There can be few places Eddie Jones would rather avoid more than Murrayfield this weekend as he leads England north of the border amid growing doubts about his team.
Despite taking them to a Rugby World Cup final just three months ago, last weekend’s 24-17 defeat to France in the opening round of the Six Nations raised more questions than it answered, particularly regarding the head coach’s selection and his team’s seeming inability to find solutions when up against it.
Jones will be looking for a response against a Scotland team that England would be reasonably expected to beat on Saturday. But it is a destination that will bring back difficult memories.
It was at Murrayfield in 2018 that England’s flying start to life under Jones came to a shuddering halt.
They were undone by Gregor Townsend’s side against all expectation and reason, losing the Calcutta Cup for the first time in a decade as Huw Jones touched down twice to give the Scots a 25-13 win.
Memories of Murrayfield
Scotland were immense at the breakdown that day, pumped up before the match by criticism and a rivalry with the Auld Enemy that former captain Gavin Hastings summed up in an interview with City A.M., saying the hosts wanted “to rub Eddie Jones’s face in the dirt”.
It was only England’s second defeat in 26 Tests under the Australian and an uncomfortable weekend would continue on his train journey home, where Jones said he was “verbally and physically abused”.
Three men were fined for “vile language” after allegedly hurling profanities at Jones, who pledged to non longer take public transport and blamed the incident on people inciting hate against him.
Subsequent defeats against France and Ireland saw England’s Six Nations crown slip, before two more losses in South Africa made it a run of five without a win and serious questions about Jones’s future in the job grew louder.
The 59-year-old has again quickly come under fire in the face of defeat, such is the pressure on England to win.
His team arrive in Scotland in the precarious position of being World Cup runners-up and in need of a win against a side they are, in theory, better than. While victory is expected, defeat would be a disaster.
Scotland have only beaten Italy, Samoa and Russia in the last 12 months and England must make amends not only for last weekend but also last year’s collapse at Twickenham, which saw them surrender a 31-0 lead at half-time before drawing 38-38.
On both of the last occasions Scotland have faced England, they have mustered a performance greater than the sum of their parts.
One of the inspirations behind those results was fly-half Finn Russell.
However, the 27-year-old will miss his second game of the campaign this weekend after being omitted from the squad by Townsend for “breaching team protocol”, an incident which reportedly involved him missing team training after a night out drinking.
There is a history of animosity between the head coach and talisman, least of all following a half-time argument during that draw at Twickenham last year. But the tensions with the Scottish Rugby Union run deeper.
Russell’s father, Keith, won an unfair dismissal case against the SRU in 2018 after he was sacked from his position as director of domestic rugby.
Fortunately for Scotland, Adam Hastings – son of Gavin – put in a good performance at No10 in Dublin last weekend and Townsend is set to keep the same starting XV.
Eddie Jones’ selection raises questions
For England, despite deafening calls for Jones to include a specialist No8 – Alex Dombrandt and Sam Simmonds were overlooked – he has elected to continue playing Tom Curry there.
There is little doubt about Curry’s ability, but playing him at No8 invariably means losing the quality he brings to No7.
Jones has answered questioned about his continued use of Ben Youngs at scrum-half despite his age and inconsistent form, dropping him for Willi Heinz in one of five changes to the starting XV.
But he has retained the George Ford-Owen Farrell No10-12 axis despite their inability to alter the course of last week’s defeat in France, where England’s response amounted to two moments of individual brilliance from Jonny May.
When Flower of Scotland rings around Murrayfield on Saturday afternoon, there will be fire in the belly of every Scottish fan and player.
England, meanwhile, will have to be much better than they were last weekend, and on their previous visit, if they are to begin answering some of the questions facing Jones.