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England face tough questions amid Six Nations failings

SPOTLIGHT: For all the talk of a post-World Cup reset, England face the prospect of yet more Six Nations stagnation after a stark wake-up call against Scotland.

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If Steve Borthwick’s men lose against champions Ireland next month and fall to France, they would end up with two wins and three defeats in the tournament for the fourth year in a row.

England finished third at last year’s World Cup, raising hopes they were at last on the right track.

They followed that up with narrow victories over Italy and Wales in their opening two matches of the Six Nations, arguably the easiest of their fixtures.

But Saturday’s 21-30 defeat at Murrayfield suggests England’s run to the closing stages of the global showpiece may have been as much to do with a lopsided draw as their own qualities.

Since Borthwick succeeded Eddie Jones as England coach in December 2022, the team have yet to beat a side above them in the world rankings.

And they have not scored more than two tries in a game since defeating minnows Chile in September.

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Saturday’s reverse in Edinburgh meant England had lost four successive Championship matches against Scotland – a country with just two professional clubs – for the first time since 1896.

In pleading for patience, Borthwick is repeating a refrain that became all too familiar to England fans during the latter stages of Jones’s reign.

And while he often refers to his “new side”, nine of England’s 23-man matchday squad against Scotland on Saturday were aged 29 or over.

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Danny Care and George Ford were winning their 99th and 94th England caps in Edinburgh, with a front row featuring captain Jamie George boasting a combined tally of more than 250 appearances.

Borthwick’s men surged into an early 10-0 lead at Murrayfield thanks to a well-worked try by George Furbank.

But a series of mistakes followed in a match in which they made a similar number of handling errors.

“We have to look at what changed after [the first 20 minutes],” Borthwick said.

“What I want [to discover] when we debrief the players, is after that first 20, why we went and played in a manner that was not the way we played the first 20.

“What changed? What in the thought processes altered to try and do something different, that led to that spike in the error rate?”

‘Bumps in the road’

England face a tough set of fixtures in 2024, with New Zealand, Australia and world champions South Africa among their opponents, meaning their situation could get worse before it gets better.

In the short term, the conundrum for Borthwick is whether to stick or twist.

He could stand by his loyal old stagers or decide there is little to lose by promoting players such as Immanuel Feyi-Waboso, Fin Smith, George Martin and Chandler Cunningham‑South into his starting XV.

The way a youthful Wales side lost 31-7 to Ireland in Dublin is a warning against wholesale changes and a huge defeat by the Irish on March 9 in the name of building towards the 2027 World Cup is unlikely to go down well with the Twickenham faithful.

“There’ll be experiences unfortunately that are painful like [this],” said Borthwick after the Scotland loss.

“And why we didn’t stop it and address it, within the game, on the pitch there and actually put things right. That’s going to be a discussion we have with the players, about how we deal with that.

“But as we develop the team, there’s going to be bumps in the road. I would share the feelings of all the supporters. That was not good enough.”

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