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Scotland v England - teams and prediction

ROUND THREE PREVIEW: A bid to regain the Calcutta Cup in front of a hostile Murrayfield crowd promises to be an acid test of England’s ability following a third-place finish at last year’s World Cup in France.

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For captain Jamie George there is another, more personal obstacle.

George has insisted he has no qualms about captaining England in what is always a highly-charged Six Nations clash with Scotland even though Saturday’s match at Murrayfield takes place just over a week after the death of his mother.

The 33-year-old Saracens hooker found out on the same day he was appointed England skipper last month that his mother, Jane, had been diagnosed with cancer.

Her condition worsened quickly and she died last Wednesday, with George taking some comfort from the fact the ardent supporter saw him lead England to wins over Italy and Wales in the opening two rounds of the Six Nations.

“My mum was the biggest rugby fan on earth, she loved this team, loved watching me play, she never missed a game,” George said.

But George, who will have several relatives in the crowd at Murrayfield when he leads the team out on Saturday, insisted he never had a thought of dropping out from England duty in Edinburgh.

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“Taking time off is the last thing she would have wanted me to do,” he said, adding: “She will be with me in some capacity on Saturday and that means a huge amount to me.”

England are one of just two teams, along with defending champions Ireland, still in with a chance of completing a Grand Slam.

But while the Irish have won plaudits for the way they overwhelmed France and Italy in the opening two rounds, England appear a work in progress, with narrow wins over Italy (27-24) and Wales (16-14) in arguably their easiest two games of the Six Nations failing to silence their doubters.

Yet although often portrayed as a conservative coach, England boss Steve Borthwick sprang a major surprise by dropping fullback Freddie Steward, famed for his solidity under the high ball, and recalling George Furbank in one of five changes to his starting XV.

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Furbank has won just six caps since his England debut in 2020 but he has been in fine form for Premiership leaders Northampton this season and former England captain Borthwick is clearly backing the 27-year-old to provide an additional attacking edge at Murrayfield.

Borthwick has made two other changes in the backs, with Ollie Lawrence selected at inside centre instead of the dropped Fraser Dingwall to give England a physical, ball-carrying presence in midfield.

Veteran scrumhalf Danny Care will win his 99th cap after Alex Mitchell was ruled out by a knee injury.

Up front, props Ellis Genge and Dan Cole will pack down either side of George as England bid to regain the Calcutta Cup.

(Continue below …)

‘History, emotion’

Scotland suffered an agonising 20-16 second-round loss to France, a defeat made all the more painful by the denial of what would have been a match-winning try in the dying seconds after a video review.

That reverse came after a dramatic opening 27-26 win away to Wales.

The frustration for Scotland is that while they have had the beating of England in recent seasons – they’ve lost just one of their last six encounters with the ‘Auld Enemy’ – other results meant they have been unable to sustain a Six Nations title challenge.

But thoughts of reviving their Championship hopes will now be put to one side, with Scotland coach Gregor Townsend insisting: “The full focus is on this game because it’s our most important game of the season.

“It’s the most important game for our supporters and we also play for a trophy… it’s history. It’s emotion.

“We’ve seen the impact this game has on Scottish supporters when we do manage to get a victory in this fixture. That’ll drive us on Saturday.”

Townsend has made three changes to the side that started against France, with Blair Kinghorn and Kyle Steyn returning to the back three and former captain Jamie Ritchie recalled to the pack.

Players to watch

For Scotland: Coach Gregor Townsend made three changes to the side that started against France, with Blair Kinghorn and Kyle Steyn returning to the back three and former captain Jamie Ritchie recalled to the pack for the match in Edinburgh. Toulouse fullback Kinghorn missed the opening two games with a knee injury, while Glasgow wing Steyn was a late dropout against France after his wife went into labour. Blindside flank Ritchie has been recalled in place of Matt Fagerson after starting in Scotland’s dramatic 27-26 first-round win over Wales in Cardiff. The 27-year-old Kinghorn mostly deputised for Stuart Hogg at No.15 in last year’s Six Nations, before bursting to prominence at flyhalf in a hat-trick performance in the closing round against Italy.

For England: Coach Steve Borthwick sprang a surprise by dropping fullback Freddie Steward in favour of George Furbank, as he made five changes to his side. Steward, with his solidity under the high ball, has become a Test regular. But even though he featured in England’s wins over Italy and Wales in the opening two rounds of the tournament, he has now been dropped from the matchday 23 entirely. Furbank has won just six caps since making his England debut in 2020 but the 27-year-old has been in fine form for Premiership leaders Northampton Saints this season. Borthwick has made two other changes to his back division, with Ollie Lawrence selected at inside centre alongside Henry Slade to give the side a physical, ball-carrying presence in midfield. Lawrence has seen off the challenge from the experienced Manu Tuilagi to replace the dropped Fraser Dingwall after he missed England’s opening two wins with a hip injury. Veteran scrumhalf Danny Care will win his 99th cap in Edinburgh after Alex Mitchell was ruled out by a knee injury. Up front, props Ellis Genge and Dan Cole will pack down either side of England captain and hooker Jamie George.

Head to head

Prediction

@rugby365com: Scotland by five points

Scotland v England prediction

Teams

Scotland: 15 Blair Kinghorn, 14 Kyle Steyn, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Sione Tuipulotu, 11 Duhan van der Merwe, 10 Finn Russell (co-captain), 9 Ben White, 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Rory Darge (co-captain), 6 Jamie Ritchie, 5 Scott Cummings, 4 Grant Gilchrist, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 George Turner, 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Ewan Ashman, 17 Alec Hepburn, 18 Elliot Millar-Mills, 19 Sam Skinner, 20 Andy Christie, 21 George Horne, 22 Ben Healy, 23 Cameron Redpath.

England: 15 George Furbank, 14 Tommy Freeman, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ollie Lawrence, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Danny Care, 8 Ben Earl, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Ethan Roots, 5 Ollie Chessum, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Jamie George (captain), 1 Ellis Genge.
Replacements: 16 Theo Dan, 17 Joe Marler, 18 Will Stuart, 19 George Martin, 20 Chandler Cunningham-South, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 Fin Smith, 23 Immanuel Feyi-Waboso.

Date: Saturday, February 24
Venue: Murrayfield, Edinburgh
Kick-off: 16.45 (16.45 GMT)
Expected weather: Sunny intervals and light winds. High of 7°C and a low of -1°C.
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Chris Busby (Ireland), Eoghan Cross (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

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