LONDON – England head coach Eddie Jones said he hoped his team would learn a valuable World Cup lesson after it was “seduced by the scoreboard” as Scotland produced an astonishing fightback in a 38-38 draw at Twickenham on Saturday.
England, knowing before kick-off their title hopes were over after Wales completed a Grand Slam against Ireland in Cardiff earlier on Saturday, surged into a 31-0 lead by the 30-minute mark in rainswept conditions.
Yet Scotland produced a scarcely believable rally that saw England, whose nerve was questioned by Wales coach Warren Gatland after it squandered a 10-3 half-time lead during a 21-13 defeat in Cardiff last month, suffer a stunning meltdown.
The Scots were moments away from their first win at Twickenham since 1983 before England replacement fly-half George Ford crossed in the third minute of added time for a try he then converted to level the scores with the final kick of the game.
It was England’s last competitive match before the World Cup begins in September and it certainly raised questions over the team’s ability to triumph in Japan.
This was the third time England had let slip a lead in recent months following that reverse in Cardiff and the first test in South Africa last year.
“It was 100 percent mental. It’s a bit of a recurring theme for us,” said Jones.
“We’ve experienced this at least three times in 12 months, where we’ve taken control of a game, let our foot off the gas and then been unable to get control of it back.”
England was well on course for a winning margin even greater than their 61-21 rout of Scotland when the teams last played at Twickenham two years ago.
“Our first half there was some exceptional rugby,” said Jones, the coach of the Australia side that lost the 2003 World Cup final to England in his native Sydney.
“We should have been ahead by a lot more.
“It’s a great lesson for us. I thought our finishers (replacements) did exceptionally well to get us out of jail at the end.”
Reflecting on what had gone wrong in one of the most extraordinary editions of rugby union’s oldest international fixture, first played in 1871, Jones said: “We got seduced by the scoreboard. And sometimes it can be one player that does it and then it becomes infectious.
“There’s not one area we need to fix, apart from our ability just to be able to regain ourselves.”
England ended the Championship as runners-up and Jones insisted: “If you look at our tournament, apart from a poor 30 against Wales and a poor 40 against Scotland, we’ve had a pretty good tournament.”
He tried to put a positive spin on an astounding scoreline by saying: “You want these sorts of lessons before you go to the World Cup.
“Because you do that in the pool game against Tonga, for instance, then you can find yourselves in a difficult situation going forward.”
The draw saw Scotland retain the Calcutta Cup for the first time since its Five Nations Grand Slam of 1984 following last year’s 25-13 win at Murrayfield.
Scotland also managed its highest points total against England, surpassing the 33 achieved in a 33-6 win in 1986, but this result meant it still finished fifth in this year’s Six Nations.
“I’ve never been involved in a game like that as a player or a coach,” said Scotland coach Gregor Townsend following a revival started by captain Stuart McInally’s try before halftime that also featured wing Darcy Graham’s second-half try double.
“It’s the most unusual game I’ve been involved in.”
The former Scotland playmaker added: “I’m very happy with the draw considering what happened in the first half, but the players are absolutely gutted.
“They’re really disappointed not to have won, which seems incredible to think when you’re 31-0 down.
“We talked about winning back respect in the second half.
“To go out and score another five tries in the second half is still hard to believe.”