Six Nations Scotland v England Preview
All the teams news, battle areas and TV details you need for the Six Nations match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield
Six Nations Scotland v England Preview
Finishing off round three of the 2018 Six Nations is the clash between Auld Enemies. England visit Scotland in one of this season’s most-anticipated clashes.
England are still the bookies’ favourite and Scotland will be on high-alert after their heavy defeat to Wales in round one and the huge 61-21 loss to England last season. But when it comes to this one, form or logic can go out of the window. So here are a few points you should be focusing on.
Key Battle Areas
Scotland’s lack of depth at prop was well documented ahead of the Six Nations. And although he claims there will not be any talk of this to referee Nigel Owens before the game, England scrum coach Neal Hatley planted a germ of a point in the public mind about Scotland’s tighthead.
Hatley has said of Simon Berghan: “If he’s got a tendency to drop you’ve got to force him on to his knees to make it clear for the ref. If he picks it up he picks it up.”
Related: Scotland 32-26 France match report
England’s forwards scrummaged against the formidable Georgians during last week’s fallow period. The talk around this fixture suggests that they will target the Scots scrum.
Then there are lineouts. Scotland need clean ball from this area. They did not function at the top of their game in the loss to Wales, but they at least sharpened things up in the win over France and they will be hoping to lift the tempo from off-the-top ball.
In the officials’ minds
As well as an England coach dancing around talk of Scotland’s scrum, Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend has been talking about England’s defence.
Townsend said: “We watched the game from last year and we’ve watched their games over the last few weeks and to generate that line speed, especially off first phase, you have to make sure you stay ten metres back off lineouts before the ball is delivered and you don’t get beyond the back foot of the ruck in phase play.
“You’d need to look at their last few games to see whether they do come offside. That’s down to the refereeing team to see if it does happen. We’ll meet [the officials] tomorrow, so we’ll see what we’re going to talk about over the next few days.”
So much of this game will come down to the interpretations of the officials. The story of this game could well be defined by such calls from the breakdown, how defenders work around it and what happens at the scrum.
At the gain-line
The above is one part of the story of the gain-line. Players may or may not be offside there. However, it is also about how holes get punched at that gain-line.
England have recalled Nathan Hughes, who is much more direct and challenging than Sam Simmonds, who is suffering with a shoulder injury. Coach Jones has said he is impressed with Hughes’s level of fitness and the player has been tasked with generating momentum.
Related: England 12-6 Wales match report
Scotland, who’s starting 15 is unchanged from the win over France, will hope that player like Grant Gilchrist can improve Scotland’s ball-carrying efforts at the face of on-rushing defence, while the timing of release of Scottish ball will be key.
While England have the option of changing first-receivers, with Owen Farrell and George Ford working in tandem or apart, Scotland’s defence can be spread thin. With Finn Russell at fly-half for the hosts more of a fan of forcing defenders to come to him as he makes decisions closer to the gain-line, there are interesting differences in the two approaches.
With the finishers
Scotland do have some ball-carriers to come on later. David Denton is as direct as you get, with the back-rower favoured as an impact sub rather than messing with the Scottish back-row unit of John Barclay, Hamish Watson and the niggly Ryan Wilson.
There is WP Nel there again too. The prop had been out with an arm injury, but has galloped back to play a part in these Six Nations. The Edinburgh tighthead should see action as a replacement for Berghan, and when he’s fit and firing can sometimes find himself as a pivot or on the hoof in space.
Whether he has the chance could come down to what England have in reserve. A cursory look at England’s bench tells you that there is a depth of firepower – but we knew that already, right? And it’s Ben Te’o – the physically domineering centre who has said Calcutta Cup history doesn’t matter a jot today – who will draw the most attention.
But Jamie George, Sam Underhill and Jack Nowell coming on could signal and increase in tempo from England in the second half.
Scotland v England, Saturday 24 February, 4.45pm, BT Murrayfield
Scotland team: Stuart Hogg, Tommy Seymour, Huw Jones, Peter Horne, Sean Maitland, Finn Russell, Greig Laidlaw; Gordon Reid, Stuart McInally, Simon Berghan, Grant Gilchrist, Jonny Gray, John Barclay, Hamish Watson, Ryan Wilson.
Replacements: Scott Lawson, Jamie Bhatti, Willem Nel, Tim Swinson, Dave Denton, Ali Price, Nick Grigg, Blair Kinghorn.
England: Mike Brown; Anthony Watson, Jonathan Joseph, Owen Farrell, Jonny May; George Ford, Danny Care; Mako Vunipola, Dylan Hartley, Dan Cole, Joe Launchbury, Maro Itoje, Courtney Lawes, Chris Robshaw, Nathan Hughes.
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Harry Williams, George Kruis, Sam Underhill, Richard Wigglesworth, Ben Te’o, Jack Nowell
He is the most recognisable referee on the international circuit but this will be Nigel Owens’s first time in charge of the Calcutta Cup. Owens has already appeared at BT Murrayfield these Six Nations, as an assistant to John Lacey during Scotland’s win over France in round two.
The TV Details
This match will be live on BBC 1, with coverage starting at 4pm. John Inverdale will be fronting the live coverage. You can also listen to the action on BBC 5 Live Extra