RBS Six Nations Preview: England v Scotland

Date: 13th March 2011RBS 6 Nations
Kick-off: 15:00 (GMT)
Venue: Twickenham Stadium

Three wins from three in this year’s championship, England appear to have finally found again the consistency and confidence that once saw them be such a successful side. They are far from perfect, and arguably short of three or four of their top players due to injury, but the way they have performed so far, and the way the other sides in the competition are not playing anywhere near the same level as them, means a Grand Slam is a strong possibility.  England could will not be boosted by the return of Courtney Lawes as some had hoped but Tom Croft is on the bench for his first test since the loss against South Africa. England are favourites, and rightly so.

Possible championship contenders, the form team of the Northern Hemisphere, “our greatest challengers” according to Marc Lievremont. All of these terms were thrown about before the beginning of this year’s championship, and yet now as went enter Round Four, Scotland are wallowing in fifth place, with their record reading three played, three lost. And yet still they offer a serious threat to England. If you put their record so far to one side, England cannot simply assume that Sunday’s game will be any easy win. Scotland are hurting after the way they lost the game against Ireland at Murrayfield, and will be heading south of the border for a battle.

What to expect:
Examining the two sides, the most obvious advantage that one side has over the other is in the front row. England’s scrum since the game against South Africa has enjoyed relative dominance over any opposition it has come across. Alex Corbisiero’s assured performances so far mean losing Andrew Sheridan hasn’t been as big a blow as previously expected, and the English pack should dominate here. Allan Jacobsen should rightly be identified as a weak link, which Dan Cole should happily exploit.

Away from the forwards, Scotland have gone for a back line full of attacking talent. Sean Lamont and Joe Ansbro compliment each other nicely in the centres, but the onus will be on young fly-half Ruaridh Jackson to control the game with more composure than he did against Ireland a fortnight ago. His selection is both a gamble and understandable: he made errors last time out but needs to gain experience at Test level with Dan Parks getting no younger. The question is, can Scotland really match England’s supremacy in the backs? One possible pitfall is that if the game opens up, England’s back three will rip up the turf in a similar manner to the way to how they made Italy suffer in Round Two.

Scotland’s best chance of achieving some dominance is perhaps in the lineout, where the enormous Richie Gray and Alastair Kellock have enough presence to affect what has so far been a very successful part of England’s game in the championship to date. All in all, upfront it should incredibly physical.

All eyes on:
Despite playing heroically so far during this year’s championship, Louis Deacon has still come in for criticism from those who believe he does not give England enough in the loose. With Lawes now returned to full fitness and no doubt wanting his shirt back, Deacon will need to put in his biggest performance of the championship to date if he is going to retain his starting spot in next week’s fixture in Dublin, and perhaps looking further ahead, in the World Cup. Having seen off the French and Italian packs, another scalp in the form of Scotland’s bravehearts would add to his already impressive collection.

After missing the Ireland game due to concussion, Joe Ansbro returns at outside centre for Scotland with the task of bringing to life an attack that stuttered in his absence. Confirmation of Ansbro’s ability at this level came in the opening game against France, when the Northampton back carved open the French defence time after time. He possesses a strong balance of pace and power, and should combine well with Sean Lamont in the centres, with the larger Scarlets back looking to open up the spaces for Ansbro to burst through.

Head to head – Toby Flood v Ruaridh Jackson:
During a press conference this week at England’s training camp, Toby Flood and Jonny Wilkinson sat side by side, answering questions, with Wilkinson being more than happy to reveal how England have flourished with the younger Flood in the driving seat. Similarly, Flood was keen to express how under Wilkinson’s tutelage and apprenticeship, he had come to learn so much about “work ethic” and the dedication needed to become the world’s best. Scotland now have their own scenario of a newcomer working in tandem with an experienced test player in the game’s most important position. Jackson is still learning his trade, but he can use Flood as a fine example of how to develop as a test fly-half. They are both very attacking half-backs, as capable of releasing others as bursting through the defensive lines themselves.

Last year’s result: Scotland 15 – 15 England

Scotland have plenty of talent but Jackson will be under a lot of pressure at fly-half. Add to that England’s dominance in the scrum and at the breakdown, and this game will only really go one way. England by 15.