Preview: Scotland v England

Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:15
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SIX NATIONS, ROUND THREE: Winning may not be everything in sport, but as far as England coach Eddie Jones is concerned it sure beats being "entertaining".

Rugby union is much-given to bouts of soul-searching that see its complicated rulebook repeatedly tinkered with in a bid to provide a better spectacle for fans.

But a lack of spectators is unlikely to be an issue when Six Nations champions England face Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday for the latest edition of rugby's foundation Test, a fixture first played in 1871.

The cliche of a Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield is that this is always the one match where roared on by a home crowd, the Scots can throw a spanner in the works of an English juggernaut thanks to a combination of passion and native wit.

Since Gregor Townsend, something of a mercurial playmaker in his time as a Scotland international, took over as coach last year, the Scots have indeed won plaudits for their attacking play while also enjoying some notable wins over Australia

No one has embodied their spirit of adventure more than Finn Russell. But, like the child in the nursery rhyme, when the flyhalf is good "he's very, very good and when he's bad he's horrid".

Scotland suffered a 7-34 defeat by Wales in their tournament opener and while they beat France 32-26 last time out, victory was only achieved after Townsend took off the faltering Russell and moved Greig Laidlaw from scrumhalf to flyhalf.

By contrast, England, who've won 24 of their 25 Tests under Jones since the Australian launched his Red Rose career with a 15-9 win at Murrayfield in 2016, have enjoyed a pair of victories in the opening two rounds, seeing off Italy 46-15 in Rome before edging Wales 12-6 at Twickenham.

What we want to know about ourselves is that we can tough it out in any situation," said Jones, who has recalled No.8 Nathan Hughes in place of the injured Sam Simmonds in the only change to his starting XV.

"Don't ask me about style because style is irrelevant. Style is Ralph Lauren, or whatever brand you want it to be. Hugo Boss, Mont Blanc - they come in and out. But resilience and toughness stay and that is what we are trying to develop," added Jones, whose over-riding goal with England is to win next year's World Cup in Japan.

Jones, Australia's coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England, underlined his point by adding: "Test match rugby is about winning, it's not about entertainment...If you want to just entertain people, you generally find you are not in the job too long,"

Dylan Hartley has been captain for all but one of England's Tests under Jones and Saturday will see the Northampton hooker become the country's second-most capped player when he surpasses Jonny Wilkinson's mark of 91 appearances.

"Dylan is not driven by personal milestones. He has given the team leadership. He has accepted and understood the responsibility more," Jones said.

As for Russell, Jones added: "He is a talented boy and he showed against France that he can be world-class, but any 10 under pressure has to find a way to play well,"

Townsend, who has named an unchanged XV, said Russell's place was never under threat.

"There was no doubt he would start [against England],” Townsend said of the Glasgow stand-off.

The worry for Scotland, who came from behind to beat France, is that recovering from a sluggish start against England last year, is something else entirely particularly if Jones's men can, as they did in a dominating 61-21 Calcutta Cup win at Twickenham last year, cut through an often fragile midfield defence.

Townsend, learning from Jones's example perhaps, none too subtly hinted that veteran referee Nigel Owens should be on the lookout for England straying offside.

"It will be interesting to see whether they stay onside," Townsend said, prompting Jones to reply: "If he [Townsend] wants to talk about the referee, let him talk about that - I'm concentrating on the game; that’s all I'm worried about,"

Players to watch:

For Scotland: You can always expect Greig Laidlaw to dictate the match. Stuart Hogg always eager to produce magic from the back, while in the middle the playmaker Huw Jones will be vital. Captain John Barclay will be the key in the forwards.  

For England: Lock Joe Launchbury playing in his 50th Test match will want to cap it with a great win. While the return of Nathan Hughes will boost England's pack. The combo of Jonathan Joseph and Owen Farrell will enhance counter-attacking ability. Other threats are Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipila, Anthony Watson and the underrated Mike Brown.

Head to head: The battle in the midfield will be intriguing with Scotland's Huw Jones facing England's Jonathan Joseph. At scrumhalf there is Greig Laidlaw against Danny Care, both have the ability to inject fuel to their sides. However, Laidlaw's form does swing it in his favour.  

Recent Results:

2017: England won 61-21, Twickenham
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: Scotland will be desperate to break England's unbeaten run and the majority of the rugby fraternity would love it. A win for Scotland could possible but England are unlikely to become complacent now and one would expect them to win by five points.


Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Pete Horne, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Greig Laidlaw, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (captain), 5 Jonny Gray , 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Simon Berghan, 2 Stuart McInally, 1 Gordon Reid.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 David Denton, 21 Ali Price, 22 Nick Grigg, 23 Blair Kinghorn

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Chris Robshaw, 6 Courtney Lawes, 5 Maro Itoje, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (captain), 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Harry Williams, 19 George Kruis, 20 Sam Underhill, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Ben Te'o, 23 Jack Nowell.

Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT, 16.45 England time)
Expected Weather: Mostly sunny, but cold and breezy. High of 7°C and a low of -2°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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England 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 1