Preview: Scotland v England
SIX NATIONS ROUND TWO: Passion is guaranteed when Scotland play England but it may take more than raw emotion to secure a win in the latest edition of rugby union’s oldest international match.
In the build-up to Saturday’s fixture at Murrayfield, the latest chapter in a 149-year-old rivalry, Scotland centre Sam Johnson declared “no one likes England”, a sentiment the Queensland-born player would have been familiar with growing up in Australia.
Meanwhile, England flank Lewis Ludlam, who had never been to Scotland before, said: “It’s going to be a war.”
Both sides need to bounce back after losing their opening Six Nations encounters last weekend.
As happened in their World Cup final loss to South Africa, England were denied the early try that has been a hallmark of many of their recent wins, notably the impressive semi-final victory over New Zealand, by France in Paris.
The French did rather more than that, surging into a 17-0 lead and although England fought back through two Jonny May tries, Les Bleus deservedly won 24-17.
England have lost five of their last seven Six Nations away games and coach Eddie Jones has responded by making five changes to his starting side, notably dropping experienced scrumhalf Ben Youngs and giving a first Championship start to Willi Heinz, the surprise pick of his World Cup squad.
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In the forwards, Jones has also recalled Ludlam, Mako Vunipola and George Kruis in place of Courtney Lawes, Joe Marler and Charlie Ewels but has kept faith with converted flank Tom Curry at number eight.
Jonathan Joseph, an early replacement for Manu Tuilagi in Paris, starts at centre.
“Consistency is a challenge for every team,” Jones said. “We had a good lesson last week. Sometimes these things need to be learned.”
New Zealand-born Heinz, who missed the World Cup final with a hamstring injury after only making his Test debut months earlier, finds himself, at 33, preferred to Youngs, England’s most-capped scrumhalf.
Finn Russell, the inspiration for Scotland’s 25-13 win over England at Murrayfield in 2018 and their stunning recovery from 31-0 down in a 38-38 draw at Twickenham last year, remains in the cold.
The flyhalf was left out of the Ireland match following a late-night drinking session. Adam Hastings, the son of Scotland great Gavin, continues at stand-off.
Coach Gregor Townsend, who will “reassess” Russell’s position after this weekend, has made just one change, with Magnus Bradbury, fit following a thigh strain, starting at number eight.
“You want to start well but equally so do the opposition,” Heinz said. “It’s about riding through that and finding ways to get the momentum back.”
Jones, perhaps influenced by new forwards coach Matt Proudfoot, who was with South Africa at the World Cup, has also opted to choose six forwards and just two backs as replacements, just as the Springboks did to great effect with their “bomb squad” bench in Japan.
Scotland were their own worst enemies yet again in a 19-12 loss to Ireland in Dublin. New captain Stuart Hogg encapsulated their performance when he inexplicably dropped the ball with a try at his mercy.
“We were proud of parts of our performance in Dublin at a very difficult venue,” said Townsend, a former Scotland playmaker.
“The challenge for the squad is to replicate that level and take our chances when they come, in order to win tight games.”
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Meanwhile, England coach Eddie Jones has insisted being taunted by supporters comes with the territory as he prepared his side for another Calcutta Cup clash away to old rivals Scotland.
The Australian found himself on the receiving end of verbal and physical abuse from a few Scotland supporters the day after England’s loss at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield two years ago.
Jones encountered trouble at a Manchester railway station and then on the train to London.
He had broken his journey to watch Manchester United beat Chelsea at Old Trafford as a guest of the Red Devils’ former manager Alex Ferguson.’
But Jones made it clear on Thursday he would be travelling straight back with his squad this time.
“I have checked the Premier League schedule and I am not going to any games!” he told reporters at England’s training base.
“It was a tiny incident. It wasn’t of any significance. That happens every day. What do you reckon happens when I walk down the street?
“Some people say nice things, some people are into you. It happens every day. If you didn’t want it, you don’t do this job,” added the often outspoken former Australia and Japan coach.
England captain Owen Farrell said he expected wounded pride would fuel his side against Scotland after their deserved defeat in Paris
“You do tend to have a bit more of a look at yourself after a loss,” he explained. “It allows you to be a bit more open.
“We have said where we want to improve and I would expect us to not just talk about it but do it as well.”
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Player to watch:
For Scotland: The 24-year-old Magnus Bradbury is the only change Scotland’s starting line-up. The backrow will have to impress Vern Cotter to maintain his spot in the side. In the backs, Ali Price and Adam Hastings rekindle their club partnership at Test level. There are loads of expectations from the halfback duo who have to full foid left by Finn Russell. Huw Jones and Sam Johnson – try-scorers against England in 2018 and 2019 respectively – could be a handful in teh midfield.
For England: Johnny May showed how lethal he can be during the defeat to France last week, scoring two quick tries. Other stars to keep a close eye on are Jonathan Joseph, who starts at outside centre ahead of Manu Tuilagi and scrumhalf Willie Heinz. In the pack, the decision to hand teh No.8 jersey to Tom Curry was scrutinized, however, the wing has a change to selects his critics.
Head to head: Scotland’s Huw Jones and Sam Johnson have the prowess to cause havoc and Owen Farrell and …. will have to be on top form to dilute their influence. Ali Price of Scotland against Willie Heinz of England is another intriguing battle. The two are tasked with instigating much of their team’s play.
2019: Draw 38-38, Twickenham
2018: Scotland won 25-13, Edinburgh
2017: England won 61-21, Twickenham
2016: England won 15-9, Edinburgh
2015: England won 25-13, Twickenham
Predictions: Both teams will be desperate to bounce back after a horrendous Round one. England will certainly come out guns blazing and will put pressure on Scotland. However facing Scotland is difficult to beat, therefore our nod goes to Scotland by three points.
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Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg (captain), 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Blair Kinghorn; 10 Adam Hastings, 9 Ali Price; 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Jamie Ritchie; 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Scott Cummings; 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Rory Sutherland
Replacements: 16 Stuart McInally, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Ben Toolis, 20 Nick Haining, 21 George Horne, 22 Rory Hutchinson, 23 Chris Harris
England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Jonny May, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Tom Curry, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Mako Vunipola.
Replacements: 16 Tom Dunn, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Will Stuart, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Courtney Lawes, 21 Ben Earl, 22 Ben Youngs, 23 Ollie Devoto.
Date: Saturday, February 8
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy with a high of 8°C and a low of 4°C
Referee: Pascal Gaüzère (France)
Assistant referees: Mathieu Raynal (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: James Leckie (Australia)