Saturday, February 24th
Venue: Murrayfield Stadium
England have delivered mostly so far this tournament as they have won 2/2 and, along with Ireland, remain on track to win a Grand Slam. They have scored some really good tries, defended superbly against Wales and their scrum is developing into a major force. One of the most eagerly-awaited games of the tournament, the Calcutta Cup, stands before them, with Scotland resurgent after bouncing back from a shock heavy defeat to Wales in the opening round.
This will be one of the sternest tests for England’s defence coach Paul Gustard, as Scotland scored some wonderful tries in the autumn and regained that feel slightly against France. The pace at which they play the game needs to be stopped at source if England are to win at Murrayfield, which will bring the breakdown into focus once again.
After last week’s attack on the inexperienced Rhys Patchell, the England back row will look to trouble Finn Russell and not give him any confidence early on, trying to forcing him to become erratic and make mistakes. Also, after a tough training session with Georgia, the England pack will aim to dominate scrum time and win penalties or turnover possession to deny the Scots field position and to launch a 1st-phase attack.
After the highs of the Autumn, Scotland were derailed a tad after the surprising nature of their thumping in Wales, but they are now back on track thanks to victory over Les Bleus. It was nice to see Scotland win the game against France in a different way, rather than winning by their renowned counterattacking blitzkrieg – they simply controlled the tempo and Greig Laidlaw kicked the points. So at least we do know now that Scotland have a Plan B.
Gregor Townsend named an unchanged starting XV on Wednesday from the game against France. There are a few changes to the bench however and it’s great to see WP Nel (who could have gone on tour with Lions this summer if it wasn’t for injury) back on the bench to instantaneously bolster Scotland’s scrummaging. Also Tim Swinson swaps with Ben Toolis for the 19 shirt and Nick Grigg could get his 1st cap since the game against Fiji last year.
The Calcutta Cup is always going to be tight and is the oldest international rivalry in rugby union. The Scots will always be stronger at home backed by their passionate, flower of Scotland- belting fans, and Gregor Townsend is keen to make Murrayfield into a fortress and will hope that his side can continue that reputation at one of World Rugby’s famous grounds.
Scotland will obviously look to play their scintillating counterattacking gameplay for which they’ve become renowned, however they will have to rely on their forwards to break the gainline. Something which will be hard to do against England, whose watertight defence kept out a determined Welsh team two weeks ago. So the likes of Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Jonny Gray and Ryan Wilson will have to graft and carry hard for a long period if they have any hope of unleashing their dangerous backs or gaining enough metres to force England into transgressing, so that then Laidlaw/Russell can convert the spoils.
All eyes on
After both teams performing really well last weekend, my eyes will be on Stuart Hogg for the Scots. He is the twice defending Player of the Tournament and is devastating in attack as well as being an uncoventional fullback. In unbroken play he is one of the best in the world.
For England, my eye will be on Nathan Hughes, how much of an impact will he make in his 2nd game from injury. He’s known for his ball-carrying and if Scotland aren’t on top defensively (where they have been known to be leaky) he could gain a lot of yards for England to capitalise on, but I’d also like to see some other big things for the Wasps bulldozer, for example some big hits in defence or some nice hands.
Head to head
My first head to head will be the battle of the breakdown between Hamish Watson and Chris Robshaw, this will determine the amount of quality ball the scrumhalves can operate with. Talking of the nines, it will be the battle of experience between Danny Care and Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw. And finally Jonny Gray vs Joe Launchbury will be interesting to watch, both of whom will run into brick walls all day for their respective teams.
Please see Hutch’s predictions article later today.
By Jacob Bassford