Scottish Rugby Blog

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v England: Match Preview Pt I

Scotland v England
© Scottish Rugby Blog

KO 4.45 at Murrayfield Stadium
Saturday 24th February

Live on BBC1

At kick off it will have been 3,640 days – just shy of 10 years – since Scotland last tasted victory against England. This is the longest current streak against any of the other 6 Nations with the most recent wins looking like this:

France 11th February 2018
Italy 10th June 2017
Wales 25th February 2017
Ireland 4th February 2017
England 8th March 2008

  • Not one of the 36 players in Scotland’s current extended squad have ever experienced a Test victory over England.
  • Scotland’s record victory against the Auld Enemy came in 1986 with a 33-6 drubbing. (Author’s note – I was there for my first ever Calcutta Cup match. It was easy. It seemed like it would always be easy…)
  • In the 30 years of playing this fixture since that victory the home side have only scored 7 tries against England in Edinburgh.
  • Only 6 Scots have successfully crossed the Murrayfield whitewash in those 3 decades of drought – Tony Stanger (twice); Derek White; Rob Wainwright; Shaun Longstaff; Duncan Hodge; and Simon Danielli (the last Scot to score a try in a Calcutta Cup match in Edinburgh – 14 years ago in 2004!)
  • Given the Murrayfield crowd have been treated to 40 Scottish tries in the 11 Tests since England were the last team to shut out the dark blues in 2016 the home fans will be expecting much better this time round.

England Scouting Report

  • Work rate
    Against Wales Vunipola, Launchbury, Lawes, Robshaw and the combined efforts of Simmonds + Underhill all racked up at least 28 tackles + carries each. Maro Itoje was a bit off that pace but as he works his way back to 100% he’s more than capable of putting in that sort of effort as well. Gregor Townsend’s side won’t be able to run their opponents into the ground the way they did against France.
  • Kicking
    Even with the supposed ice man Owen Farrell kicking goals for them England might have just shown a slight chink in their armour in this facet of their play. With a 60% success rate through the first 2 rounds they are bottom of the pile for the tournament. Now it may be when you’re scoring 9 tries points from kicking become a bit of an afterthought. When Farrell is standing over that first shot at goal of the afternoon though there might not be the same resigned certainty that he’ll definitely nail it though!
  • Set piece solidity
    England’s success has, in many ways, been built on solid fundamentals. Their scrum and lineout has been extremely consistent and in this tournament they have only lost 2 set pieces so far (Ireland are the only team with a better success rate, only dropping 1 in the first two rounds). Scotland’s scrum has held its own so far but they’ll need the lineout functioning at close to 100% (as it did in the Autumn) if they’re going to compete.
  • Attack
    One area that may still be a relative work in progress for England as they strive to make themselves the number one side in the world is their attack. They demonstrated some good strike moves early on against Italy before getting bogged down for 50 minutes or so. In their match versus Wales they got off to a flying start but couldn’t seem to put Wales under any sustained pressure. A Sean Edwards’ defence is always tricky to break down but the Welsh were able to maintain a 92% completion rate despite having to make well over 200 tackles. They also only conceded 2 penalties which suggests they were very comfortable absorbing whatever England had to throw at them. The home side need to take a leaf out of the Welsh book when it comes to the intensity of the defensive effort and containing the English.
  • Owen Farrell
    In the quest to find weaknesses in what is an extremely good all-round side Owen Farrell’s defence has to be something for Scotland to cling on to. Now this not to suggest that he is a poor or weak defender. But his tendency to want to dominate every tackle and every hit he makes presents a sliver of opportunity. He’s already missed 9 tackles in the tournament so far and doubtless Gregor Townsend will be directing his men to get low and present as small a target as possible for Farrell to aim at.
  • Dylan Hartley
    That work rate in the English pack noted above allows them the relative luxury of including captain Dylan Hartley at hooker. The Northampton Saint is not a big contributor when it comes to carries and tackles (replacement Jamie George generally only gets around half the minutes of his skipper but usually always hits bigger numbers in both these areas). It’s his leadership that Eddie Jones keeps coming back to though. With Owen Farrell increasingly a dominant presence in the starting XV – and a XV that is packed with self-motivated players who probably don’t require much in the way of on-field direction – will Hartley be able to retain his place all the way through to RWC 2019?

Previous results

This will be the 10th time the two sides have met at Murrayfield in the 6 Nations. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

W L   W W D   L L L

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 9 – 15 England

This was Eddie Jones’s first game in charge of England. How history might have changed if the pugnacious Aussie had got off to a losing start instead of a winning one. Ultimately though his English side was too well-drilled and too powerful against a stuffy but limited Scotland team that was still finding its feet under Vern Cotter. *

Significant stats
England – 41 kicks (Scotland – 31)
With all the resources at his disposal Jones’s England can play a number of styles as required. In this case they showed how they could be ultra-pragmatic when necessary, using the kicking game to play the match in the areas of the pitch they wanted to be in. Scotland’s own kicking from hand will need to be lead well by Finn Russell if they are to have an effective counter.

England – 7 turnovers (Scotland – 16)
A low error count has been one of the hallmarks of the English game and it’s a particularly stark to contrast to Scotland’s high risk style. 2 years later and it’s a similar story with the visitors conceding the fewest turnovers in the opening rounds of the 6 Nations (18) and the home side coughing up the most (29).

England – 3 clean breaks (Sco – 7)
This was a clear demonstration that it isn’t always necessary to make break the line to progress up the pitch. When the territorial battle is under control and there’s a clear winner in the collisions a team like England can force their way into good positions without necessarily tearing the opposition defence apart.


Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant 1: Jerome Garces (France)
Assistant 2: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

Since 2011 Mr. Owens has not been the most regular of referees for Scotland – perhaps with more high profile appointments to attend to! His last trip to Murrayfield as the man in the middle was 7 years ago – but he has been an Assistant Referee more recently in Edinburgh, including the game 2 weeks ago against France.

Scotland have had the better of the penalty count in 3 of the 4 games under Mr. Owens although this hasn’t helped them on the scoreboard with the dark blues coming out on the losing side in all of these fixtures. The last time the Welsh whistler took charge of a Scotland match was when they met South Africa in the 2015 World Cup. That was the game that saw Stuart Hogg lectured and Greig Laidlaw sin binned. Both men (and the rest of their teammates) will be well aware of the need to keep their noses clean and on the right side of the law on Saturday.

  • 2011 v Ireland (H)
    Penalties: 17 (For Scotland 13 – 4 Against Scotland)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Allan Jacobsen)
  • 2013 v France (A)
    Pens: 19 (For 11 – 8 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2015 v France (A)
    Pens: 19 (For 8 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Johnnie Beattie)
  • 2015 v South Africa (N)
    Pens: 19 (For 11 – 8 Against)
    Cards: Scotland 1 YC (Greig Laidlaw); South Africa 1 YC

* In a case of history repeating Stuart Lancaster’s first game in charge of England was also a Calcutta Cup match in the opening round of a 6 Nations – in 2012 to be precise. If only Dan Parks hadn’t been charged down. If only Ross Rennie had passed the ball. If Scotland had eked out the win would Lancaster have been given the England head coach job full time? Might that whole RWC cycle have turned out differently for the Red Roses? You’re welcome England fans…

Part II will follow tomorrow.

27 Responses

  1. Interesting piece as always, Kevin.

    I don’t think you can read much into a team’s performance based on the penalties conceded. Penalties are conceded when the referee feels like penalising, and, in the case of the Wales match, Garces seemed very one-sided. The penalty count against Wales seemed incredible in a bad way. There are too many incidental and subjective facets involved to use it in such a way. Wales weren’t necessarily very disciplined, but they did benefit from the referee’s indulgence and offend smartly so as not to concede. I wonder how much of that was due to Jones’ early question about the penalty count… Similarly, Owens let dozens of high tackles from the Saffas go in 2015, so why didn’t we adapt or react in some way as to use this to our advantage?

    Although I don’t think it’s useful as an objective measure of a team’s discipline, it is useful as a rough guide to how a referee sees each team and offence, which is why I like the section on the officials so much. It would be interesting to see how often the home team wins under the referee in question (I imagine that Mitrea leads the stats in this one, unfortunately for us Warriors fans…), or what the ratio of home vs away penalties is, or how many offences are committed versus offences penalised. Not knocking the refs here, but it would be interesting to see what they let go and for whom.

    1. You’ll find if u look into stats about refs that they may on the surface seem inconsistant (and there will be errors and mistakes) but they will always lead the stats on who gets the biggest percentage of correct decisions in a match. The errors are often important and therefore highlighted.

      However that being the case it gives teams a huge chance to research a ref what he lets go and what he is hot on. At worse you should adapt in mid game when it’s clear something isn’t acceptable. But not doing ur work on a ref is to me criminal especially in rugby where his decisions are so crucial to ur opportunities.

      Talking to ref and influencing his thinking is crucial. So much goes on that it’s possible he misses things from time to time.

      Looking at Nigels last four games doesn’t seem to show too much bearing in mind that I think we were expected to lose in all four probably by a way.

  2. Here was me absolutely certain that Duncan Hodge scored a try against England at Murrayfield in 2000, but Disco says no, so I must be wrong :)

    1. I was too busy worrying about whether to use semi colons or commas to break up the list! Fixed now so all 7 tries scored and their scorers are included.

  3. I’m not at all confident for this game, but there’s not going to be a lot between the 2 sides.

    Most of my English friends are thinking it’s going to be a walkover, citing our poor performance last year (disregarding our backline being decimated with injuries) and the debacle in Cardiff.

    However, we’re a very different beast at home and even though I think we’ll lose, it won’t be by much.

    1. That overconfidence is exactly what we hope for, but the England team are unlikely to fall prey to that one even if the fans do! I will be very surprised (and disappointed) if it is anything like a walkover…

  4. Holy crap, the totmgw preview. It’s getting close.

    Hate to do this after all your fine work, but the 2016 England game wasn’t our last try-blank. We didn’t score a try in one of the summer tests against Japan that year. Mind you, that’s still the longest run of any Six Nations team, which is frankly incredible given our white-line-phobia of the noughties.

    I mention this now because if we don’t play at our absolute peak, I think that run may end on Saturday. Praying I’m wrong, but I’m guessing England will be Wales-like in trusting their defence, and if we start chasing the game it could get ugly.

    Saying that, our Murrayfield form has been so heartening, and the France game was another new feeling – a close game where, in the last 20 minutes, I didn’t feel like we were going to lose. Last year’s win against Ireland, I was behind the sofa for most of the second half. Against Wales, we had it wrapped up before crunch time. But in the last game, France were always within striking distance, but I never felt like they were going to actually, y’know, strike. That’s a big step in this still very nascent team’s development. Dig out any kind of win against England, and that’s another massive step forward. Let’s do this boys.

    1. Something relating to the France game that hasn’t really been mentioned as far as I’m aware is that the 32 points we scored was the most we’ve ever scored against them at home, and second most ever after that famous day in 1999. So if nothing else we’ll score points at home, it’s just our defence that gives me the fear.

      1. Lovely stat Frazer. The fact that some people feel slightly deflated after beating France and scoring 30+ points shows where we are now.

    2. Probably a different game here mind. England are fitter than France, less likely to panic and have options beyond ‘give it to Teddy Thomas’ in attack. That said their bench doesn’t look as strong as it has done recently – Kruis, Underhill and Wigglesworth all seem better suited to closing out a game rather than lifting the tempo, which England’s bench has done so well in recent times, and if they’re behind going into the final 15 minutes they might find it difficult to find that extra gear.

  5. Scout report on England highlights just how solid and ruthless they are, I really hope our lads are looking at the match as a ‘one in a lifetime’ opportunity just like the NZ game.
    I’m loving the fact that if we play our best we have a real chance. Great place to be.
    Plus it would be great wipe the smug off of Jones’ face!

  6. My three big hopes for this game are firstly that the midfield and wide defence has been sorted. You can be pretty sure that the first lineout to England in our half with fast clean ball will have Joseph sprinting down the 12-13 channel like at Twickenham last year to see what we’ve learnt. If he gets though again untouched its going to be a very long afternoon.

    Secondly Toonie has been tweaking the attack over the last few games. Lets hope he’s kept something up his sleeve for this game as England’s defence is very good and we’ll need options to surprise them with. We’ll need Russell at his best as he’s the one with the surprises. I also think we’ll see more of Hogg this weekend, in partnership with Seymour and Jones, looking for gaps between forwards in the defensive line at real pace. England have kicked quite a bit too so I think running returns of those might be a good option. However, we need to be careful about getting isolated as England could kill us on quick turnover and counter attack.

    Finally if its close then discipline will be key. If we can keep all our players away from cards for the full 80, avoid breakdown, maul and scrum penalties and at the same time wind up those like Hartley we have a chance. Really need to start well this week to build some pressure.

    1. Avoiding cards fair enough but u can’t avoid scrum, maul and breakdown penalties for the whole match. You can minimise them for sure. England were so ill disciplined against Wales but got away with it. we must punish that this week.

  7. It’ll take a great performance to win…but reach the levels we did against NZ and Aus and we have a decent chance…we’ll need to play far better than we have so far. If we turn up with wrong attitude we’ll have lost before the match starts. We need more than one plan and we need to adjust quickly if needed. If England get the start they got last year…we won’t be needing our’ll be out of sight anyway.

    GloboGym won’t tire at the end like France did..that said I feel we can play a lot better than we did in that match.

    Could be a great match….

  8. Looking around some of the other forums it’s a done deal varying from “England only need to turn up” to “yes we respect Scotland but our man for man superiority will pay off in the end” not to mention many predictions as to when in the game Finn Russell will turn flakey and be hooked . I would so love to see Scotland put in a tactically astute, streetwise, in yer face physical & ruthless performance with Finn Russell doing everything just right. The big question mark for me will be how we and England compete at the breakdown and how we get reffed.

    1. ‘man for man superiority’ ….what a joke.

      England probably have the edge of better players. ..however Brown, Watson, May, Hartley, Robshaw & Hughes….. Meh!! arguably wouldn’t make the Scotland team. Especially Brown over Hogg…. that would make me cry with laughter if someone suggested that.

      1. Brown is not Hogg in attack but he is a tackler and he is a hothead with attitude. None of the England squad are brilliant but they do know that no single one of them is better than all of them and I do not think Scotland get that and quite a lot of bloggers do not get it either. 15 men to win, not 13 plus 2.

      2. It takes variety in a team to be top dog in world rugby….not just 15 well conditioned…and Im not sure England get that either. They are consistently very good …. great tho? nah.. not yet anyway… a couple of exceptional players short of that imo.

      3. My point is that it takes 15 we do not need to involve Hogg in everything.

        England will today be looking at tapes of past victories to re-enforce their self belief, we are sat here just working out how we give the ball to Hogg #gapingholeattheback

      4. There is such a suggestion on the Planet rugby match thread regarding Brown being a better international class player than Hoggy-admittedly as much out of spite / winding up as anything it’s probably true to say. Most “match ups” I’ve seen i.e. player for player give England a distinct advantage. I just really hope that Finn plays a blinder and rams this “flaky” stuff down people’s throats.

      5. Hogg ball in hand is the envy of them all. If we had an average full back we would need to look elsewhere for our penetration and that does bring a different balance to a side. Just an opinion. Would I change it ! no , but we need to recognise that our tactics are easy to read which is the cost to having such an outstanding attacking full back. It does shape the mix.

  9. I reckon Lawes is in largely to target Russell. I very much hope Finn side steps through it and gets truly in the zone. The buzz is building!

  10. Wee Eddie trying to make us think we are NZ in the press…never stops that mouth of his.

    Hoping we do a ‘Wales’ again no doubt…..

  11. Finn Russell is like Luke from the original star wars films and we are well into the empire strikes back with his current form. . A new hope – Finn emerges into the scene and his raw talent and skill impress. Obi wan played by Greig and yoda by Toonie. His impact is so strong, is he the one who can take the fight to the empire?

    Empire Strikes Back – Finn, now well into his training is learning more and more about the ways of the jedi. He can be erratic and frustrated. He knows his own talent but often is too hot headed to channel it properly. Discovering his own weaknesses and losing a couple of key battles, the dark side looms. A difficult time but some key alliances formed (Rennie, Price) and more wisdom from Toonie. Russell’s jedi potential be found out this weekend?

    Return of the Jedi – to be continued…..

    any suggestions for characters?

    Han Solo – Ryan Wilson
    Adimiral Akbar – Hamish Watson
    Darth Maul – Owen Farrell?

    1. Harsh on Hamish!
      Think Toolis is already known as chewy.
      Eddie Jones is the Salacious Crumb to Gatlant’s Jabba.

You might also like these:

Scotland’s training squad for the 2024 Women’s Six Nations is a mostly familiar core with a smattering of new names – including several who have really impressed in the recent Celtic Challenge matches, writes Eleanor.
Stuart got in touch to tell us about the alternative reality that Saturday's game forced him into. So here it is, the Six Nations Table where Scotland won. To be continued...
Give us your thoughts on the game as Scotland welcome England to Murrayfield.
Gregor Townsend has made three adjustments to the team for the upcoming Six Nations clash against England at Murrayfield.

Scottish Rugby News and Opinion