There were echoes of the 2019 World Cup final as England coach Eddie Jones and captain Owen Farrell appeared totally perplexed by how their team failed to perform when totally outplayed in a 11-6 defeat by Scotland in their Six Nations title defence opener.
The fired-up Scots deservedly took the plaudits with their first Twickenham win for 38 years but the game was a tale of woe for the toothless defending champions and the only saving grace was that there were not the usual 82,000 fans in the famous old ground to witness it.
Scotland wing Duhan Van Der Merwe crossed for the only try but the scoreboard the flattered England.
The hosts never looked remotely like scoring a try and barely entered the Scots’ 22 all match. The visitors enjoyed 63 per cent possession and 59 per cent of the territory.
They conceded six penalties to England’s 15, missed eight tackles to England’s 27 and made five line breaks to the faintly embarrassing nil of the 2019 World Cup finalists.
On that occasion at least South Africa’s total scrum dominance explained away England’s inability to compete but on Saturday there was nothing so obvious.
“We just couldn’t find a way to get into the game,” said Jones. “On a day like this the set piece will always be important, the contest in the air will be important, the gainlines will be important, and we couldn’t win any of those areas.
“We just seemed to be off the pace and I have to blame myself, I didn’t prepare the team well enough.
“The players play the game but sometimes you have those days and we had one today. Scotland played very well. They had a particular game plan which they stuck to and executed really well.”
Apart from Billy Vunipola, England’s Saracens club players had not played since the Autumn Nations Cup final on December 6 and they made little impact.
“Maybe it wasn’t the ideal preparation but it is what it is and we’ve got to be good enough to be able to cope with that. Everyone is a good selector after the game,” said Jones.
The former Wallabies mentor accepted it would be a hard result to live down.
“You never atone for a game like this. This stays with you for a long time,” Jones said.
“But the most important thing is that we get together and we find a way to improve our performance and play like England do when we come up against Italy next week.”
Farrell scored England’s points with two first-half penalties but he was unable to fire his backline as England struggled to create any momentum.
“Every aspect of the game is joined up together. You get to attack when you defend well and when you are disciplined and vice versa. We will look at the game and see where we can improve. There are some pretty obvious ones.”
One of those is England’s shocking penalty count, which reached double figures inside the first 35 minutes.
“Sometimes it’s almost like you are trying too hard,” said Farrell.