Register free to cast your vote now in the RugbyPass Hall of Fame! Vote now in the Hall of Fame!
Close Notice

New England 2023 core begins to show itself in the Edinburgh deluge

By Alex Shaw
Sam Underhill was pivotal in delivering England a much-needed win at BT Murrayfield. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Trending on RugbyPass

More News More News

In a game that is better left forgotten in the annals of rugby history, England kept alive their Guinness Six Nations title hopes on Saturday afternoon with a dogged 13-6 win over Scotland at BT Murrayfield.


With Storm Ciara rapidly descending on Edinburgh at kick-off, the game was played out in driving rain and blustery gales, neither of which was conducive to an entertaining game of rugby. It’s probably fair to say that this wasn’t even one for the purists.

A contest of kicking, the set-piece and a truly fervent desire not to be in possession of the ball ensued, with England coming out on top, just about it, in all of those aspects. The scrum went well, the lineout performed admirably given the conditions – and remarkably in comparison to Scotland’s unit – whilst the kicking game faltered at times, but England’s defensive effort in response did not.

Starting with that battle of the boot, England captain Owen Farrell distinguished himself with his kicking from hand. He kept the ball low and skidding across the pitch, avoiding the worst of the gales, as he repeatedly prodded Scotland back inside their own half. Willi Heinz had a strong first half with his box-kicking, before his kicking compass began to go awry after the interval, whilst there were multiple kicks that George Ford and Elliot Daly will want back when they review the game.

Nevertheless, England’s multiple options, which also included some solid punts from full-back George Furbank, and Farrell’s incision away from the tee was enough to force an error-prone Scotland into gifting England enough opportunities to get over the line. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Continue reading below…

Watch: Don’t Mess with Jim – England’s selection dilemmas

Video Spacer

At the scrum, Mako Vunipola held his own on his return to the starting XV, although it was Kyle Sinckler who truly impressed once again, just a week after having worked an advantage against the French pack. Whether partnering Vunipola, Joe Marler or Ellis Genge, who had an impressive cameo from the bench, Sinckler is continuing to prove himself the anchor of England’s front row.

The tighthead looked sharp in the loose in the opening forays, too, although that was quickly superseded by England’s unrelenting desire to kick possession and play defence. Had the conditions been more conducive, it would not have been surprising to see Sinckler resume his duties as one of England’s premier ball-handlers and playmakers.

Jamie George coped remarkably well with the adverse conditions at the lineout, especially after losing two of his first three throws and the demons would have inevitably been gnawing at the back of his mind. He went on to nail the next seven throws, as Scotland struggled in comparison, losing a total of eight throws to the wind and spoiling work of England’s locks.


In the row, Maro Itoje shook off the rust from an up and down opener against France with an influential performance in terms of the turnover ratio. He was forcing Scotland to cough up possession both with the physicality of his tackling and his predatory ability at the lineout. Similar to Sinckler, there were a couple of early glimpses of a rejuvenated attacking impact in the loose, before kicking became the dominant facet of the game.

All eyes in the back row were on Tom Curry’s second outing at No 8, as well as the ball-carrying offering that was expected from Lewis Ludlam, but it was openside Sam Underhill who really stole the show. From dominant low tackles on the gain-line to a persistent slowing of Scottish ball at the breakdown, not to mention a reckless abandon to secure loose balls, the Bath flanker was exactly what the doctor ordered in the Edinburgh deluge.

Curry shone, too, albeit questions will still be raised over his inclusion as a No 8 instead of on the flank. Those who follow England have become expectant, blessed with what Billy Vunipola has given them for a number of years now, and anything that falls short of that will be considered a disappointment. It’s not that Curry is a lesser player, it’s just that he’s a different player.

Finally, in the back line, Jonny May passed almost all the tests that were sent his way, with his spilled ball on the opening kick-off the only mark against him in very challenging conditions. He didn’t get the opportunity to showcase his well-appreciated attacking ability, but he was able to diffuse the high balls that came his way, including a couple under intense pressure from Scottish chasers. Few people will have forgotten his individual attacking heroics against France the previous week, either.

It was brutal and it was ugly, but crucially for England, it brought four points and put their Six Nations title bid back on track. Winning breeds confidence and confidence breeds performances. Coming off the back of the Rugby World Cup final and the struggles in Paris, this was much-needed and despite being a very unorthodox match thanks to the conditions, has shed further light on the England side of this current cycle.

Although the squad resembles the one that took to the field in Japan last year, England head coach Eddie Jones has said himself that this is a new team and that the team he built for Japan ended its journey at that Rugby World Cup. On Saturday afternoon, we found out more about the ‘core’ of this new side that is now being moulded by Matt Proudfoot and Simon Amor, as well as Jones and John Mitchell.

The aforementioned septet of Sinckler, George, Itoje, Curry, Underhill, Farrell and May are singling themselves out as irreplaceable in the first glimpses of this new-look England team. Their leadership, their influence on the pitch and their ability to adapt, not always a trait that English rugby excels with, are clear to see and they look to be the group to build around moving forward for Jones.

Of course, no one is going to exclude a fit and in form Mako Vunipola, but England have an enviable depth of options at loosehead, not least so the fast-rising Genge. Billy Vunipola and Manu Tuilagi are game-winners, though their proclivity for injuries make them hard to rely on, whilst the likes of Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell and Joe Cokanasiga will get their opportunities to make their cases for inclusion when they return to fitness.

There is plenty of time for things to change between now and the beginning of the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France, although if England have a strong core around which they can rotate and tinker, it certainly won’t hurt their chances when they come to attempting to go one step further than they did out in Japan last year.

Barring another freak storm and similar torrential conditions, England’s upcoming test against Ireland at Twickenham should give Jones and his side the opportunity to put in a more emphatic bounce back performance, especially with Andy Farrell’s side picking up two wins from two and hunting a Grand Slam. That is a chance to show that the win over New Zealand was not a zenith but a potential new standard.

For now, English pride has been restored and recent wounds have been salved as the group return south with the Calcutta Cup in their possession.

Watch: Andy Farrell and Jonathan Sexton react to win over Wales

Video Spacer

RugbyPass Hall of Fame


Join RugbyPass+ now and be apart of the conversation with all-new commenting!

Join Now

New England 2023 core begins to show itself in the Edinburgh deluge