Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v England: Match Preview Pt II – head to heads

Scotland v England
© Scottish Rugby Blog

An unchanged side is a rarity for Scotland boss Gregor Townsend. This is only the third time he has picked the same starting XV for consecutive matches in his 157 games as a head coach. Three alterations to the bench, introducing Willem Nel, Tim Swinson and Nick Grigg, are a bit more in keeping with Toony’s tendency to tinker as he has never selected the same 23 for back to back matches. The question remains though – has he chosen the right group to extinguish the English?

Tale of the tape

59   Tries   80
266   Total caps   342
119   6N caps  150
27.9   Average age   27.7

891kg   Pack weight   935kg
581kg   Tight 5 weight   595kg
229   Total caps  417
100   6N caps   198
28.0   Average age   28.4

153   Total caps   173
68   6N caps   85
27.9   Average age   27.7

Scotland changes from last Test (v France)

  • 18 – Nel for Welsh
    [+] Scotland’s top TH and scrummaging maestro is back.
  • 19 – Swinson for Toolis
    [=] bit more dog and aggression; another option to bulk up the back row if Scotland are being overpowered.
  • 22 – Grigg for Harris
    [+] the in form centre; spectacularly difficult to put down due to his low centre of gravity.


15 Stuart Hogg
14 Tommy Seymour
13 Huw Jones
12 Peter Horne
11 Sean Maitland
10 Finn Russell
9 Greig Laidlaw
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland
15 Mike Brown
14 Anthony Watson
13 Jonathan Joseph
12 Owen Farrell
11 Jonny May
10 George Ford
9 Danny Care

1 Gordon Reid
2 Stuart McInally
3 Simon Berghan
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Jonny Gray
6 John Barclay (c)
7 Hamish Watson
8 Ryan Wilson

ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland

1 Mako Vunipola
2 Dylan Hartley (c)
3 Dan Cole
4 Joe Launchbury
5 Maro Itoje
6 Courtney Lawes
7 Chris Robshaw
8 Nathan Hughes

16 Scott Lawson
17 Jamie Bhatti
18 Willem Nel
19 Tim Swinson
20 David Denton
21 Ali Price
22 Nick Grigg
23 Blair Kinghorn

ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England

16 Jamie George
17 Joe Marler
18 Harry Williams
19 George Kruis
20 Sam Underhill
21 R. Wigglesworth
22 Ben Te’o
23 Jack Nowell


Backs – advantage Scotland
The British and Irish Lions count is 5-3 in favour of Scotland in the backlines – although this maybe only tells a very small part of the story! There are definite similarities in the way both sets of backs are set up but the English unit has more experience generally and in particular when it comes to finding a way to win games. While there’s potentially more upside for Scotland’s x-factor players they really need to be 100% on their game or they will lose out to their opponents who seem to nearly always make the right decisions.

Forwards – advantage England
The battle up front may well be crucial so it’s worth noting that in the last 40 years of Calcutta Cup matches at Murrayfield only 3 Scottish forwards have scored tries – Alan Tomes (1982), Derek White (1992) and Rob Wainwright (1994). This has in no small part been due to the dark blues’ packs being consistently outmuscled and outmanoeuvred by their English counterparts. If things are to turn out differently on Saturday it’s likely that the home side will have to do much better in this area than they have in the last decade.

Subs – advantage England
The bench is where Scotland’s relative lack of depth starts to show. While the subs in the backs don’t lack for talent they have very little experience at this level and intensity. The reintroduction of Nel, Swinson and Denton over the past 2 rounds has helped strengthen options for the pack and their physicality will be needed to counter England’s replacements. Despite a supposed ‘injury crisis’ the visitors still count 5 Lions on their bench and given their predilection for pulling away in the second half Gregor Townsend will be hoping his substitutes are coming on to defend a lead rather than chase the game.


– 28 of the 46 players were on duty the last time the sides met at Murrayfield in 2016 – 12 Scots and 16 Englishmen. James Haskell and Billy Vunipola are the only men from that last England starting XV who won’t be involved this time around, which is a testament to the consistency in selection under Eddie Jones.

– 5 of the Scotland XV that started their opening fixture against Wales have dropped out of the squad since Round 1 (along with 2 of the replacements).

– 3 of the England XV that started their opening fixture against Italy have dropped out of the squad since Round 1 (along with 1 of the replacements).

– Nick Grigg and Blair Kinghorn are the only players on either side who have still to make their Six Nations debut. Jamie Bhatti, Harry Williams and Sam Underhill all made their first appearances in this season’s tournament.

23 Responses

  1. I just can’t see how the ‘more mobile’ back row ploy is going to work any better this year than last year. According to the official national team stats we give away 25Kg to the English (although Wasps have Hughes listed as weighing 124Kg, so if that’s true it’s a 34Kg deficit). I’d really like to see us just once put out a bloody huge back row, e.g. Denton, Strauss and Bradbury, which would add 36Kg to our back row! Even if we kept Barclay as captain and played him at 7, adding Strauss and Denton would add 25Kg of gainline-breaking mass to our back row. I know it’s not about size (it’s what you do with it), but it’d be nice to be the bigger pack for a change…

    Incidentally, the ‘official’ stats (from the national teams’ websites) have the England pack weighing in at 915Kgs and ours at 890Kgs… And apparently Berghan weighs about the same as Strauss, despite their vastly differing physiques! Why’s it so hard to find an actual, consistent figure?!

  2. When are we going to stop comparing weights as the way we can compete? Scotland have been out sized against every South Sea Island team since rugby began and we always compete with them, granted that they are not as fit or good as this English side but its not how much someone weighs, but their ability to use the weight they have. Strauss and Bradbury may be massive but all too often they are stopped at the first tackle. For whatever reason they don’t seem to drive their legs through a tackle. 99% of the time its the secondary drive which beats a tackler one on one. Hamish Watson is the best example of that we have and also the smallest forward.

    Most people would pick a fully fit WP Nel over Berghan and Berghan outweighs Nel by 8kg.

    I for one am very happy with the back row and having a big impact player on the bench to run at tired arms.

    1. Watson is an outlier, though, isn’t he? He carries like someone much bigger. Strauss and Bradbury often beat the first tackler – Bradbury was devastating the Ulster defensive line last week – and Billy V, Nathan Hughes, Picamoles etc. are so effective partly because they’re big, heavy, strong guys. Wilson and Barclay rarely break the gainline or first tackle. And Samoa’s big guys gave us a kicking in November; we won largely due to ‘x-factor’ and their lack of fitness. That won’t be the case against England, there won’t be tired arms to run at. It’s like Homer Simpson fighting Drederick Tatum, “he’s not going to get tired of punching!”. Our back row got monstered by most of the players starting for England last year, so why is it going to be any different this year?

      From what I understand the front row is more about technique and debauchery than mass, so I can’t really discuss that…

      1. I also disagree on the assessment that Bradbury rarely breaks the gain line; I would say the exact opposite is true. Where Bradbury needs to improve is his workrate. Specifically, he needs to hit more rucks and he seems to be improving in that aspect.

    2. Post-contact progress is made by leg drive, core strength and, once brought to ground, the “worm roll”…Watson and Grigg are both very strong there…our “big” forwards often just seem to flop over and land on the ball.

      Then they can’t even place it back easily for the next phase…

      1. Our younger players are getting better at this. I remember McCallum, for instance, scoring an excellent try for the U20s at the World Cup last year where he went straight through two (three?) defending forwards. How? He went low and hard and kept pumping those legs – it’s just so hard to stop from less than a metre out.

  3. Hope the breakdown is refereed fairly. England’s forwards have got away with murder slowing the opponents ball so far. Every trick in the book was used against Wales and they got away with far more than they were penalized for. To be fair their front 3 are better technically over the ball (staying on their feet) than their back 5, and we need to make sure we don’t get isolated too often. If we can weather to first half hour and stay within a score, then we’ve got a decent shout.

  4. Some clear mistakes here. No way is Maitland an advantage over Jonny May. May has got almost double the amount of international tries in less games than Maitland and May’s 12 international tries bar 1 against Samoa have all came against top tier nations (NZ, France, Ireland, Wales (X3), SA, Australia, Argentina (X2). Maitland’s 7 tries in 35 matches have come against; England, Australia, France, Georgia, USA, Argentina(X2) – an awful record. Maitland is one of those players who gets let of the hook because he has played in the Super league and Aviva Premiership despite being one of our worst ever players.

    Also no way is Jonathan Joeseph equal to Huw Jones. He’s big, he’s powerful and he runs fast but there is very little else to the game. Huw Jones is up there with Kuridrani and Jonathan Davies as one of the best attacking 13’s in the world. There is so much to his game; Firstly he is such a powerful, fast and creative runner with the ball as shown by his 8 tries (3 against Australia, 2 against England, and 1 against each of New Zealand, Samoa and France) in his first 13 caps and The lines he runs and his creative kicks to put himself in trying scoring positions are just pure genius and the way he glides past defenders is a sight of beauty. No contest between the two Joeseph just looked good last year due to the early yellow card, the injuries resulting in so many playing out of position and our poor defence on the day.

    Apart from that it’s a pretty spot on article mate

    1. Blake, I can think of several candidates for the ‘one of our worst ever players’ awards category. Maitland doesn’t figure on my list and I think you’re being a bit harsh on him tbh.

      1. A bit harsh?! It’s complete nonsense. His try scoring record is not brilliant but he’s a class player. He gets too much grief on these boards.

        Also don’t agree with the assessment of Joseph. He’s a very dangerous player.

  5. Looks less rosy when you look at key “partnerships”.

    15,14/11…adv Scotland

  6. Jones is class but he will get poor quality ball in impossible positions. Maitland is there to cover for Hogg so you can protest as much as you want , Maitland is the surrogate FB. I got you lads sussed.

    Lets wait and see how the game pans out before you write of Joseph and May is an in form class act. Your ratings are dead right.

  7. Scotland cannot be labelled inexperienced and young anymore. They are clearly lacking in caps compared to England tomorrow but 495 caps in the starting line-up is possibly the most experienced we’ve been in at least five years. The experience built by those players was in the main negative.

    Our injury list is now not really abnormally brutal but very much normal now and we have decent cover in many areas and although we could be stronger it is not widely away from our best team. We have more tries in the team across the board than we could ever have dreamed 2-3 years ago.

    Scotland have experience but not just negative experience but positive experience in winning tight crucial matches in many areas. Wining Six Nations matches (in the last nine matches we have won 66% of our matches since a nine match losing run), coming from behind at half-time (Wales 17 and France 18), closing out games in the last ten minutes from losing positions (France 18 and Ireland 17). We’ve won big away on tour in tight matches and open matches (Aus 17). We’ve ran New Zealand as close as we ever have really. We only really lack a knock out victory in World Cup or a big Six Nations away victory. But these mile stones are significant. We have even thrown in the odd not playing great but winning (Japan 16, Samoa 17, France 18)

    You would really have to start calling Murrayfield a fortress these days too. In saying all this tomorrow is a big what if at the moment but it isn’t impossible and the players believe there is no doubt. But with all this ability to not only show promise but deliver we have to come to tomorrow’s game with a little bit of expectation. We can’t just say “Have a go lads” We must expect the players to step up and meet what they are challenged with and to use their experience and outstanding players to turn this into a win. It’s more than blind optimism but it’ll still be bloody hard!!! Barclay has said as much in his piece today. We win, no excuses.

  8. Looking north from my office in Sunderland @ 1pm this afternoon a perfect saltire appeared…..omen????

  9. Enjoyed the Article, tho I think Hughes beats Wilson as a number 8 any day of the week!

    Also, if anyone wants to really indulge, suggest reading Conor Wilson’s series of articles ‘Scotland’s patterns and tactics part 1: Tenets’ etc as well as ‘Scotland v England: What will Gregor Townsend be coaching?’. Google. I reckon he’d make a good guest blogger / podder despite his non-Scottish allegiance…

  10. Ive mixed feelings. There is an expectation but there’s also an expectation that it could be another blowout. I don’t feel we are there yet, but if Finn has the blinder he’s due and the set piece holds up it’ll be a grand day. Or it’ll be a massacre. Mortgage on the line and id pop ‘E’

  11. It’ll take a day where we make very little mistakes….and do a few special things. England, to me, are very unspectacular in open play, however, excellent in defense. England always come across to me, in pretty much any sport they play, as being solid in defence but limited in attack..maybe a culture thing? Their W vs L record is spectacular though and that confidence gets them through gritty matches.

    I just don’t feel Scotland’s confidence is there yet to win matches like these. Playing well in patches won’t be enough. It’ll take a huge sustained effort.

    Big test for GT also, to prove his mettle as a coach.

  12. Do we believe? Incredible stuff. What a half of rugby!!!

    No try in years then 3 come along at once.

    Please please keep going and finish it off!!!!

  13. 22:6
    You got to know when to hold ’em,
    Know when to fold ’em,
    Know when to walk away,
    And know when to run.
    That the secret to survivin’
    Is knowin’ what to throw away
    And knowin’ what to keep.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion