Match preview: England v Scotland, 6 Nations 2017

KO 4.00 at Twickenham Stadium, Saturday 11th March
Live on ITV1

The Triple Crown has been a part of the Home / Five / Six Nations for well over a hundred years but there has only been a trophy awarded as tangible recognition of the achievement since 2006. Unfortunately Scotland have never been in contention for this piece of silverware – until now…This will be the first time the dark blues have played a match with a Triple Crown on the line since a Grand Slam decider against England at Murrayfield in 1996. They haven’t managed to beat England, Ireland and Wales in the same season since 1990. No matter the result this has been another big step forward for the national side.

Starting XV stats:

  • Average age – ENG 27.0   SCO 26.3
  • Test caps – ENG 660   SCO 407
  • 6 Nations appearances – ENG 308   SCO 175
  • Pack weights – ENG 904kg   SCO 883kg
  • Tight 5 weights – ENG 571kg*   SCO 572kg

15 Mike Brown
14 Jack Nowell
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Owen Farrell
11 Elliot Daly
10 George Ford
9 Ben Youngs
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Huw Jones
12 Alex Dunbar
11 Tim Visser
10 Finn Russell
9 Ali Price

1 Joe Marler
2 Dylan Hartley
3 Dan Cole
4 Joe Launchbury
5 Courtney Lawes
6 Maro Itoje
7 James Haskell
8 Nathan Hughes

ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV Scotland

1 Gordon Reid
2 Fraser Brown
3 Zander Fagerson
4 Richie Gray
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

16 Jamie George
17 Mako Vunipola
18 Kyle Sinckler
19 Tom Wood
20 Billy Vunipola
21 Danny Care
22 Ben Te’o
23 Anthony Watson

ADV England
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England

16 Ross Ford
17 Allan Dell
18 Simon Berghan
19 Tim Swinson
20 Cornell Du Preez
21 Henry Pyrgos
22 Duncan Weir
23 Mark Bennett

Backs – even
Some tough battles to call here. Nowell and Seymour should both be on the Lions’ flight to New Zealand this summer (assuming Gatland can set aside his obsession with giant carthorses on the wings…); Joseph is not quite at peak form but is still a classy operator up against Jones who is key to Scotland’s attacking ambitions; Farrell and Dunbar are essential to the respective sides’ defensive efforts but outwith that make very different contributions to their teams.
Forwards – advantage England
English consistency at the setpiece goes up against Scottish disruption at the breakdown. Vern Cotter will be looking for 80% of the Glasgow tight 5 to scrummage the way they have in Europe this season, rather than the painful struggles of the Six Nations. Playing 4 opensides against England’s none neatly illustrates the difference in approach from the 2 coaches.
Subs – advantage England
This is where it could all go wrong for Scotland. So far in the Championship they have been able to rely on good fitness levels, minimising the number of substitutions while only conceding 2 Camille Lopez penalties in the last 15 minutes of their 3 previous games. With the shock troops available to England though fresh legs will surely be an essential. Players such as Ford, Swinson and Du Preez will need to be at their very best just to contain the English pack late on.

Team Talk

  • Another tweak to the back row with John Hardie’s injury meaning (arguably) Scotland’s player of the Championship so far, Hamish Watson, returns to the starting line-up.
  • Cornell Du Preez comes in on the bench and could be Scotland cap number 1081 if he makes it onto the pitch.
  • After a touch of experimentation against Italy, Eddie Jones reverts to the starting line-up that played Wales (bar Haskell in for Jack Clifford at 7). Adding the Vunipolas and Watson to the bench means they are an even stronger prospect than the 23 that were victorious in Cardiff.

England Scouting Report:

  • On Top Of The Moon has already taken a look at the way England dominate the latter stages of games – and what this means for Scotland.
  • The Italian ‘tackle only / no ruck’ tactics dominated discussion after the last round of matches – and conveniently allowed Eddie Jones to go on the offensive to deflect attention from his team’s performance.
  • England’s failure to adapt may have been overstated somewhat. They were picking and going from early on and reduced the amount of contact by upping their offloading to double that of their games against France and Wales. They laid the foundations by running the Italians off their feet and then reaped the rewards as the Azzuri tired late on.
  • What will genuinely have concerned the England coach (more than refunds for the spectators anyway) is an error count that was far more fundamental in stopping England building a lead than anything the Italians did. A lowly 43% kicking percentage from Owen Farrell; missed touch from penalties; knock ons; standing back and admiring the ball as it pinged back off the post. At times it felt a lot like watching Scotland from 2 or 3 years ago…
  • England’s defence struggled at times against the French offloading game, with 25 tackles missed. A combination of great last-ditch cover and sheer French boneheadedness kept the tryline intact – bar Rabah Slimani’s short-range score. Scotland have the players to play a similar high-tempo style, moving the point of attack but they need the end product to match their efforts.
  • The English have probably the strongest lineout in the Championship. Having 3 locks on the pitch gives them great options and they will mix things up to stop patterns emerging (Itoje dominated against France with 8 takes but in the Wales game he wasn’t used at all as the workload was split between Launchbury and Lawes). Allied to a powerful maul, this phase of the game will present some serious problems for Scotland and they will need to find creative solutions in terms of engaging / not engaging to counter the power of the England pack.
  • Nathan Hughes has 51 carries in the Championship so far. With Billy Vunipola on the bench there’s a good chance Hughes can empty the tank for 50 minutes and then Eddie Jones will really roll out the big guns.
  • Ford and Farrell missed 6 tackles against Wales. They weren’t helped by a fairly anonymous performance from Jack Clifford – it’s unlikely that the man who plays the game like a hyperactive puppy, James Haskell, will leave his 10 and 12 so exposed – but it does show that the England midfield can be pressurised into mistakes.

Previous results
This will be the 9th time the 2 sides have met at Twickenham in the Six Nations. Of course Scotland’s winless streak at the cabbage patch predates the addition of Italy, stretching all the way back to 1983. Not a single one of the 46 players who will feature on Saturday were even born the last time the dark blues came home with a win…

L L L L   L L L L

Most recent meeting in London:

England 25-13 Scotland

22 of the 46 players return from that fixture – 14 for England and just 8 for Scotland. In fact of the England starting XV on that day only Luther Burrell, Dave Attwood and Chris Robshaw won’t be involved on Saturday. Compare and contrast to the 4 Scottish starters returning from that game (Hogg, Seymour, Russell and Jonny Gray are). No wonder Eddie Jones could hit the ground running when the players were already there…

Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant 1: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant 2: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

M. Raynal has only refereed Scotland once before and unfortunately it’s not an occasion that is liable to elicit happy memories for the 6 current players who featured in that match. Despite the French whistler penalising Tonga 25 times and sin binning 3 of their players, Scotland somehow conspired to lose an utterly miserable game at Pittodrie that ended Andy Robinson’s tenure as coach of the national side.

The Glasgow Warriors in the squad have had better (and more recent) experiences with M. Raynal though – he was the man in the middle for both their Champions Cup encounters with Leicester. After a ropy first 10 minutes the Scottish side’s approach at the breakdown and setpiece seemed to find favour with the ref with the combined penalty count (18-28) and cards (1-4) going their way.

* Assuming Itoje scrummages in the second row. 574kg if it is Lawes.

Picture credit to Adrian Henry from the excellent Rugby People.

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