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Redpath excels on Scotland debut with England’s Lawrence out in cold | England rugby union team

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Most players will tell you they don’t remember too much about their debut games, that, looking back, it all seemed to pass by in a blur. You hope for Cameron Redpath’s sake that he will recall every second of his. Chances are that however many games he plays for Scotland by the end (and you can bet, on the strength of this performance, it’ll be plenty), there won’t be many better, or more famous than this, Scotland’s first win at Twickenham since 1983.

There are players who’ve made second careers as public speakers out of less. His old mate and opposite number Ollie Lawrence, on the other hand, will hope no one ever mentions it again.

Of course it wasn’t long ago that Lawrence and Redpath were playing alongside each other for England U20s. They started together in the centre in the U20 Six Nations in 2019, even helped England put 45 points on Scotland in a game at Franklin’s Gardens that year, when their partnership earned rave reviews after Redpath finished off a try Lawrence made with a startling midfield break.

The Scottish coach Carl Hogg said later it was like “being in a boxing match where we tied our hands behind our back and allowed them to punch us for 80 minutes.” Which, funnily enough, would be a pretty fair summary of England’s experience here.

Jones called both Lawrence and Redpath up to the senior squad the first chance he got, for the tour to South Africa in 2018, but Redpath pulled out injured before it started, and then decided he needed some time to think about whether he really wanted to play for England. You imagine it was a worrying time for his dad, the old Scotland scrum-half Bryan Redpath. Cameron says his old man kept quiet about the decision, but has admitted that he seems to have been doing a lot more smiling since his son finally committed to Scotland earlier this year. Right now, you imagine they’re both feeling pretty good about it.

Ollie Lawrence of England is tackled by Cameron Redpath at Twickenham. The two players were centre partners for England’s U20 team as recently as 2019.
Ollie Lawrence of England is tackled by Cameron Redpath at Twickenham. The two players were centre partners for England’s U20 team as recently as 2019. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/NMC Pool/The Guardian

You could see some of the reasons why Redpath made that decision in the way this game unfolded. He was in the thick of the action from the start, clattering into early tackles, throwing himself into a couple of rucks, busy with the dirty work. As the game wore on, he got the chance to show more of himself. He made a lovely break when Scotland were under pressure in their own 22, and he found a way past Tom Curry with a sweet step and fend. And he threw a fine, flat, fast pass in the run-up to Duhan van der Merwe’s try. It may have been his debut, but he looked like a key part of the team. It was clear Townsend had invested a lot of faith in him.

They even used a training ground move they’d built around him, when Redpath ran on to a long throw at the back of an attacking lineout. He was being given plenty to do. Which is just the way he likes it. Redpath is only 21 but has worked his way into the leadership group at Bath, even though he has been there only a year. And he did his fair share of talking at Twickenham too, joining in the mid-pitch conferences with Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell. You could almost hear the promises Townsend must have made to him private in the last few months: come with us, and we’ll build a midfield around you.

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Maybe, if Jones had his way, Redpath would have been doing all this for England. But watching Lawrence slog through the match, you guess probably not. Lawrence is a dazzling attacking talent, but you wouldn’t know it watching him play for England. This was his fourth Test, and everyone’s still waiting to see a hint of the way he plays for Worcester. Jones touched on it in the week. “He’s got potential,” he said,“but we’ve got to see the talent come through.” It wasn’t his fault that it didn’t happen here, he didn’t really get much of a chance to do anything other than tackle.

Jones said as much after the game, which was the right thing to do for a young player (“When you’ve only got 25% possession,” Jones said, “then if you’ve got numbers 10 to 15 on your back it is very difficult to get the ball, and that was the case today.”) But the truth is Lawrence didn’t just struggle to get into the game because England didn’t have the ball, but because when they did, no one gave it to him. It was an hour before he even made a carry, for all of three metres, and that was the only time he got the ball all match. It was as if his pre-match instructions were to stand there in the middle of the pitch and look menacing.

It was quite the contrast, two young centres, recent teammates, one having the time of his life, the other utterly hamstrung by a system that didn’t work to his advantage, lost in the middle of a game that was passing by around him.

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