Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v England: Six Nations 2020, Match Preview pt I

Scotland v England
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

KO 4.45 at Murrayfield
Saturday 8th February 2020

Live on BBC1

This game provides the chance for Scotland to hold the Calcutta Cup for 3 years in a row – something they haven’t managed since 1970-1972. Victory two years ago at Murrayfield snapped a 9 game winless streak against England that had seen the Auld Enemy rack up an average margin of victory of 14 points.

Scotland’s record in post-war Calcutta Cup matches by decade:

  • 2010s – 1 win + 2 draws
  • 2000s – 3 wins
  • 1990s – 1 win
  • 1980s – 3 wins + 2 draws
  • 1970s – 5 wins + 1 draw
  • 1960s – 2 wins + 2 draws
  • 1950s – 1 win + 2 draws

Scotland will be looking to kick off a new decade’s series of matches against England with a win – as they did in 1950, 1970, 1990 and 2000.

England Scouting Report

Stopping the irresistible force

Eddie Jones made a big play of his side’s physicality ahead of their Round 1 encounter in the Six Nations. Shorn of Billy Vunipola (and voluntarily declining to replace him with a specialist 8) the English pack found themselves being stuffed on or behind the gainline time and time again by France.

From 86 carries England’s forwards made 79 metres – less than a metre per carry. By contrast in their day of days against the All Blacks in the World Cup semi-final the English 8 made 149m from 83 carries.

Add in their performance in the RWC Final (65m from 74 carries) and the evidence points to stopping front foot ball at source as being one of the keys to getting at the English gameplan. Can Scotland’s tight 5 match the physicality and intensity of their performance against Ireland in defence? And then improve on it in attack by finding a way to force the ball over the tryline?

Dominating the field

Against France, England had 61% of the possession and 70% of territory (including 82% territory in the second half!)

In the last two Calcutta Cup matches Scotland have been up against it in terms of time with the ball and in the English half of the pitch. In part that’s down to being the more efficient side in attack but Eddie Jones’s side are built to hang on to the ball and play in the right places.

In Paris England parlayed their dominance of possession into 11 entries into their opponents 22 – coincidentally the same number Scotland managed against Ireland. The Scots couldn’t turn a single one of their chances into tries. If it wasn’t for the individual brilliance of Jonny May then England’s efforts to touch down over the whitewash would have been similarly ineffective.

Both these teams will be looking to make far more of their opportunities this time round. Scotland may well have to do it from a minority share of possession and territory.


  • England attacked a lot down the 10 / 12 channel, forcing 38 tackles from France’s stand off and inside centre (32 made and 6 missed).
  • England won 10 out of 10 on their own put in at the scrum and looked solid with both the starting and replacement front rows.
  • There is real kicking variety in the English ranks with outside centre being the only position in their backline not to boot the ball at least twice v France. (Against Ireland, bar 1 from Kinghorn, all Scotland’s kicking from hand went through Price, Hastings and Hogg.)

Previous results

This will be the 11th time the two sides have played at Murrayfield in a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:


Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 25 – 13 England

Significant stat
10 – rucks lost by England. That’s the most of any of Scotland’s opponents in a game during the Townsend era. The Scottish back row of John Barclay, Hamish Watson and Ryan Wilson were on fire at the breakdown (and crucially also on the same wavelength as referee, Nigel Owens).

The Scottish Rugby Blog match report from that game is here.


Referee:  Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referee 1:  Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

This is actually getting to the stage of being a little weird now – M. Gauzere will referee Scotland for the 9th time in the last 3 years (34 matches). The French official seems to be World Rugby’s default for games involving the dark blues. It would be intriguing to know if any other ref has taken charge of one Test side as frequently in the last 36 months…

Looking at the positives, Scotland will have a huge amount of data on M. Gauzere’s tendencies. They’ve also done pretty well out of the games he’s refereed, discipline-wise anyway. Across 11 matches, dating back to 2014, Scotland have won 22 more penalties than their opponents. The card count has also run the way of the Scots with 4 yellows conceded versus 6 sin bins and 1 red card for their opposition.

Scotland’s last games with M. Gauzere in charge:

  • 2018 – lost to Wales (A)
    Penalties: 15 (For 8 – 7 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2018 – beat Italy (A)
    Penalties: 14 (For 9 – 5 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Wales (H)
    Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – beat Georgia (A)
    Penalties: 25 (For 13 – 12 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – beat Samoa (N)
    Penalties: 24 (For 14 – 10 Against)
    Cards: Samoa 1 YC + 1 RC (for a 2nd yellow)

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow later in the week, after the team announcements.

29 Responses

    1. I know, Frank Hadden beat them twice! I also don’t think there was a single try in either of those games, certainly not by us anyway. Ah yes back in the day when sheer bloodymindedness saw us through…

  1. Obviously this is a huge game for both teams. I think our scrum is up to it. Lineout is possibly more of a worry, I always feel that McInally rushes it, which is fine if he’s accurate, but not every line out needs to be rushed. Defensively our 10/12 channel is not bad at all. Tandy has done good things in his short time. This game will hinge on the breakdown (as in so many games) and this is where Watson, Ritchie, and Haining, can (and must) dominate. They were great against Ireland, as were Cummings and an angry Zander. We need Pocock/Hooper style clearout, with maximum controlled aggression. Still think that Watson or Ritchie would be better as Captains. Ritchie is always in the middle of everything – plus he Captained at U20 – so gets what’s needed. Hogg is fine, but really he should just be focussed on dazzling play, not rallying the troops, he’s a VC at most. GT will realise this eventually, just wish he’d get there sooner than later.

    1. I would be inclined to agree with you but I actually thought Hogg captained very well at the weekend. My fear with Hogg is he can be a bit rash and try to do everything himself, but that wasn’t the case.

      Ritchie I think is a good bet for the future, kind of reminds me of a younger John Barclay but I think he is too young at the moment, is he not only 22? Can’t have much more than a dozen caps either? He is certainly good enough but I just feel we need an older more wizened character, an AWJ type character, but we don’t really have one, yet.

      1. He possibly isnt quite ready for this 6N…but he should be made captain for summer tour and beyond. Very abrasive yet mature player…definately a captain imo.
        Hogg is not a natural captain….just because he is passionate about playing for Scotland.

  2. I thought we’d get smashed by Ireland but I really fancy our chances on Saturday. My only area of concern is centres.

  3. Main concern relative to 2 years ago is that England have a couple of decent flankers now so there will be more competition at the breakdown. What’s more we have another French referee this weekend who doesn’t seem to mind chaos at the breakdown. If we can win the breakdown then, especially at home, it should be a hell of a game.

  4. After watching the highlights and listening to the atmosphere again imagine what the noise will be like if we can push England off the ball at the first scrum! Goosebumps!

  5. England are a team built around front-foot ball and without Tuilagi and Vunipola they can definitely be exploited in this area. They are a hugely uncreative team and if you cut off this supply of go-forward, like France did by flying up on them or we did two years ago by cutting them off at the ruck, then they can look at a loss for what to do.

    If we keep the intensity up like last week then we can take them. I’d pick the same team, get them doing drills together all week and tell them to do more of the same. Ideally we will see a bit more creativity in the backs as well. This stems from Hastings and Hogg imo – Johnson and Jones are good runners but need someone directing them snd putting them into space.

    1. Indeed it seems to me that if you can keep the white-orcs behind the gainline for four phases, they pretty much run out of ideas.

  6. Great preview – really well written article and very interesting stats. Thanks for Posting!

    I feel hope coming back…………..which is probably the worst thing that could happen ;-)

  7. Ref could be all important. IMV Genge came on with the intent/instruction to take out Ntmak . Are Itoje’s swallow dives over rucks legal ( even if he has lost his tendency for late and high ).

    1. I don’t believe anyone would instruct Genge to do that…no need…like telling a duck to quack. He just seems a fairly violent man.

      Similarly, I think very little of what Itoje does near a ruck is truly legal…the new one I saw last week was the attempt to dislodge the ball by hand as the player is being tackled (i.e. after the tackle is made by someone else but before the ball is on the ground).

      Not 100% on the rules, but it seems to me that this could be called as a deliberate knock on, or possibly hands in the ruck…

      Gauzere I think may be happy to let the little things go…not sure if that suits us or not…

      1. On that Itoje play: it’s illegal to go for the ball after the tackle has been completed while the player is still being held up. Edinburgh lost against Ulster in Belfast last season because Ross Ford was penalised for that infringement.

        From what I’ve seen from and heard about Genge, he’s a thug and proud of it. That said, I’ve no issue with his hit on Ntamack. Same as I had no issue with Glasgow’s alleged targeting of Murray’s standing leg. Worth noting how Ntamack and Galthie didn’t whine to the media about it after the match. Schmidt and Murray could learn from this…

    2. With Itoje, may times I think most refs would deem him as part of the ruck and therefore his diving over is illegal. If he’s at the hindmost foot and not in the ruck when the SH picks up then I think it would be legal.

      1. A lot of the time at the weekend, while he may not have “bound” on to the ruck he definitely seemed to be using the ruck to support his weight to allow him to reach further over it. To me, that is either being part of the ruck or the same as being off your feet and therefore not legal.

        It’ll be interesting to see if he ever gets called on it or if others start to try using the tactic as well.

  8. Rewatching the game and it’s summarised in the attack from Johnson’s intercept: great read and good passing gets us into a promising position. Henderson tackles, doesn’t even attempt to roll, slows down the ball, MR just watches. A nice kick and some good hands get us to about ten metres out, Fagerson tackled, Stander places his hands ahead of the ball, pauses, drags back to the ball to compete for it illegally and MR wrongly penalises Scotland. Then just a minute into the second half, Watson is dragged over to the wrong side of the ruck by the Irish and is penalised for not rolling away. MR is an incompetent moron. He penalised inconsistently, and we got the raw end of the deal. But, and this is the bigger issue, we didn’t adapt. If we don’t adapt to Gauzere’s wacky interpretations, then we’ve no chance.

  9. Dont worry Gregor and Stuart Hogg will have an opportunity to chat to the match officials and get it square. in many ways it goes in our favour!

  10. England will pump Scotland just Google the English pack then look at the Scottish pack. It’s a complete mismatch.

    1. A pack was ever the sum of its parts and not about individuals.

      If our pack can replicate the Ireland performance then they can go toe to toe with England.

      The backrow contest will be fascinating where the mobile Barclay, Watson, Wilson backrow of seasons past looks more like the current England backrow than previous hulking England iterations.

      1. I agree it’s not too far off parity…based on last weeks teams:

        Our back row is a better unit, Lawes is a lock and they don’t have an 8 at 8.

        Locks are probably advantage England, but Cummings/Gray is not far off.

        Front row I’d take their loose head options, both our hookers, and ZFag over Sinckler.

        The difference is perhaps the subs…Kruis in particular

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion