After a disappointing opener to the championship, England face Scotland in the Calcutta Cup, a trophy currently held by the Scots.
Many will see the line-up this time around in a more positive light with Ben Youngs making way for Willi Heinz at 9 and Courtney Lawes out for Lewis Ludlam at Flanker. A few points of contention for English rugby fans remain, including the decision to persist with Tom Curry at 8, a second showing for George Furbank and the continuation of the Ford-Farrell axis.
Eddie Jones is obviously looking at Curry at 8 as a long-term project, believing that he can improve. The first thing he will need to fix is his control at the base of the scrum – we saw the ball squirt out too early in key areas last weekend.
Many will be relieved to see Ben Earl on the bench this week, who can make an impact if needed. If he does come on, expect to see Curry shifted back to flanker and Earl slot in at 8. Earl is one of the quickest forwards you will ever see and is explosive from the back of the scrum, but may lack the size needed at 8 in the international game.
Furbank is given a second chance at 15; it was a nervy performance under the high ball in the first half against France. Adam Hastings and Stuart Hogg may look to put him under some pressure this week although, this would be going totally against what the Scots did last week.
Scotland were intent on running the ball in Dublin – they put together some aesthetic patterns of play against Ireland, using the full width of the pitch.
Where they came up short was their inability to establish their power game against a good Irish defence, particularly in the 22, where they couldn’t find that big carry to get them over the line. Scotland kicked only 494m in the first round, the lowest of all 6 teams, whilst England conversely kicked the most, 1138.6m.
Some England fans have been calling for a shift at flyhalf. Owen Farrell, arguably one of the best fly halves in the world, has spent much of the last few years under Eddie Jones playing at inside centre. After Manu Tuilagi went off, Farrell found himself in an unfamiliar role, taking crash balls to try and give England front foot ball. Jonathan Joseph is a fantastic player in space, but his game plan is to get on the outside shoulder and simply doesn’t offer the same direct ball carrying threat that Tuilagi does.
In recent years when Tuilagi has not been available, Jones has looked to Ben Te’o (no longer up for selection after a move to Japan) as a sort of ‘Manu Lite’. Where will the punch in midfield come from? Personally, I am happy to see Ford and Farrell lining up at 10 and 12: this offers great creativity at second receiver. I do feel however, it needs to be coupled with a big ball-carrying runner at 13 to balance the books. Perhaps this would have been a chance for Ollie Devoto to step up to the plate?
What will we see on Saturday?
Scotland will once again be without star fly half Finn Russell, however, Hastings stepped in last week and was more than able to execute their expansive style of play. We can’t expect anything less than a repeat this week from the Scots.
England were disappointing last week, let’s make no bones about that. And if Stuart Hogg hadn’t dropped the ball over the line who knows what could have happened against the Irish. Scotland looked good ball-in-hand, but the game is won upfront. Scotland didn’t get much from numerous visits to the 22, and that’s why I’m predicting an England win.
As pleasing on the eye as their brand of rugby is, will it have enough punch to put points on the board against an England side that really have something to prove now? Lose this weekend and all hopes of lifting the trophy are gone. Surely, we will see more from this England team at Murrayfield.
By Ed Francis