Preview: England v Scotland
SIX NATIONS ROUND FIVE: England coach Eddie Jones has promised an “explosion” from his Six Nations title-chasing side in their Championship finale against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
If tournament leaders Wales complete a Grand Slam by beating Ireland in Cardiff earlier in the day they will be crowned champions.
But a Welsh defeat allied to an England win over Scotland would see Jones’ men to the title despite their 13-21 loss in Cardiff last month.
England are also thirsting for Calcutta Cup revenge after a shock 13-25 defeat by Scotland at Murrayfield in last year’s edition of rugby union’s oldest international fixture.
That reverse was the start of a run of five straight full international defeats, with England also losing to France and Ireland as they finished a lowly fifth in the Six Nations before being beaten in the first two Tests of their tour of South Africa.
But recent results have left Jones in an optimistic mood ahead of this year’s World Cup in Japan.
“We’re nowhere near our best, we’re just slowly getting there” he said. “We’re going in a great direction and Saturday will be a bit of an explosion.”
Jones is hoping to guide England to their second World Cup title having been the losing Australia coach when the Red Rose won the 2003 final in his native Sydney.
“We want to be the best team in the world and we know we’re not the best team in the world, but we’ve got an opportunity on Saturday to show that we’re the best team in the Six Nations and approaching the best team in the world and we’re not going to miss that opportunity.”
As for the run of defeats that England suffered in 2018, Jones said: “It was a great experience for us. I don’t think we’d be in the positive situation we’re in now if we didn’t go through that.
“It allowed us to change the way we play, change the way we train, change the way we select.”
Jones has made four changes to the side that thrashed Italy 57-14 at Twickenham last weekend, notably dropping 21-year-old wing Joe Cokanasiga from the matchday squad completely despite the Fiji-born powerhouse’s man-of-the-match display.
“It’s a bit like in cricket. When you’re a young batsman and your first Test is against the West Indies in Perth and you bat No 3, you might not get too many runs,” said Jones, who often references the difficulty of facing the feared Caribbean pace attacks of the 1980s on what was then the world’s quickest pitch.
So, you pick a Test where they’re playing on a flat track, bat them at six, let them get runs, then you bring them in the next Test and you quietly build them up.”
For all Scotland, inspired by flyhalf Finn Russell, beat England last year, history is against them.
Scotland have not won at Twickenham since 1983 and come into Saturday’s match on the back of three successive defeats, including last week’s 18-11 loss at home to Wales where they failed to make their possession count.
Their most recent visit to London saw Scotland hammered 21-61 by England in 2017.
But coach Gregor Townsend insisted they would not give up the Calcutta Cup without a fight.
“We are defending the Calcutta Cup and it took a lot of work to win that back,” he said.
“It took 10 years, so we want to make sure we hold onto it for a bit longer.”
The former Scotland playmaker added: “If no-one does think we’re going to win, then that’s fine.
“Scotland teams tend to be underdogs on a number of occasions and it usually brings the best out in them.”
Perhaps the most significant of six changes made by Townsend to his starting XV was the return of openside flank Hamish Watson, recalled in place of the injured Jamie Ritchie after impressing off the bench against Wales.
“I thought his impact was outstanding, the pace and power he brought in the last 20 minutes was great,” said Townsend.
Players to watch:
For England: Jack Nowell needs to be in fine form as he replaces Joe Cokanasiga, who produced a near-perfect performance against Italy. The return of Henry Slade is extra boost for the side. The centre’s memorable performance against Ireland in Round Two is certainly a massive warning. While unsung hero Ben Youngs will become England’s most capped scrumhalf when he picks up his 85th cap. In the pack, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, and Ellis Genge well structures scrums will also be vital.
For Scotland: English Premiership pair Sean Maitland (Saracens) and Byron McGuigan (Sale Sharks) start in place of back-three counterparts Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour. The pair’s presence is certainly an advantage. Finn Russell and Ali Price are certainly two players who can make a massive impact on the pitch. Up front, the loose trio of Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, and Sam Skinner can place England under pressure. The Exeter Chiefs forward Skinner returns to blindside flank in place of Sale Sharks’ Josh Strauss – who moves to the bench.
Head to head: The fullback match-up between England Elliot Daly and Sean Maitland is going to be very interesting. Both might have prefer starting at wing, however this week they don the 15 jersey, respectively. The battle between the teams’ halfbacks is also a factor to be close monitored. Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs face Finn Russell and Ali Price. Farrell and Youngs is certainly a more settled pair, however Russell and Price showed that they can also dictate a match and that will be vital for the Scots. Front row versus front row, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, and Ellis Genge against Scotland’s Willem Nel, captain Stuart McInally and Allan Dell.
2018: Scotland won 25-16, Edinburgh
2017: England won 61-21, Twickenham
2016: England won 15-9, Edinburgh
2015: England won 25-13, London
2014: England won 20-0, Edinburgh
2013: England won 38-18, London
2012: England won 13-6, Edinburgh
2011: England won 16-12, Auckland (World Cup pool match)
2011: England won 22-16, London
2010: Scotland and England drew 15-all, Edinburgh
2009: England won 26-12, London
2008: Scotland won 15-9, Edinburgh
Prediction: After a below par 2019 campaign, Scotland will be desperate to conclude the season on a good note. Besides. a win over England will certainly be greatly celebrated by Wales, however with revenge on their minds, a possible Six Nations title and home-ground advantage it’s very difficult to see how Scotland can record a win. England will win this by 5 points.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 George Ford, 23 Ben Te’o.
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (captain), 1 Allan Dell.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 17.00 (17.00 GMT)
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Alexandre Ruiz (France)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Source: @rugby365com & AFP