England v Scotland - Teams and Prediction
PREVIEW ROUND ONE: Steve Borthwick begins his career as England head coach against Scotland in Saturday’s Six Nations opener at Twickenham with a side showing several changes from the Eddie Jones era.
Borthwick, who succeeded his mentor in December after the veteran Australian coach had presided over England’s worst year since 2008, has dropped powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi, so long an automatic selection when fit, and recalled several players discarded by Jones.
Having guided Leicester to the Premiership title last season, Borthwick has even ditched Jones’ tag of “finishers”, reverting to the traditional “replacements” to denote players on the bench.
But with just a few months until this year’s World Cup in France, the former England captain has kept certain key combinations in place, retaining Marcus Smith at flyhalf and skipper Owen Farrell at inside centre.
Nevertheless, an England team where Joe Marchant is at outside centre and Ben Curry, recalled in place of injured twin brother Tom, in the back row, does have a fresh look about it.
Dynamic forward Maro Itoje, set to win his 63rd cap on Saturday, said he hoped the latest edition of Rugby Union’s oldest international fixture was “an opportunity for a brand-new chapter for English rugby”.
‘Glides through space’
Whether in his choice of backs or in the forwards, Borthwick has put an emphasis on mobility and game-breaking skill rather than raw physical power alone.
“Joe has played really well,” Borthwick said after announcing his team on Thursday.
“His ability to find space with the ball in hand and the way he runs – he glides through space – I think is super. He also covers so much ground on the edge defensively.”
Ben Curry is set to win just his second cap on Saturday with Itoje impressed by his efforts in training despite occasionally mistaking him for his brother.
“They have the same DNA, are very similar, high-class, high-quality players,” Itoje said. “Ben is a little bit quicker, maybe, and Tom is a little stronger. They are very similar. They are identical twins, after all.”
Scotland, for all they squandered a nine-point lead at Murrayfield in November when blowing a golden chance to record their first win over New Zealand, do have a fine recent record against England.
The Calcutta Cup-holders head into Saturday’s match unbeaten in four of their last five clashes with England although, unlike their 2021 Twickenham triumph during the coronavirus pandemic, this weekend’s match will be played in front of a capacity 80 000 crowd.
But in London Irish scrumhalf Ben White they have a player who knows his England opponents well from playing in the Premiership, while gifted flyhalf Finn Russell has often been a thorn in the side of the Red Rose.
“In terms of the style of rugby they [England] play, we believe it’ll be similar to how Leicester have played over the last two years,” said Scotland boss Gregor Townsend.
“We expect there’s going to be much more kicking from the England team, and a certain type of defending.”
But as for suggestions there might be a ‘Borthwick bounce’ in a Twickenham crowd who’d booed England off the field last time following a November defeat by world champions South Africa, the Scotland supremo added: “The atmosphere at Twickenham, regardless of whether England have lost before or not, is always one of anticipation and excitement.
“It’s the first game of the Six Nations. It’s going to be loud, anthems are going to be sung, and in those first few minutes, the crowd will be supporting their team.”
“We believe this is the strongest squad we can pick for this weekend.”#AsOne pic.twitter.com/Eq4iVzNOgp
— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) February 2, 2023
Players to watch
For England: In the midfield, there will be a spotlight on the Owen Farrell-Joe Marchant combination. Marchant is a strong ball carrier and he could add an extra dimension to England’s attack out wide. On the wing, Ollie Hassell-Collins will have a chance to make a name for himself on the international stage. He has been outstanding for London Irish, but Test rugby is a different beast and he will have to find an extra gear against some experienced Scotland players. In the pack, Ben Curry has been in his brother’s shadow for a long time, but he now gets an opportunity to prove his worth in England’s back row. In the second row, Maro Itoje is one of the best in the business and Steve Borthwick will rely on him to bring the fight up front.
For Scotland: Gregor Townsend has selected one the most exciting backlines you will see in a Scotland side. Well, at least it is on paper. Huw Jones has been in fine form for Glasgow Warriors and he has a great eye for the gap in the midfield. Fullback Stuart Hogg has been a game-changer in the past and he gives Scotland something extra on attack. All eyes will be on flyhalf Finn Russell, who is a great playmaker when given enough time and space. He will certainly give England a few headaches out wide. In the pack, Scotland will have some South African muscle in the form of Pierre Schoeman and Willem Nel in the front row. There will also be a spotlight on the second row with Grant Gilchrist and Richie Gray having the big task of keeping Maro Itoje quiet.
Head to head
@rugby365com: England by four points.
England: 15 Freddie Steward, 14 Max Malins, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Ollie Hassell-Collins, 10 Marcus Smith, 9 Jack van Poortvliet, 8 Alex Dombrandt, 7 Ben Curry, 6 Lewis Ludlam, 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Jack Walker, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Nick Isiekwe, 20 Ben Earl, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Ollie Lawrence, 23 Anthony Watson.
Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ben White, 8 Matt Fagerson, 7 Luke Crosbie, 6 Jamie Ritchie (captain), 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Willem Nel, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Jamie Bhatti, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 George Horne, 22 Blair Kinghorn, 23 Chris Harris.
Date: Saturday, February 4
Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Cloudy skies with a high around 10°C and a low of 3°C. Winds at 10 to 15 km/h.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand) & James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)