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.
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.
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?
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 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. *
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)
- 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.