March 16 will have been circled in the calendars of some England’s players since February 2018 and I just can’t see them losing at Twickenham this weekend.
The Scots haven’t won there for 36 years, but it’s more recent history that means there is no danger of England being complacent. They are ready to exorcise their Murrayfield demons.
England wouldn’t have taken Scotland lightly anyway, but last year’s defeat and the bad blood that definitely exists among certain players on the back of the incident in the tunnel before that game will ensure that minds are fully focused on exacting some revenge.
Much has been spoken about the celebrations in the aftermath of Scotland’s victory and I’m sure the England boys will remember that as well. Eddie Jones will have been reminding them, too, but I don’t think that’s as big an issue.
At the end of the day, I’m sure England would have celebrated in decent style if they had beaten the All Blacks in November and I feel that Calcutta Cup win last year was the equivalent for Scotland. They hadn’t won it for a decade and they had every right to party hard.
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You have got to remember as well that there is way more hatred from the Scots towards the English than there is the other way around and the Calcutta Cup is generally a bigger deal for them than it is for us. This is their Everest, to borrow a phrase from Jim Telfer.
Ryan Wilson was the main instigator of tunnel-gate, so Owen Farrell and co will be disappointed that he isn’t fit to feature in this one. Scotland will be even more disappointed, though, as Wilson and John Barclay were absolutely immense and their work at the breakdown was the main reason they won the game.
Those two will be missed hugely at Twickenham and when you add to that the fact that the likes of Stuart Hogg, Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour are all missing in the back three, it is really hard to make a case for Scotland having a chance.
England, as expected, completely overpowered Italy last weekend and while I don’t think it will be quite the same story this week, the Scottish back line is lacking a fair bit of size and experience when you compare it with its English counterpart.
The England backs have 310 caps between them, whereas Scotland’s have just 126, and Manu Tuilagi will surely feel he can have some joy against the much smaller Nick Grigg and Sam Johnson in the midfield.
Finn Russell is the most experienced man in this Scotland side in terms of caps and he is obviously the key man for England to look after. He’s a phenomenal player but the one area where he has been found wanting at times is when teams have put him under pressure with line speed. England will be targeting that.
One man who would have made the difference in size and strength between the two teams even more noticeable is Joe Cokanasiga and his omission has caused consternation in some quarters. I didn’t expect him to start because Jack Nowell deserves his recall, but I don’t understand why Jones has dropped him out of the 23-man squad altogether.
George Ford only offers back-up at fly-half, meaning you have to shift Farrell to bring him on, and Ben Te’o only offers cover at centre. I don’t think they offer much flexibility as replacements and I hope we don’t get in injury in the back three early doors.
The balance of the bench is bizarre, but I don’t think England will play it quite the same as they did last week tactically. There will be a bit more of a mixture in terms of their approach and more of a return to the attacking kicking game that served them so well in the opening couple of rounds.
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Watch: Eddie Jones speaks to RugbyPass ahead of England’s final Six Nations game.
Darcy Graham punches above his weight and has looked good so far, but he is not blessed with height and he will face a stern test in defence, especially in the air with the likes of Jack Nowell and Jonny May bearing down on him.
A huge amount of what happens at Twickenham will depend on what transpires in Cardiff earlier in the day. If the championship title is still on the line for England, it will be a whole different ball game compared to the scenario of Wales having wrapped up the Grand Slam already.
The worst-case scenario for England is if there is no chance of winning the title and the game becomes fast and loose with a bit of a Barbarians feel about it and people throwing the ball around everywhere. That would really play into Scotland’s hands.
I don’t see how Scotland can compete with England physically over the course of 80 minutes, and the boot is completely on the other foot this year. Apart from the fact that it is at Twickenham and Scotland haven’t won there since 1983, England have been fortunate with injuries in this campaign and the Scots have been decimated.
Without wanting to conform too much to the stereotype of the arrogant Englishman, I just can’t see a way that Scotland can come out on top… 36 years is a hell of a long time to go without a win away at their old enemy, but they are going to have to wait at least another couple of years.
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