England handed reality check by brilliant Scotland in Edinburgh

EDINBURGH, Scotland -- England must be sick of the sight of Scotland's Duhan van der Merwe. He's already regarded as one of the most ruthless wingers in the sport, but he stands an inch taller against England.

It was his remarkable hat trick on Saturday, under the lights at Murrayfield, which helped keep the Calcutta Cup north of the border.

Having already scored key tries in Scotland's two Calcutta Cup wins at Twickenham in 2021 and 2023, Van der Merwe's trio on home turf helped guide the hosts to a 30-21 triumph over England, their fourth win on the bounce against the auld enemy. The only respite the visitors got from the towering winger was in the 79th minute when he was sin-binned for an illegal tackle.

But even then, they couldn't escape his influence. As he walked off the pitch, the stadium announcer declared he had been crowned player of the match. The crowd rose as one to acknowledge a remarkable performance.

At that point Scotland's win was a foregone conclusion. Steve Borthwick had already left the enclosed coaching box. He stood there at the back of the stand, in the cold air, watching Scotland close the match out. The Scottish fans turned around and saw him ashen-faced, gave him a few verbal barbs and revelled in his thousand-mile stare. It was the face of a man who had been given an accurate barometer of where his team are.

This fixture used to be doused in the white of England, red roses all over the tale of tape between the two teams. But not anymore. This is the era of Scottish dominance in the sport's oldest fixture. England came here as underdogs, but with a quiet confidence hoping to turn the tide back in their favour.

But despite coming to Edinburgh with a record of two from two in this year's Six Nations, they were duly dispatched homeward to think again.

Scotland looked settled, comfortable in their own skin. That's what happens when you have seven years of continuity in the coaching box and a team playing to the tune of the world's best fly-half in Finn Russell. England are evolving, still figuring out Felix Jones' blitz defence, and with a group of players where you have experience merged with youngsters finding their feet at Test level.

Some of England's handling was poor and passes far too wayward on occasion when opportunity presented itself. Their new-look blitz defence is still very much a work in progress. Scotland in contrast were composed -- comfortable picking off passes and finding territory to release the pressure valve when required, but also capable of their turning forays into England's 22 into points. They played up to the tag of being favourites, embracing the expectation around this group.

As the first men's Scotland player to score a hat trick against England, Van der Merwe will be the toast of Edinburgh tonight and until the next time these teams meet in a year. He was utterly ruthless. His first try came off the back of Scotland exploiting a gap in England's defence in midfield. Henry Slade got caught watching Russell instead of the ball -- Sione Tuipulotu popped Huw Jones away, open field ahead of him, and after he chomped off half the pitch, he put Van der Merwe over.

The second in the 29th minute was a remarkable piece of quick-thinking from the Scotland winger. George Furbank -- starting ahead of Freddie Steward at fullback for England -- failed to catch a George Ford pass and Scotland duly snaffled it up. Jones' offload found Van der Merwe in space on the wing -- exploiting the areas under-manned in the blitz-defence system, and he rounded a wrong-footed Ben Earl to sprint away from the cover defence and score in the corner.

The third -- in the 45th minute -- came off a Cameron Redpath break, again finding space in the middle of England's line and then a Russell cross-kick where a galloping Van der Merwe trotted over into the corner for his third. Each play slightly different but each utterly ruthless.

"We had a really good first phase, there was a lot of space open and I knew Finn [Russell] was going to kick it to me," Van der Merwe said.

"Lucky for me it bounced in my hands and to get my first hat trick against England is unbelievable. I must be waking up and feeling like scoring tries. I guess I am just the lucky one to finish them off."

Scotland's errors were few and far between. They were a well-oiled machine, flying through the gears and they never looked flustered. Russell brings that calm, but there were other brilliant performances throughout this team. Blair Kinghorn was naturally assured at fullback while Rory Darge was brilliant around the ruck, preventing England quick-ball and being a brilliant nuisance.

How Scotland must lament that controversial call in the final moments of their match against France, where they thought they had a match-winning score only to have it ruled out through a dubious call. Had that gone their way, Scotland would still be on for the Grand Slam, along with Ireland.

"The win is massive. It is a one-off, we were playing for the trophy today and to us that is very important," Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend said.

"Now we can look to the next two games and see how we can improve. To show that resilience to come back and then score 30 points shows what this team is capable of. There is improvement to do and we want to get to the final week with an opportunity to still be in the championship."

England came to Edinburgh still with Grand Slam hopes alive, but errors let them down. There were positives -- they scored first through a great first-phase try with Furbank crashing over after just five minutes. In the 69th minute as England tried to find a way back into the match, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso scored with his first touch as he judged his run perfectly to go through for his first Test try.

Sam Underhill was a menace around the breakdown, winning two penalties but it's the inaccuracies that will bother Borthwick. They're clearly still adjusting to the defensive system and simply put, there were too many mistakes.

"What is very clear is if you make that many handling errors at this level it is very difficult to win especially against a team of Scotland's quality," Borthwick said.

"Ultimately we made it too easy for them to score but they were very clinical. A huge lesson for our team, as they develop, is that that number of turnovers make it very difficult to win.

"We would all love progression to be in a nice linear path but it is not, especially at this level. You see a team that is trying to develop and add layers to their game but made errors today. Sometimes you get punished for them, sometimes you don't. It is a really painful lesson."

This was a reality check for England. After wins over Italy and Wales, this challenge was a level up and Scotland showed their superiority.

Van der Merwe will get the headlines, but this was Scotland further flexing their stranglehold on this fixture.