England v Scotland: Teams and predictions
SIX NATIONS ROUND ONE: Rugby Union’s oldest international rivalry will feature two of the sport’s youngest talents when England begin their title defence against Scotland on Saturday.
Ollie Lawrence and Cameron Redpath were once England Under-20 teammates, but the centres will be on opposite sides in a Twickenham match that marks the 150th anniversary of the first England-Scotland clash.
Lawrence, whose Test chances have been bolstered by Manu Tuilagi’s long-term Achilles injury, joins Henry Slade in a midfield where England captain Owen Farrell has been moved to flyhalf, with regular No.10 George Ford now on the bench.
“We feel this is the right balance,” said England coach Eddie Jones.
“It’s a good combination of Owen’s tactical acumen, Henry’s running skills and left-foot kicking and Ollie’s power.
“He [Lawrence] runs good lines and is a good defensive player. He’ll add a bit of punch to the backline.”
Lawrence will be winning just his fourth cap but fellow 21-year-old Redpath is even less experienced, with the Bath midfielder set to make his Test debut as the Scots go in search of a first win over England at Twickenham since 1983.
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend, only nine-years-old at the time of that success, had no qualms however, about throwing the son of former Dark Blues scrum-half Bryan Redpath in at the deep end.
“I have been really impressed with him in games where, maybe away from home or up against it, he has had that same fearless mindset of wanting to take on the opposition,” he said.
Townsend, a former Scotland international, was clear about the enduring significance of Test rugby’s foundation match.
“The first game of the tournament, we play for one of the oldest trophies in sport, 142 years since we have played for the Calcutta Cup, 150 years since this game was first played,” he said.
“So the rivalry will always be there and it should be an intense match.”
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Scotland’s hopes of ending their winless run at Twickenham may be aided by the absence of spectators at the 80,000 capacity stadium, with Saturday’s match taking place behind closed doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is an opportunity with no crowds, you can’t deny it, but you have got to take the opportunity,” said Townsend.
“It becomes more of a neutral venue but you have got to make sure you play rugby, and not wait for any lack of crowd noise to help you.”
Meanwhile, Farrell and his fellow England internationals at Saracens – Elliot Daly, Billy Vunipola, Maro Itoje and Jamie George – head into the game lacking competitive match action this season.
Saracens were relegated to the Championship at the end of last term for breaches of the Premiership salary cap but the start of the second-tier league campaign has been delayed by the impact of the COVID-19.
Jones, however, said the enforced break had been a “godsend” for the players concerned, adding: “They’ve come in fresh, they’ve got a spring in their step.”
Scotland almost ended their Twickenham hoodoo two years ago when, having been all but beaten at 0-31 behind, a second-half rally inspired by Finn Russell took them to the brink of an astounding win before Ford’s last-gasp converted try saw the match end in a 38-all draw.
Fit again flyhalf Russell is ready to orchestrate Scotland’s attack again this weekend, but former playmaker Townsend warned against relying on “one or two players”.
That match left its mark on England and may well explain why a team renowned for their forward power have largely resisted subsequent calls to fully utilise their resources by playing a more expansive game.
“We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the scoreboard,” said Jones as he reflected on the 2019 encounter.
“It seduced us into playing a way that suited Scotland and invited them back into the game,” the veteran Australian coach added.
“Since then we’ve been working very hard to make sure that we just play each minute of the game.”
Players to watch
For England: The decision to start captain Owen Farrell at flyhalf will be celebrated in some circles, questioned in others. For the first time since England’s 2019 World Cup quarterfinal win over Australia, George Ford has been dropped to the bench – with the more imposing trio of Farrell, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade comprising England’s midfield. Lawrence will be winning his fourth cap but making his first Six Nations start. In the pack, there are starts for returning flank Mark Wilson and lock Jonny Hill. Bath prop Beno Obano could make his debut off the bench, while experienced forward Courtney Lawes has also been named as a replacement after returning from injury. With Kyle Sinckler suspended, Will Stuart will make his first Six Nations start at tighthead prop.
For Scotland: Former England Under-20 international Cameron Redpath will make his Scotland debut, with the Bath centre – the son of former Scotland scrumhalf Bryan Redpath – starting in the Calcutta Cup clash just weeks after confirming his allegiance to Scotland. Also, wing Sean Maitland and fit-again flyhalf Finn Russell have been recalled, while hooker George Turner will make his Six Nations debut. Russell’s selection is seen as key to any chances Scotland have of an upset at Twickenham.
Head to head
So many face-offs to get excited about. However, top of our list is the flyhalf battle – Owen Farrell (England) versus Finn Russell (Scotland). They are both described as ‘fearless’, but for very different reasons. Farrell is always in the spotlight for his flawed and abrasive tackling technique. Russell likes to take chance when he has ball in hand – using his skill (brains), rather than his brawn. As is always the case, the effectiveness of the backlines could be decided by the performances of the forwards, especially the tight forwards – Jonny Hill, Maro Itoje, Will Stuart, Jamie George and Ellis Genge (England) versus Jonny Gray, Scott Cummings, Zander Fagerson, George Turner and Rory Sutherland (Scotland).
Last 10 encounters
@rugby365com: England by 12 points
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 Jonny Hill, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Will Stuart, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Beno Obano, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Dan Robson, 22 George Ford, 23 Max Malins.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Cameron Redpath, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Rory Sutherland.
Replacements: 16 David Cherry, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Willem Nel, 19 Richie Gray, 20 Gary Graham, 21 Scott Steele, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Huw Jones.
Date: Saturday, February 6
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Heavy rain and a gentle breeze. High of 8°C and a low of 2°C
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)
* Additional reporting by @rugby365com