Jonah Lomu Rugby & work to do – What the Calcutta Cup means for England and Scotland

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend compared Duhan van der Merwe's first-half try to Jonah Lomu Rugby
©INPHO/Billy Stickland

On the final whistle at Twickenham Stadium, there were certainly contrasting emotions for the players on the field.

For England, there was despair as they were unable to cling on against an impressive Scotland side who were able to pounce on a side still working out their new direction. 

And for Scotland, there was nothing short of sheer delight as they managed to keep hold of the Calcutta Cup for a third consecutive year, their longest winning streak since the early 1970s.

It is a win for Scotland that will be remembered for the try scoring exploits of Duhan van der Merwe. 

Scoring two tries across the 80 minutes, it was the South Africa wing who was the decisive factor, the British and Irish Lion showing every inch of his prowess across the two scores.

First was when the Edinburgh man took England on himself. Taking the ball from halfway, Van der Merwe beat Joe Marchant and four more to score what will surely be the try of the tournament, slipping through grasping English hands with an apparent ease and late on powering through white shirts to secure another famous victory.

“It was incredible, wasn’t it?” said Townsend. “It reminded me – if you are a certain age – of when you played Jonah Lomu rugby and suddenly one person can go quicker.

“Duhan has not had much rugby over the last few weeks but has trained really well with us. To play like he did today off the back of an injury and not playing for Edinburgh is a real testament to how he has got himself in this position both mentally and physically.

“It was almost a different side to Duhan, how he stepped and accelerated away. His finish for the second try was similar to two years ago when he finished in the opposite corner. It was a brilliant finish but that first try was amazing.”

Later on, the wing himself would class it as “probably the best try of my life”, and is certainly one of the scores which will live long in the memory of many a Scotland supporter.

Picking up the Player of the Match award, Van der Merwe was certainly the pick of the bunch on Saturday afternoon.

Scotland were able to pick England apart and pounce on defensive mistakes that would seem far more criminal if the new coaching staff had not had just two weeks to prepare the side.

Ultimately it was defence which was England’s major fault. Missing plenty of tackles across the 80 minutes in West London, it certainly gives new defence coach, Kevin Sinfield, some work to do ahead of Italy’s visit next Sunday.

"At 20-12 up we shouldn't have let that get away from us. We got in a position where we should have gone on and won," Steve Borthwick, England’s head coach, said.

"I'm really pleased with the response to the setbacks in first half, but really good teams wouldn’t let the opposition back in at 20-12 we are striving to become a really good team.

"You go through that pain, you don’t want to, but we'll now look at it to make sure we are better."

There were positives for England though. You would have to say that the attack under Nick Evans was more coherent and Max Malins’s second try testament to that.

Through the combination of Jack van Poortvliet, Ollie Chessum, Ellis Genge, Freddie Steward, Lewis Ludlam and then Malins to score, it was the brightest part of a performance that was at times error-strewn and inconsistent.

But while there was much left to be desired, it felt like Saturday definitively established Ollie Chessum as a starter for England as the 22-year-old’s performance vindicated his head coach for leaving Jonny Hill out of the squad.

Lewis Ludlam absolutely confirmed his place in the starting line-up for the weeks to come also, the 27-year-old getting through plenty of work over his 80 minutes on the turf and will likely be seen again next weekend.

Furthermore, Dan Cole had a sound performance off the bench and so did Ben Earl when he replaced an often indifferent Alex Dombrandt, who sporadically showed glimpses of his Harlequins form.

The biggest question will be is Borthwick sticks or twists next weekend. His selections for Scotland were not perfect, but sticking with the same side could lead to more consistency among the group, especially with another weeks’ prep.

Italy will host France tomorrow afternoon it what will be essential viewing. France had an unbeaten 2022, while the Italians picked up famous wins over Wales and then Australia in the calendar year.

For England, that means they will have to wait 24 hours until they know exactly what they’ll be up against in a weekends time, while Townsend’s Scotland will be encouraged by what they saw from Wales.

Soundly beaten at the Principality Stadium 10-34 by Ireland in Warren Gatland’s return as head coach, it will be an uphill battle for Wales as they not only look to recover from a chastening loss but also have to travel to Edinburgh and BT Murrayfield Stadium.