Date: 4th February 2012
Time: 17:00 kick off
Referee: George Clancy
No doubt looking to settle a score in this match and make a positive statement about Scottish Rugby Andy Robinson has named a strong side for this encounter. There are 8 changes to the side from the one that ran out against England in New Zealand. His selections appear to be more about experience, thus countering the inexperience of the England squad. David Denton earns his second cap ahead of Sale Sharks Richie Vernon, whom many expected to see in the side with Kelly Brown ruled out. And Edinburgh winger Lee Jones earns his first cap, surrounded by seasoned backs Rory Lamont and Nick De Luca to provide balance. Hopefully Jones will be able to inject more ingenuity into Scotland’s back line. Because the game is on a Saturday Euan Murray starts at tight head, a move which should bring some strength to the front row. Dan Parks and Chris Cusiter form the pairing at fly and scrum half, with Parks’ selection raising a few eyebrows amongst fans.
New players, new coaches, new England. It’s taken the most cynical of souls (Woodward) to criticise how England have gone about their business so far in the build up to this year’s Six Nations. 2011 saw England win a Six Nations Championship, end the calendar year with 10 wins out of 13 matches, and reach the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. As with any four year cycle, the squad has been given a update, with the elder players departed and new blood coming in. What matters now is how the exciting talents of Owen Farrell, Ben Morgan, Chris Robshaw and Brad Barritt integrate. It starts with no harder test than travelling to Murrayfield, a place shorn of English success since 2004, when Sir Clive Woodward was still coach.
What to Expect:
This match will either be a high-scoring try fest for both sides, or a war of attrition. If it is the former, we shall see lots of fast passing, and quick rugby, as the ball is passed around the field more in order for both teams to score tries, I also think each will concede a few from this style of play. If it is the latter then I think it will come down to the kicking more than the rugby, as both teams will endure a physical encounter. In the latter, Scotland fans will be thanking Robinson for playing Dan Parks as his goal kicking is usually on point.
The party line from Stuart Lancaster is that England will have the chance to express themselves, with a solar system’s worth of greater dynamism and intent. Failing that, there is the narrow direct approach of Plan B. The weather looks set to be sublime (!), so if Owen Farrell can give England a big enough lead with the boot early on, England will try and cut loose.
All Eyes On: David Denton & Phil Dowson
Edinburgh’s recent good form has no doubt played a part in Denton’s selection for the squad. Earning his first cap in the World Cup warm up match against Ireland in August last year, the 21year old No. 8 (who turns 22 the day after the match) has played a big part in the Edinburgh set up, becoming a key part of getting the forward ball. Something that he will be looking to bring to the game on Saturday in order to break through the English defence. He played very well against Ireland in the summer of 2011, and this will be a very different game. Denton has the ability to be a great player, and in this match we will see if he can step up his club game and bring it into the international arena.
Coincidentally, Denton’s opposite man at number 8 was arguably the surprise name on the team sheet. Competing with Ben Morgan for a starting spot, Dowson has bided his time waiting for an international break, having spent six seasons with the England Saxons, many as captain. Now at the age of 30, he gets his chance, eager to make a positive impact in a match that he has been waiting an eternity for. Dowson’s strengths lie not just in his power, but also in the subtlety of his hands around the fringes.
Head to Head: Sean Lamont vs. Owen Farrell
60 caps versus uncapped. Lamont is a utility back for the Scotland squad, but is most comfortable on the wing, so is playing just out of his most comfortable position, but this is something he is used to. Farrell is a fly half, but feels comfortable playing at centre as well, and he will be starting at inside centre on Saturday. Lamont is far more experienced than Farrell and so will be used to the pressure of high stakes games like these. Lamont’s weakness comes with his decision-making, far too often he decides to run with the ball, leaving him isolated, slows the advance down, and has resulted in turnover ball. This should be an interesting battle where we see if experience and predictability triumphs over the fresh new talent. On paper there really should be no contest, on Saturday, well we shall see.
Having ice in your veins is one of sport’s oldest clichés, but never has it been better applied than when discussing the temperament of Owen Farrell. For evidence of his composure, re-watch last year’s Premiership final, when as a 19 year old he landed the winning shot at goal. Lamont may have the experience and will look to intimate Farrell physically, but the youngster will not let him without a fight.
Last result: England 16 -12 Scotland, 1st October 2011, New Zealand. It was this result that saw Scotland fall to third place in the group and fail to qualify for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup.
Weather: Typically Scottish! Hovering around 5° chance of rain or snow flurries, southwesterly wind of 17mph with gusts of up to 31mph.
Genuinely torn on this decision, as I think it is going to be a close match. One part of me is saying Scotland and another part is saying England. Given the fact that the Scots have the home advantage, and Murrayfield with a sell out crowd is always a tough place to go. Not to mention the fact that there is a score to be settled, will give the home side that extra edge against the visitors. I am going to stick my neck out and go with Scotland, by 3. CL
No win at Murrayfield since 2004 suggests that even with experience England struggle to grab a win over the border. Scotland’s failure to score tries in their last three matches, of which one opponent was Georgia, suggests it might be easier than expected. The midfield combination of Parks, Lamont and de Luca hardly screams creativity, but who knows how the Saracens duo of Farrell and Brad Barritt will cope with the pressure. The head says Scotland. The heart, England by 5. BC
by Christine Lester & Ben Coles