Our respective correspondents for England (Nick Winn) and Scotland (Christine Lester) have gone up against each other to predict the outcome of the huge game this Saturday.
Date: 1st October 2011
Time: 8.30pm NZT/8.30am BST
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Official: Craig Joubert SA
Four out of four for England, but until last weekend’s romping of Romania, the wins were a little lethargic to say the least. A ten-try performance last weekend however has helped inject a bit of confidence in the side. They finally got their back three into the match and it proved to be decisive, with the wingers Ashton and Cueto picking up a hat trick each. Much has been said of Cueto’s exclusion this week and, whilst it is a shame, Johnson has made it clear that fitness wise, he isn’t quite there yet. One other oddity about the starting team is that Louis Deacon gets the nod ahead of Tom Palmer in second row as many consider Palmer a better lineout option and a player who is a little more productive when it comes to attacking the gain line.
Andy Robinson has made 6 changes to the squad ahead of the do or die clash. Kelly Brown has been ruled out, thanks to a concussion sustained in the closing minutes of the Argentina game, and captain Alastair Kellock returns to the fold, hopefully to inject some of the directional leadership that Scotland’s forwards lacked in their previous match.
Ruaridh Jackson has been given the start over Dan Parks; Jackson had an impressive game against the Pumas, and his substitution had many scratching their heads, as his style of play seemed well suited to the game up until that point.
Mike Blair and Richie Vernon also come into the squad, and Simon Danielli’s inclusion in the starting fifteen sees Sean Lamont make a positional switch from the wing to inside centre, making the most of his ability to play as a utility back. Chris Paterson, Max Evans and Joe Ansbro round off the backs.
As it is not a Sunday, the Scottish front row will be bolstered with Euan Murray at tight head prop, and with Richie Gray forming up the second row partnership with his Glasgow Warriors teammate Kellock, there should be some parity in the packs.
Knowing that they have to prevent England from coming away from the game with any points, Robinson, the players themselves, and the nation are expecting a step up in performance.
What to Expect from England:
England will want to play at a high tempo to keep the Scots defensive line constantly moving backwards, allowing the likes of Ashton and Foden to exploit the gaps left as they are retreating. They don’t want to get drawn into a battle at the break down, as Barclay, Strokosch and Vernon will simply choke the ball up, allowing the defence to organise. I’m also expecting Tuilagi to have a relatively quiet game as I imagine Lamont will be all over him. Still, Manu will come flying through that gap at an angle at least once during the match; such is his strength at running from deep.
What to Expect from Scotland:
A no holds barred gritty physical game of rugby. It will not be pretty, as in all honesty it will be the result that matters at the end of the day not whether or not the match looked good.
The packs are fairly evenly balanced, which should make for good scrums and set pieces. The Scots are also gearing up for a clash in the centre; with Manu Tuilagi and Mike Tindall squaring up to Joe Ansbro and Sean Lamont, the focus on the centre battle could suggest why Lamont has been brought into the centre position; using his speed and strength to nullify any potential threats from his counterpart.
All Eyes On:
Jonny Wilkinson has hit the headlines this week due to complaints about his balls and how he keeps changing them. Carry On jokes aside, with the injection of pace Toby Flood had last weekend, Wilkinson is under immense pressure to keep the 10 shirt. His place kicking needs to be addressed and whilst he or the two coaches now banned from the stadium can focus the argument on the balls as much as they like, it isn’t causing much concern in other quarters. He golden boy of English rugby used to thrive on high-pressure rugby, so his performance this weekend should be a good litmus test as to where he is now.
John Barclay faced England at Twickenham back in March, and was doggedly determined when it came to the breakdown, causing England some trouble. He is hoping that he can repeat that performance, with a little extra oomph, on Saturday. Taking the lack of Kelly Brown’s strength into consideration, dominating at the breakdown, for Scotland, will be all about speed, and Barclay will be a key part of this. He has already demonstrated his ability to get the quick turnover ball, and will no doubt be feeling the pressure to continue in such an important match.
Head to Head: Matt Stevens v Euan Murray
If there is anywhere that either side will want to be on the front foot more than ever, it is the scrums, and the battle set to be played out between these men is likely to be a gruesome one. Being a girly back, I can’t talk with much authority on the mysteries of the front row, but one thing that Stevens will need to address is his discipline as he seems to frequently get pinged, even when the English pack is on the front foot. Although he offers so much around the field, and runs the hard yards very well indeed, he needs to remember why he is there, and that is to provide a base for the 14 men behind him.
His counterpart Murray brought strength to the Scottish scrum in the game against Georgia, and his presence was missed last week, and now the pressure is on for him to bring the same this week. A former Lion, Murray has the playing experience needed to cause Matt Stevens real trouble, giving Scotland the edge in this particular set piece. In the loose Murray is a supportive player, not quite as quick as he used to be, but you will regularly find him in the midst of the rucks, using his considerable strength to attack or defend as needed.
Six Nations 2011, Twickenham: Scotland brought a good performance to Rugby HQ, looking dangerous and fully capable of winning the match, but England outclassed them when it mattered. England 22 – 16 Scotland.
14° periods of cloud with a small chance of rain and a north-easterly wind
Nick: On paper, and on performances last weekend, specifically in the last quarter, you have to go for England. But, as the famous cliché goes, rugby isn’t played on paper; it’s played on grass, and therein lies the problem. As an Englishman, I always worry about playing Scotland because they move up several gears when they face us. It’s infuriating. The rain will help but despite the desperation for Scotland, the fact they will struggle to score tries will be a massive issue for them. England by 8.
Christine: I think that this match is going to be a lot closer than anticipated, and Scotland are fired up and ready to fight. Last year we saw the Scots lose horribly to the All Blacks, before pulling their socks up and beating current world champions South Africa only a week later. Against the ‘auld enemy’ we can always expect a step up in performance. Which means that they could very easily win this match. However, Scotland’s flaw is that the backs too often find themselves isolated, meaning that they cannot capitalise on the try scoring opportunities. England’s discipline record remains a problem, giving the solid Chris Paterson the chance to put Scottish points on the board. England by 6.