Scott Johnson has named his starting 15 for this weekend’s Calcutta Cup and his choices and comments give us some indication of Scotland’s game plan. There’s been a lot of chat about playing to our strengths but a backline of Maitland, Visser and Hogg suggests we’ll still be in the hunt for tries.
The debate about selection will rumble on long after the final whistle but what do Scotland have to do to get the better of a confident England side?
1. Low, low low
Jim Telfer’s old mantra still holds true, even if the man himself has been spouting antagonistic trash-talk this week. Too many players were caught taking the ball into contact with high body positions during the Autumn Tests. The ball was sealed off and players were isolated giving turnover ball and penalties to the opposition. The same is true in the tackle. England, like South Africa, revel in a rolling maul. Scotland need to get runners to the ground quickly and try and nick the ball in the ruck.
2. Boss the scrum early on
The scrum will be key this weekend. The English pack is lighter and their options at loosehead are limited by injuries. Dan Cole vs Ryan Grant promises to be a fascinating battle and if Grant can get the upper hand Cole’s temper will be pushed. If Scotland can get the best of the early exchanges and get Alain Rolland on side the penalties will soon start coming.
3. Keep the heid
The England management have tried their best to deflect jibes from Jim Telfer and Scott Johnson. However some of the quotes coming out from the England squad suggests it might be getting to them. Hooker Dylan Hartley spoke this week of consulting a mental colour chart before each match to keep his temper in check and there are others in that squad with a history of ill-discipline. There will be at least one yellow card during the match this weekend and the only possible liability in the Scotland team is big Jim Hamilton. If Scotland can keep the heid there is every chance they could find themselves playing against 14 men at some point during the match
4. Support runners
Scotland have shown in the past that they are capable of making breaks and interceptions. That’s all well and good but more often than not players have made it well into the opposition 22 only to find the rest of the team huffing and puffing their way from past the half way line. Ruaridh Jackson is the king of the intercept and Matt Scott demonstrated keen awareness against the All Blacks. Those around them need to be ready in support – more than just the back three who are likely to be on each other’s attacking wavelength.
5. Don’t panic
Few Scots know how to win. It’s taken Andy Murray over five years to get the hang of it. If Scotland get themselves in a winning position this weekend they have to close out the game. That means focussing at the restart, slowing things down and concentrating on not making any unforced errors. If Scotland are behind or facing a draw in the last ten minutes, players have to show patience, not try anything daft and know that if they keep the ball the score is likely to take care of itself.