Preview: England v Scotland

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 07:07
Large england v scotland with calcutta cup trophy 800

SIX NATIONS ROUND FOUR: rugby365's acclaimed writer Paul Dobson looks at the oldest contest in the game.

They will lift up their faces, open their mouths and sing with great gusto O Flower of Scotland.

And many who are not from above the Tweed will join in, not because they are traitors but because they enjoy the 20th-century song about a 13th-century battle, a rare victory for the Scots over the Sassenachs of the south.

Then it will be the Saxons' turn and they will sing with great concentration their 19th-century anthem to their 21st-century queen and Twickenham will join in.

Not long ago only one anthem would have been sung - God Save the Queen.

Then came that day in March 1988 when England came to Murrayfield for the Calcutta Cup match.

The only anthem was God Save the Queen, and many a Scottish voice was raised in rude disapproval. And so the Scots produced their own rugby song, composed by the Corries - O Flower of Scotland.

It is usually a great occasion, this the oldest rugby international, first played in 1871, and playing for the oldest rugby trophy in the world - the Calcutta Cup, first in contention in 1878.

There is a lot of history in the match and inevitably a lot of feeling, but over the years that feeling has been confined to actions within the laws and spirit of the game. And so it will be again this Saturday.

Scotland won that first match in 1871, but England leads the victory stakes 74-42, and at Twickenham history is even more emphatically in England's favour.

They have played there 47 times and Scotland have won just four times - in 1926, 1938, 1973 and 1983.

But that will surely not frighten the Scots. After all, their losing margin against Wales is 49-70, but they beat them 29-13 in the round before this.

The Scots must believe that they can win.

England know that they can win.

It is becoming a habit for them - 17 wins in 17 matches since October 2015.

Can the Scots win?

They have a strong pack of forwards, capable of producing usable first-phase ball. They also have loose forwards who are quick and rugged. They have a clever flyhalf, centres who can attack and defend and a back three who know their way to a tryline - fast and skilled players.

Can England win?

Of course. Their biggest weapon may be the players who sit down after the anthem. England look to have a much more impressive bench than Scotland.

Players to Watch

For England: Fullback Mike Brown will want to attack whenever he has a chance. Jack Nowell on the wing for England is a strong and elusive runner, a player with energy. Forwards do not catch the eye as backs do but there are line-out forwards that will stand out - Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury. And there is tall, handsome Maro Itoje, an iron fist in a velvet glove, for he can be as hard as anybody else when needed.

For Scotland: Fullback Stuart Hogg will want to attack whenever he has a chance. During the Six nations so far, Hogg would seem more effective than brave Brown. Given half a chance centre Huw Jones has the ability to change the course of a game. The Gray brothers are two of Scotland's most influential players.

Head to Head: George Ford of England versus Finn Russell of Scotland, flyhalf versus flyhalf. Russell may be far better than he is rated, a player of deft touches, creating chances for others but also willing to do his own bit of deceptive running, a brave player. Ford may seem more sedate but he has the basic skills of good hands and a strong book - and he makes decisions. He was also the player who started the counterattack which led to the try that won the match against Wales. Tough, hard James Haskell against unyielding, relentless John Barclay. But it's all going to start and be decided up front. There are fewer scrums in today's game but the type of forward confidence and aggression that scrums require is also a winner about the field. Here we have Dylan Hartley against Fraser Brown, Dan Cole against Gordon Reid and Joe Marler against Zander Fagerson. The English would have that dominating look about them but all three of their front men are prone to be penalised, far more than the Scots are. That could be their undoing. Goal-kicker versus goal-kicker, Owen Farrell versus Finn Russell and, for long distances, Eliot Daly versus Stuart Hogg. It may just be that England will be more successful.

Results against common opponents

Argentina: England won 27-14; Scotland won 19-16
Australia: England won 39-28, 23-7 and 44-40; Scotland lost 23-22
France: England won 19-16; Scotland lost 22-16
Wales: England won 21-16; Scotland won 29-13

Recent results:
2016: England won 15-9, Edinburgh
2015: England won 25-13, London
2014: England won 20-0, Edinburgh
2013: England won 38-18, London
2012: England won 13-6, Edinburgh
2011: England won 16-12, Auckland (World Cup pool match)
2011: England won 22-16, London
2010: Scotland and England drew 15-all, Edinburgh
2009: England won 26-12, London
2008: Scotland won 15-9, Edinburgh

Prediction: A lot of the rugby world would like a Scottish victory, and, of course, it is possible, but England are unlikely to be startled by the Scots as they were by the Italy's Fabian tactics and one would expect them to win by 10 points or more.

Teams

England: England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Anthony Watson.

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett.

Date: Saturday, 11 March 2017
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 16.00 (16.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Overcast after rain with a high of 15°C, dropping to 7°C
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

By Paul Dobson
@rugby365com

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Ireland 0 0 0 0 0
France 0 0 0 0 0
Scotland 0 0 0 0 0
Wales 0 0 0 0 0
Italy 0 0 0 0 0