English left stunned by 'intense' Scotland
Scotland 25 England 13
Just like their head coach, the England players were at a loss to explain just what went wrong in Saturday's Grand Slam-ending defeat by Scotland.
Both Danny Care and Mako Vunipola, a combination with 126 international caps between them, could not put their finger on what went so wrong at Murrayfield as England suffered only their second defeat in 26 games under Eddie Jones.
Scotland entered the game having not beaten England at home in a decade and they hadn't even scored a try since Simon Danielli's back in 2004.
However, 38 destructive minutes saw England go 22-6 down and inspire the 65,000 tartan-clad supporters pitchside into a frenzy.
"We couldn't have had a better two weeks preparation," said Care, England's most-capped scrum-half in history. "We thought we'd trained brilliantly. We'd worked hard, the boys were fired up and ready. For whatever reason, they were just up another level to us at the start.
"The try before half-time was a bit of a killer blow for us. But we still had the belief we could get back into the game. We were close; a few calls didn't go our way."
The big call that Care referred to came not long after Owen Farrell has scored England's first try to get them back into the game. The Harlequins half-back read a Greig Laidlaw mispass, plucked the ball out of the air and was away, destination set firmly under the posts with not a blue shirt in sight.
However, referee Nigel Owens pulled play back immediately for a penalty in Scotland's favour, having deemed Joe Launchbury to be off his feet when challenging for the ball in the previous ruck. It was a marginal call, and Owens had not spoken of any penalty advantage.
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"Obviously that decision didn't go for us. Fair play to Scotland, they started really well, they were more intense than us in that first-half, and if you give away that many soft points, it's very hard to call it back," added Care.
It was an uncharacteristic England in the first-half, and led to a team huddle being called on the field before the team departed for the sanctuary of the changing room.
Within four minutes, Farrell was over for the try and the comeback, it seemed, was on. It may have inevitably fallen short, but England did at least turn the tables to win the second half 7-3.
"[Jones] was calm," Care said. "He said: 'Look, we need to sort a few things out here, try to get back in the game and start well.' I thought we did that, but it was probably a bridge too far."
Vunipola echoed Care's belief, albeit in a slightly more disappointed manner. And the loosehead prop, who needs just three more caps to reach is half-century, did send out a warning, not just to Scotland but to the rest of the world, that this defeat may just be the catalyst for England to reach the next level.
"The changing room was calm. There wasn't any raised voices," Vunipola said. "We all realised that wasn't good enough. We know we have to learn from it. We know we're still growing. Right now it's hurting, but come Monday we have to move on, but we won't forget this game. We've got a lot of learnings to take from it."
England, meanwhile, are expected to tell the Six Nations authorities today that Owen Farrell was not the instigator of the fracas that erupted in the tunnel before the match.
Television footage of the pre-match incident appeared to show Farrell and Scotland No 8 Ryan Wilson involved in a scuffle before team-mates intervened as the squads returned to their changing rooms after the warm-up.
That incident was first reported by broadcasters and discussed at half-time of the match by television pundits and will have been regarded as embarrassing and unedifying by rugby's authorities.
(© Independent News Service)
Scotland - Hogg; Seymour (Kinghorn 65), H Jones, Horne (Grigg 72), Maitland; Russell, Laidlaw (Price); Reid (Bhattie 58), McInally, Berghan (Nel 69); Gilchrist (Swinson 56), J Gray; Barclay, Watson, Wilson.
England - Brown (Nowell 56); Watson, Joseph, Farrell, May; Ford (Te'o 65), Care (Wigglesworth 72); Vunipola (Marler 69), Hartley (George 56), Cole (Williams 65); Launchbury (Kruis 72), Itoje; Lawes, Robshaw, Hughes (Underhill 55).
Ref - N Owens (Wales)