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'Their skill execution was absolutely atrocious': Irish pundits pick apart England's loss

By Ben Smith
Elliot Daly of England passes the ball to George Furbank (not pictured), who goes onto to score the first try for England, during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Scotland’s golden run over England continued with a fourth consecutive Calcutta Cup win at Murrayfield as Steve Borthwick’s side showcased a litany of errors.

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A hat-trick to star winger Duhan van der Merwe powered Scotland to a 30-21 victory as the home side made the visitors pay for poor execution.

Despite coming into the game with wins over Italy and Wales, there were still concerns over the state of the England side given the unconvincing form that Borthwick’s side were showing.

Irish TV pundits dissected the performance on Virgin Media Sport which showed England were who everyone thought they were.

“They’re just… if we were going to show you an England errors package, we’d be here for half an hour,” Matt Williams told the Virgin Media Sport panel.

“They just made error after error. And you think, the three Van der Merwe tries were from English errors.

“The error off the scrum, the falcon off the head of [George] Furbank, then an English lineout that was lost that led to the possession for the cross-field kick for his third try.

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“That is just a small picture of the number of errors they made. They dropped restarts, they dropped lineouts, they had Scotland beaten at the scrum and they kept engaging too early. There were four free kicks for early engagement.

“The ill discipline was just ridiculous. The number of passes that just went nowhere, thrown into touch.”

Ex-Ireland international Rob Kearney offered a glass-half full view of England, praising their attempt at playing with more ambition but lambasted their ability to do so.

He said it was the “best” rugby that England have tried to play in a while but absolutely failed at trying to implement it.

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“This is going to sound a bit off the wall, but that’s the best England have tried to play,” the former fullback said.

“The ambition that they showed, the running lines, the phase play, it was really, really good tonight. The best I’ve seen from them in a long time.

“Their skill execution was absolutely atrocious. That’s the reason they lost the game. The amount of times they turned the ball over and handed the ball back to Scotland was atrocious.

“It’s pass handling. All these players can pass a ball, they can catch a ball. It’s something that they can get right. That’s why I’m saying I’m encouraged by the ambition.

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Former Ulster outside back Andrew Trimble said it was a case of “beware of what you wish for” from England.

The grass isn’t always greener if you can’t water the lawn. Based on the Calcutta Cup loss, it appears that England can’t back up intent with ability and therefore should stop trying.

“It’s a strangle angle but I 100 per cent see what you mean, they tried, they had the intention of playing more rugby,” Trimble said.

“But be careful what you wish for. Everybody, everywhere has been saying this English side is capable of playing more rugby.

“Well maybe they’ve proved tonight they are not capable. When they are at their best, when they are ahead, they put you under pressure through the kicking game, defence. Make you chase the game.

“Scotland did to them what they’ve been doing to everyone for the last year. Maybe us purists should stop trying to get some rugby out of them.”

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Poorfour 10 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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