy greater attacking fluency but they managed only 38% possession against Scotland. Asked if he would adopt a new approach against Italy, Jones said: “We didn’t have any tactics [against Scotland], because we couldn’t get the ball. You’ve got to have the ball to have some tactics. We need to be able to win the ball, which we weren’t able to do.”
By contrast, Cameron Redpath – the former England Under-20 international selected in wider squads by Jones before switching allegiances to Scotland – shone on debut with precisely the kind of composed performance absent among the hosts. “That was an incredible debut,” said Scotland’s head coach, Gregor Townsend. “We saw his skill-set, his confidence, his maturity. You don’t expect someone on their debut to have such an accomplished start, especially against England of all teams.”