England and Scotland go into this weekend’s Twickenham clash with much more than just the Calcutta Cup at stake.
Scotland will be looking to stay in the hunt for a hugely unexpected Six Nations title when they take on neighbours England this Saturday. The hosts will provide dogged opposition, however, with a second consecutive title and Grand Slam on the line.
England v Scotland | Saturday 11 March | Twickenham | 18:00
To Win (80 Mins)
England 2/11 | Draw 24/1 | Scotland 38/10
Two more wins. Those will be the words that coach Eddie Jones will be drilling into his players ahead of their next two internationals. A victory against Scotland this weekend, followed up by another in Dublin seven days later will mean a second consecutive Grand Slam, and a record-breaking run of Test match wins for this current crop of Englishmen. Jones has openly criticised his side’s performances on more than one occasion this season, however, often highlighting the fact that, to his mind, England still have a long way to go if they are to challenge the All Blacks for World Rugby supremacy.
Despite their results, there is certainly some substance to Eddie’s words. England’s opening round defeat of France was sluggish, and their following two wins (against Wales and Italy) weren’t all that good either. In particular, their inability to adapt to Italy’s clever ruck tactics (“It’s not rugby! It wasn’t rugby!”) throughout the first half of their clash in London, exposed a large weakness in the Pommie machine: the fact that this England side still battles to move away from a predetermined, set game-plan, and adapt to a match-day situation (something that was a hallmark of Clive Woodward’s 2003 band).
The potential return of the Vunipola brothers offers England a massive boost, whether they start the game or provide impact from the bench. Anthony Watson also looks set to make his return, while the likes of Owen Farrell will want to make-up for a dreadful showing against Italy with an improved performance here. Despite their recent shortcomings, England will back themselves at Twickers.
The revival of the Celtic side has been fantastic to watch and, if not for their slip-up against France in Round Two, would have a shot at a Grand Slam. As it is, Vern Cotter’s hard-men are still in the running for the Championship, and a win at Twickenham (followed up by another against strugglers Italy next weekend) could land the Scots their first title since Ian McGeechan’s 1990 brigade. It really is a travesty that Cotter will be leaving his current post at the conclusion of the Six Nations (to take up a lucrative deal with Montpellier), but hopefully, the platforms that he has set in place will remain long after he has left.
Despite the loss of influential players like captain Greig Laidlaw and loosie Josh Strauss, the Scotsmen put in a wonderful performance as they put an experienced Wales outfit to the sword, by 29 points to 13. Fly-half Finn Russell’s performance, in particular, has upset the British & Irish Lions apple cart, and whichever way coach Warren Gatland goes, his choices for the no. 10 berth are sure to kop criticism.
Another big performance from the Scottish pack will allow for Russell to set his fellow back-liners free, but they face a much more difficult challenge this time out (especially if the Vunipolas are to make an appearance). This will be their toughest challenge – it will be fascinating to see how they meet it.
Verdict: England 2/11
I’m going to go with my head over my heart. If this game was at Murrayfield it would be a different story, as it stands, however, I back Eddie’s boys to come out on top in London this weekend, and set up an almighty Final Round showdown with Ireland.