England v Scotland: 5 Key Battles

So far this tournament we’ve been looking at key strengths and weaknesses within opposition teams that Scotland are going to have to exploit or overcome and areas where Scotland must improve. So what how can Scotland overcome England this weekend?

1. Discipline

2. Discipline

3. Discipline

4. Discipline

5. Discipline

This writer has been writing these preview pieces for the site since just after the last World Cup and “discipline” has been ever present in those lists. Quite frankly I don’t have the stomach for it. The game against Italy seemed a step back to the end of Andy Robinson’s reign and the coaches’ box at Murrayfield (henceforth known as Vern’s Rage Cage) felt the full force of the big man’s fury.

Grieg Laidlaw has made it clear that the coach has passed on his displeasure to the players and that he himself has been given short shrift. “We’ve seen both sides of Vern – He’s a hard man.”

Beating England away is not going to be easy. England have performed well so far this tournament and even the most optimistic Scotland fan must understand that a win is unlikely. Success might be measured on whether Scotland can keep within a score of England by the time the final whistle blows. It has been pointed out elsewhere than Scotland would not currently be bottom of the table if the Six Nations operated a bonus points system such are the fine margins of the defeats so far.

There are areas Scotland might exploit on Saturday. The English line out is not particularly strong and their full backs are weak under a high ball and liable to turnovers. However Scotland’s line out is not as formidable as it was in the Autumn and you could wrap a thousand portions of chips in the column inches used to dissect Scotland’s weakness under a high ball.

So this week we’re going to try something slightly different and look at the key battles on the pitch. It might save this writer’s sanity and give us some insight as to how Scotland might even have a chance of picking up what would be a shock win.

1. Stuart Hogg v Stuart Hogg & Mike Brown

In a recent magazine interview Stuart Hogg explained how he had been working with world renowned sports psychologist Steve Black and put the more impetuous aspects of his game behind him. Hogg promptly went out and started spouting off about a lack of respect from England in the press. Same old, same old. Reading that interview it’s not hard to imagine a canny journalist phrasing a question in a way so as to elicit a controversial response. However Hogg has been around long enough to be wise to such cheap tricks leaving us to wonder where his head’s at.

Mike Brown returns to face Hogg after suffering a concussion against Italy. Hogg and Brown are remarkably similar figures within their respective nations. Both mercurial talents prone to as many moments of individual brilliance as they are lapses in concentration. Neither is particularly reliable under the high ball and both were turned over six times in the opening games of the Championship. Cotter says Dougie Fife has been brought in to sure up Scotland’s “kick, chase and receipt”. That might indicate that Scotland are planning on targeting Brown with Seymour and Fife pilling on the pressure rather than Hogg.

Hogg has made more metres with ball in hand (317) and beaten more defenders (12) than any other player in the Championship so far. That is a fairly damning statistic given the lack of return Scotland have seen in terms of points. Whether the blame lies with those around him for not providing sufficient cover and support or Hogg for needlessly holding on to the ball is open for debate.

2. Jim Hamilton v Jim Hamilton

Big Jim returns to add his grunt and hard headedness to the pack. He also brings the experience and leadership Scotland were sorely lacking against Italy. However for all the positive aspects of Hamilton’s game and his knowledge of the opposition the prospect of his being sent from the pitch at some point hangs above Scotland like the sword of Damocles.

The fowl stench of ill discipline has followed Scotland throughout the tournament and Romain Poite is not shy when it comes to dishing out yellow cards compared to some of his more patient contemporaries. Jim “who me sir?” Hamilton will have to be on his best behaviour.

3. Blair Cowan v The England back row

England lack an out and out fetcher. However what they lack in technical skills they more than make up for in bulk. Cowan has more than proved his worth at openside for Scotland with the amount of ball he has won at the breakdown and this is a real opportunity for him to exploit. England will look to drive over the ball and knock competing players off their feet. Cowan will struggle to get hand on ball if those around him can’t get their body positions right at the breakdown.

4. Jonny Gray v Chris Robshaw

Robshaw tops the tackle charts so far in the tournament having made 60 tackles in the first three games. Gray is third having made 48. Gray leads the way in terms of tackle completions taking down 98% of his opponents as opposed to Robshaws 96%. Both have slipped off the pace a little since the opening weekend but it’ll be interesting to see which player has the most impact on nullifying the opposition attack.

5. Scotland v Romain Poite

There was some concern at Scottish Rugby Blog towers when I brought up this point. No team should blame the referee for losing even if he can’t tell the time. However the point is more about Scotland’s game management. Get the referee on side and more often than not you will be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the finer points of the game. Start to rub him up the wrong way and it will be a very very long afternoon. Poite is notoriously impatient when it comes to the scrum and quick to reach for his pocket. In one season he managed to average 2.75 cards per game. The scrum is an area Scotland have been working on but they need to follow Poite’s instructions to the letter if they are going to have any chance of besting a weighty England pack and keeping the penalty count low.

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Born a Souter but brought up just south of the Border in Berwick where he played for Berwick RFC as a kid any any position where cover was needed.
Follow Cammy on twitter @CammyBlack

24 comments on “England v Scotland: 5 Key Battles

  1. FF on

    I’d dispute Mike Brown being poor in the air. Although he is a massive arsehole. Not really sure if I have a point here.

    Also, it might have been unwise for Hogg to spout off to the press but as a fan I’m glad he is desperate to earn England’s respect by beating them. Scottish players occasionally get accused of being happy to make up the numbers and cash their pay cheques. I want our team to be like Hogg – think they are as good as anyone in the world, resent the fact their opponents don’t agree and want to smash them and shove it down their neck. Hope Hogg scores a try and smashes Brown into the bargain. Come on Hoggy!

    • Andy McLellan on

      Think you’ll be hard pushed to find anybody who disagrees with your second Mike Brown point. He’s actually been in pretty poor form recently (probably relative to last year) and even before his injury absence quite a bit of the English press were calling for him to be dropped.

      Yeah as for Hogg – catch 22. I think as fans we like to hear somebody coming up and give it the big licks as he’s done and therefore ruffled a few feathers(and if you’re in doubt, find the Daily Mail Online article and read the comments section…) He’s a confident, cocky lad so it’s part of his nature.

      Could end up with egg on his face though and think that’s what’s peeved a few people. A lot of the chat has been “respect has to be earned” and all that.

      But yeah, hopefully he scores from 60m, skins Hartley and leaves Brown trailing. Beautiful image.

      • FF on

        Yeah, I don’t agree with English fans who all seem to think Brown is world class but I certainly wouldn’t consider him a weakness. Who did they want to replace him with? My impression is that Goode is seen as a weak link, Foden is long-term injured and Watson is still relatively green. Not sure they have a very credible replacement for Brown to be honest.

        Yes, Hogg might get egg on his face but I’m sure he knows he has to earn their respect. I think it shows confidence to come out and say it and as I have said before, I think this is the kind of confidence that can inspire his team mates to play above themselves if it is harnessed well. We’ve been banging on recently about our need for leaders – well I think Hogg has matured (I hope so anyway) and is definitely someone who’ll stand up and be counted. Let’s hope he starts tomorrow!

      • Andy McLellan on

        Aye, he was very good in last year’s comp but has slipped since for sure. Still think he poses a threat but I’m more concerned about Joesph and Watson. That pair have some serious speed and Joesph has looked very good thus far.

        I think that was the only argument for keeping him in – no viable alternative. Had Foden been fit I think he would have been straight in. Not heard too many people praising Goode.

        I do agree with you about Hogg. He’s grown into his role a lot and matured a fair bit which I think is what’s annoyed people so much about his comments. For a lot of folk I think they’re seeing him do his talking on the pitch and has cut out some of the nonsense and this is then seen as set back. Again though, it’s mainly been the Daily Fail stirring things up.

  2. Allan on

    What exactly did Hogg say that was so terrible? He simply pointed out that some of the English players don’t respect the Scots. Is he wrong? I don’t think so. The Bath players rolled up to scotstoun expecting to stroll to victory and got a very rude awakening. Mike Brown, Graham Rowntree and his ilk are the players/coaches Hogg was referring to. Cocky twats who look down their nose at our boys. Lest we forget that Rowntree was selecting the Lions forwards and admitted he hadn’t even bothered to go and watch Glasgow play which is why Ryan Grant (in the best form of his career) didn’t get a look in until the injuries started to mount.

    Too many Scots lads have over the years succumbed to being deferential to the opposition so I for one am glad that Hogg is itching to make them eat their words and make them respect us. I hope the rest of the team are too!

  3. Cameron Black on

    His quotes as a whole weren’t as provoking as Daily Hate suggested. He went on to say Scotland had to earn England’s respect. He got caught out by a canny journalist. Just stokes the fire which isn’t something Hogg necessarily needs.

  4. pragmatic optomist on

    It doesn’t matter if you have a point FF, I found it amusing.
    I’ll sendond the motion that Mike Brown is a ‘massive arshole’.
    He’s also one of the most aggressive full backs I’ve seen since JPR.

    • Andy McLellan on

      Did you see him in the tunnel before the Wales game when they tried the whole mind-games nonsense? Looked like somebody getting chucked out of a Wetherspoons on a Saturday night after too much Carling. “You wot mate? You want some!” etc etc

      • FF on

        I’d really like to have this game in the bag and see someone take a shot at Brown late on in the match. I think he’s a fake hard man always squaring up to people who could smash him because he’s on a rugby pitch and can get away with it. Get on with the game man and stop being a total tit!

      • Cameron Black on

        An English friend of mine who’s not into rugby was watching that tunnel scene with me and remarked that the whole England team looked less likeable than the entire Chelsea football team. Neat summary

    • Andy McLellan on

      Somebody more unlikable than John Terry? Never!

      Yeah, in all honesty he’s a decent player – very good on his day – but I found all the faux-macho nonsense just pathetic. This current England team doesn’t rile me the way some of their other teams have in the past but him and Hartley are just two pretty unlikable people. My other half is English and only has a passing interest in rugby but she can’t stand either of them.

  5. Bulldog on

    Talking about arseholes – I am back.

    From what I have seen, Mike Brown is a handy player and I would rather have him on my side than have him against me. The same could be said of Stuart Hogg, but for one flaw.

    Brown is mature and has a professional edge (a chanti wrestler to those on the west side of the M8). Hogg has the most meters in the tournament and is brave whereas Brown is a bit, right place and time, in the air early under the high ball, looking for the penalty type of guy a calculating individual.

    Hogg on the other hand is a decent guy. Makes up the difference in energy, out for an afternoons sport, rather than get a lad sent to the bin, an all-round good egg.

    IMO Stuart is easily wound up and this is affecting him on the pitch. I would like to see the pre Lions tour Hogg.

    He went on the lions tour, was the youngest and as such, would have been picked on (clothes stolen, had to go about with just speedos on , the carrier of the furry lion etc.), he would have been the brunt of the jokes and with few other scots there to support him, isolated. I can just see all these Lions players texting him, on twitter, winding him up before the internationals. When he was sent off against Wales , I thought it was sheer frustration that fueled the offence. You could see the whole game he had something to prove.

    So, I think the word is out on how to nobble Scotland’s most unpredictable and genuinely gifted talent in years. That article is stinks of being a response to something.

    So , leave the phone down Stuart, tell them to do their talking on the pitch, you are better than any of them, and they need to silence you. What more respect do you need than that . See it for what it is , they fear you Stuart.

    Just a thought.


    • Rory Baldwin on

      If you watch the Lions dvd from most recent tour Hogg actually comes across very well getting into the spirit of things, despite most of the players getting short shrift from the selectors (see scene where Rowntree overrules Gatland on Grant’s selection… )

  6. Tallnstrong on

    I’m gonna say what we are all thinking ….
    You can sure spout a load of garbage, it’s not that your necessarily an “arsehole” but you certainly seem to communicate from that vicinity.

    As for the game, I am keeping fingers crossed but to me , 2 backs on the bench strategy is really pushing our luck. Come on Scotland…..I believe……sort of !

    • Bulldog on

      Believe me, I am, just like the rest of you. However I have been on tours and played in many (and composite) teams , there is always a victim, and from what i recall , it was Hogg , not in a nasty way, sometimes the vicitim enjoys the banter, but the other lions are his chums and they are winding him up.Dont tell me you dont do that , its the rugby culture.

  7. Scafell on

    I dunno, what with the last three games, and now Dunbar’s injury to be brutally honest I just want the 6 nations to be over. We’re limping towards the line, I see a 20+ capitulation tomorrow. Still the u20s put up a really good showing v England tonight so its not all doom and gloom but I’m just at a really low ebb with little good news coming out of Scottish rugby at the mo, a million miles away from how I was feeling leaving Murrayfield last Nov. Come on lads give us some cheer and do it for Alex!

    • Bulldog on

      I would want to see it over and start again at the WC. The only thing we seem to be gaining is injuries. I have no doubt there will be a game plan, pressure and expectations but I hope the players just get out do the basics well and enjoy the match.

  8. PJ on

    Let’s add No.6: Rob Harley VS The odds and James Haskell.. Harley, in 3 games, has gained 3 meters with ball in hand, averaging a colossal one meter per game. His opposite number James Haskell has made 42 meters, one clean break (into the post) and beaten 5 defenders. But PJ, Rob Harley is a “grafter” and makes lots of tackles. It’s true that Harley does work hard to clear out rucks, probably because everyone around him isn’t doing it properly. Haskell has also out-tackled him, 36 to 27. Harley will be up against it with an opposite number who has stood out so far for England, and needs to start using some of his power more wisely if he wants to avoid being subbed at half time and dropped for *shudder* Beattie or *bigger shudder* Hugh Blake.

  9. FF on

    I see Clive Woodward has added his two pennies worth. What a knob that man is. Please rugby gods, let us win today.

  10. Angus on

    Sacre Bleu – not normally a man to blame the ref for a loss I am more than happy to blame him before the game. Any time I see the name Poite anywhere near a scotland team it brings the same images of impending dread as an irishman with a similarly french name always did

    Poite is a 100% home team ref. I will never forgive him for single handedly turning the game against Scotland in Nelspruit 2 years ago when we were leading 20 into the second half and he seemed to click into home town mode, yellow carding big jim for handbags then giving SA a penalty try to ensure their victory – most disgraceful refereeing I have seen and destroyed what was until then heading for a Scottish victory of epic proportions

    Watch for the home town bias again today

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