Owen Farrell admitted England have taken “a good look at ourselves” following their losing start to the Six Nations, with Eddie Jones making numerous changes for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash against Scotland.
Jones has made five changes to the starting line-up, the biggest of which sees Ben Youngs dropping to the bench for the first time when fit against a leading nation beyond Italy since 2016. Willi Heinz starts at scrum-half while Mako Vunipola and George Kruis return to the pack, and Lewis Ludlam replaces Courtney Lawes at blindside flanker. The final change sees Jonathan Joseph replace the injured Manu Tuilagi as expected.
The changes are partly due to England’s six-day turnaround from their Paris defeat, and having not beaten Scotland since 2017, England captain Farrell knows they must rebound immediately in order to avoid a three-game losing streak. The result has been a brutally honest week of training in which the players have focussed on what went wrong during a horror first half at the Stade de France, which saw England slump to a 17-0 half-time deficit and trail by 24 points before they finally got on the scoreboard.
“Eddie spoke about leadership being a big part of it and we want to make sure that we see stuff quickly, and get people to buy into that and push forward – that probably took too long last Sunday,” Farrell said.
“There are a lot of things that go in to it, you’re making it sound very simple. It can be, but a lot of time goes into it off the field, a lot of relationship stuff, so that you can connect with people and be direct and have the relationship so you can get a reaction out of them. We are constantly working on that type of stuff and we had a good look at ourselves to see how we can do it better after Sunday.
“We were obviously disappointed after the weekend and our showing in the first half. We’ve not had long to dwell on it, we have to get on and get excited about what’s coming up and we’ve definitely trained like that this week and we’ll look to keep building.”
The last time England went to Murrayfield they became part of a similar story in that they were unable to stem the home side’s momentum, having been involved in a pre-match scuffle as the two sides returned to the tunnel at the same time. The 25-13 defeat triggered a five-Test losing streak, and Farrell acknowledged how difficult away trips have become in the Six Nations given the rarity of winning on enemy turf.
“It's always a tough game, especially up there,” Farrell added. “It's a pretty big rivalry so it should be a good one. The Six Nations is a tournament where all the teams are quite close together. There seems to be rivalries everywhere you look and this is a good one to play in.”
Jones elected to make more changes than initially expected with his team announcement, given that both Vunipola and Joseph were almost certain to come in due to Tuilagi’s absence and Jones’s decision to test the loosehead prop last weekend with this game in mind. Kruis is brought back into the second row after Charlie Ewels was sent back to Bath earlier in the week while Ludlam and Lawes rotate, but the big surprise came in seeing 33-year-old Heinz promoted in front of Youngs – something that has only happened in World Cup warm-ups and the World Cup pool game against the USA so far.
“We just think at the start of the game that he will be the type of player who will be useful,” said Jones.
“He has got great experience. He's played with a number of good players, has experienced rugby in the northern and southern hemispheres, he's got a good solid, all-round game, is a good communicator and has got a calm head.
“Every game you play leadership is important. Rugby is a game played by the players and they've got to make a lot of decisions on the field. This game is no different.”