Immanuel Feyi-Waboso and England’s bench show Steve Borthwick that changes are needed

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso dots down
Immanuel Feyi-Waboso scores England's second try at Murrayfield - Dan Mullan/Getty Images

The problem Steve Borthwick has is that even gradual rebuilds, those labelled as evolution rather than revolution, still require time. And, upon taking the job of England head coach 14 months ago, he inherited a supporter base that were justifiably weary of pleas for patience. A silver lining of a fourth consecutive defeat by Scotland, at least, is that fans will be more receptive to more drastic changes.

England’s performance was not without encouraging aspects, even if some of those brighter spots were more palpable after the hosts had taken hold of the game. Indeed, some of Borthwick’s bench have given him a mandate to accelerate the developments – both tactically and regarding selection – that the team were always going to be needed after the last World Cup.

Around seven minutes into the second half, in the wake of Duhan van der Merwe’s third try, Ben Spencer and George Martin were the first to be introduced. The latter, who came on for Ethan Roots, was making a first Test appearance since the World Cup semi-final against South Africa. Martin is an imposing presence. Incidentally, he scrummaged at lock alongside Maro Itoje with Ollie Chessum shifting to blindside flanker.

George Martin
George Martin made his first Test appearance since the World Cup semi-final - Robert Perry/Shutterstock

Spencer has been the form scrum-half in the Premiership and is renowned for accurate kicking. Danny Care’s display had been pockmarked by mistakes. One strike, while England were leading 10-0 in the first half, skewed out on the full and invited pressure just as the visitors seemed assured. Conversely, the long clearances of Ben White settled Scotland. Hindsight makes experts of us all, but Borthwick must have considered promoting Spencer to the starting line-up and keeping Care in his trademark role as an impact replacement following Alex Mitchell’s injury.

As it was, one of Spencer’s first contributions was to hoist an inch-perfect box-kick. Tommy Freeman chased it and climbed above Van der Merwe. Ben Earl snaffled the ricochet and fed Martin, who charged 15 metres into the opposition 22. With that impetus, England earned a penalty and reduced the gap to 24-16.

Still 22, Martin has scope to mature. However, it was a collective lapse that led to his most glaring error. England were inexplicably sluggish in retreating for the next restart. As ever, Russell was alert and ahead of the game. He hurried to the halfway line and hit a kick that isolated Martin in the back-field. A fumble conceded possession, and momentum, immediately.

Borthwick trickled his six remaining replacements onto the pitch between 57th and 68th minutes. It was telling, and quite unusual, that England spent as long as 12 minutes, which was the time Theo Dan was on for Jamie George, with a completely overhauled team. Chandler Cunningham-South, a rough diamond with raw talent and significant physical assets, defended strongly and industriously. At one stage, he drove Ewan Ashman and two more Scotland forwards backwards. Rory Darge and Jack Dempsey demonstrated the value of stopping power and post-tackle menace all evening. Cunningham-South’s potential is huge.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso produced the most impressive cameo of all. Upon his arrival, England’s backline was totally revamped. Spencer and Fin Smith were the half-backs, with Ollie Lawrence and Freeman in midfield. Elliot Daly and George Furbank stayed on the left wing and at full-back, respectively, with Feyi-Waboso occupying the right flank. There have been whispers about how the 21-year-old has excelled in training and Feyi-Waboso translated those efforts straightaway.

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso of England breaks past Cameron Redpath
Feyi-Waboso brought his excellent form in training into the Test arena - Dan Mullan/Getty Images

With England now trailing 30-16, his hustle and bustle caused Scotland to lose a restart:

A handful of phases later, Feyi-Waboso hurtled around a ruck, took a pass from Spencer and darted between Cameron Redpath and Blair Kinghorn. He had roamed from the right wing to the opposite 15-metre channel to open his account as a Test match try-scorer:

Other moments underscored Feyi-Waboso’s credentials for further involvement against Ireland and France. A Ben Healy high ball was caught well and he jumped to win back another Spencer box-kick:

In the 75th minute, Russell attempted to turn Feyi-Waboso with a cross-field strike. Van der Merwe was bearing down, but Feyi-Waboso read the situation well. He spun and caught the kick on the full...

..and showcased his rare acceleration with a punchy counter. Even later on, Feyi-Waboso was off his wing and gaining ground. As part of a line-out strike play, he ghosted onto Fin Smith’s shoulder and eked out 15 metres through two tackles:

Afterwards, while reiterating that he wants them to be England internationals “for a long time”, Borthwick pointed out that some of his replacements “have not played a huge amount of Premiership rugby, either”. Feyi-Waboso is the greenest by this measure, with just 12 league appearances for Exeter Chiefs since his debut in the competition last season. And still, he was bold enough to put his mark on a Calcutta Cup encounter at Murrayfield that was slipping away from England.

Spencer and Smith did slow down some rucks in the final quarter, with their side nine points down. This seemed to be a team directive. Spencer and Russell move the ball at Bath when they need to. Time in the saddle is vital for half-backs. Sometimes, you have to rip off the band-aid and pick them.

Of course, there is a danger of overstating the influence of replacements, who can benefit from the work that their colleagues have done earlier in games to soften up opponents. It should be remembered, too, that England began well enough to lead Scotland 10-0 before mistakes crept in and crippled them. Equally, promising performances have to be rewarded.

As he did at the World Cup, Borthwick has used experienced players as safety blankets so far this Six Nations. Even if he is staring down the barrel of another campaign featuring three losses, his line-ups for Ireland and France should look to the future more explicitly. Starts for Feyi-Waboso, Martin – and maybe others, too – certainly seem a reasonable way to epitomise this policy.

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