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Steward axing shows Borthwick’s new intent – Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Steve Borthwick might still be tinkering with his starting XV but most of the changes are to be expected and George Furbank’s surprise selection shows even more attacking intent.

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He didn’t make any changes at all between the Italy and Wales games, the first time that had happened with England since the 2019 World Cup final, so he isn’t changing things for the sake of it and he is very much a game by game selector.

I think if the weather forecast had been bad, as it usually is at Murrayfield, he might have stuck with Freddie Steward, especially given that Scotland have kicked a lot more in open play than any other team so far in this Six Nations.

However, it looks set to be a dry day and Furbank offers that bit more in attack than Steward in terms of his silky running, the lines he cuts, his passing game, intelligence and the ability to spot weak shoulders and space for others around him.

Furbank England <a href=
Six Nations Jones” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images)

He isn’t short of pace either and he might not dominate aerially quite like Steward does but he’s proven himself to be solid defensively for Northampton and I don’t think defence should be too high on the priority list when you’re picking a full back because you shouldn’t be asking him to make many tackles at all.

As long as he’s in the right position and reads the game well enough to fit into the system, which I’m sure he will, that should be enough. He has also won all 12 of the games he’s captained Saints in, as Borthwick mentioned, but that has absolutely nothing to do with this selection.

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Elsewhere, Ollie Lawrence would’ve been a nailed-on starter from the outset in this Six Nations had it not been for injury so it’s absolutely no surprise to see him added in place of Fraser Dingwall.

It’s an added bonus that the Bath man should know Finn Russell’s game inside out after playing and training with him all season but he offers so much more in attack than the power game that most people associate with him.

Lawrence has developed a hell of a lot over the past 16 months since the demise of Worcester and his arrival at Bath. He has shown some really deft touches and even added a bit of a kicking game to his arsenal as well.

He’ll make a big difference to England’s attack and really deserves to get a run of starts now after coming off the bench in six of the seven games at the World Cup and being unfairly ditched by Eddie Jones a couple of times prior to that.

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Henry Slade has been in great form and offers something different so if it was a straight shootout between Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi, as it seemed to be, I think the younger man is well ahead in the pecking order.

England Sinfield Lawrence Tuilagi
England’s Ollie Lawrence (left) and Manu Tuilagi (Photo by Sameer Al-Doumy/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s amazing to think this is Danny Care’s first start in the Six Nations for six years but he spent years in the wilderness during Jones’ tenure and as soon as Alex Mitchell was ruled out he was the obvious replacement.

There’s a huge amount of experience in the halfback pairing and if George Ford can step out of the shadows and get the better of his opposite number Russell, then England might just be taking the Calcutta Cup back down south.

A lot has been made of the fact that Russell struggled against Felix Jones’ blitz defence with South Africa at the World Cup but this England defence obviously isn’t at the level of the Springboks yet and he has all the tools to unlock it.

It isn’t the kind of defence that you want to be coming up against as a fly half because it cuts down your time and space but I don’t think England have the ability to shut Russell down for the full 80 minutes just yet.

He’ll have some victories within the game, I’ve no doubt about that, but don’t be surprised to see Slade picking off an intercept and running it in for a try and England will fancy themselves to get the better of things over the course of the entire game.

Ellis Genge hadn’t played for a couple of months prior to the start of the tournament so he’s been eased back in and Dan Cole is always going to be more effective as a starter than coming off the bench I think.

Cole England recall <a href=
Leicester verdict” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

The 36-year-old is there for his work at the set piece and Scotland’s scrum has struggled a bit, they’ve lost three on their own feed in the opening couple of rounds and are yet to win a scrum penalty on either their own or opposition feed.

In the middle of those two props, it’s going to be an emotional day for the England captain after his mum passed away last week and that might prove to be an extra driver for him and his team-mates as he has alluded to.

Everyone deals with grief differently and Jamie George has spoken openly about how his mum used to watch every game but couldn’t be there to watch him captain his country so I’m not at all surprised it feels right to play and make her proud.

He and the rest of this England team are tasked with the job of turning the tide of recent history as well, with Scotland having won the Calcutta Cup in each of the last three Six Nations.

England did win up at Murrayfield in dreadful conditions back in 2020 but a fair few of these Scotland players will never have lost to the ‘Auld Enemy’, which is a far cry from when I played and most of the period between 1990 and 2018 when the prospect of losing to Scotland wasn’t even contemplated to be honest.

Scotland Wales Hamilton prediction
Jamie Ritchie raises the Calcutta Cup (Photo by Paul Harding/Getty Images)

The boot is firmly on the other foot now and if Scotland win this one, it’ll be the first time they’ve won the Calcutta Cup in four straight Championships for 128 years since 1896. Make no bones about it, they are favourites and that isn’t a tag that Scotland have always worn well.

My head says that Scotland are rightly favourites, they’re far more settled, are at home and have had the wood on their rivals in recent years so should have enough to come away with the win but I think there’s a big performance in England and the team changes are exciting.

When you’ve won two games, the easy thing to do is not make any changes unless they’re enforced but Borthwick has made four unenforced changes as well as the injury-enforced scrum half switch and you have to credit him for being bold with his selection.

There’s always expectation when you pull on an England jersey, of course there is, but in reality all the pressure is on Scotland and if the men in white can put them under the pump, that feeling might just get heavier and heavier and they might just squeak a three-point win.

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