2014 was the last time that Scotland tackled England without Finn Russell in the number 10 shirt. Duncan Weir was the main man that day. It did not go well as Scotland were blanked at home 0-20. (Although to be fair about 3½ of Finn’s appearances in Calcutta Cup matches haven’t gone all that well either!)
In his last 3 games against England, for Scotland and the Barbarians, Russell was named Man of the Match twice; scored two tries; and assisted on 5 others. The performance last week against Ireland did give some indications the dark blues can still flourish without Finn, but it will need another step up this Saturday to achieve a positive result without the man who clearly relishes taking on the Auld enemy.
Tale of the tape
59 Tries 78
94kg Average weight 90kg
216 Total caps 298
100 6N caps 120
0 6N debutants 0
26.5 Average age 28.3
911kg Pack weight 873kg
16 Tries 14
197 Total caps 256
76 6N caps 106
0 6N debutants 0
25.9 Average age 26.2
19 Tries 21
141 Total caps 258
54 6N caps 102
0 6N debutants 2
27.7 Average age 26.8
1 change to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v Ireland)
- 8 – Bradbury for Haining [+]
Stuart Hogg (c)
Owen Farrell (c)
Backs – advantage England
Expected to follow in their dad’s footsteps. Overshadowed by their more recognisable competition at standoff. Both bloody good players in their own right. Adam Hastings and George Ford have plenty in common. Ford has experience on his side. Hastings has a supreme self-confidence almost as blinding as his teeth. Things happen when players like these are on the ball.
Their half-back partners have equally significant opportunities to break out of the shadows of previous incumbents. At 33 years of age though, Willi Heinz might not be one for the long term. Ali Price on the other hand (pushed hard by George Horne and maybe others) could make the Scotland number 9 shirt his own following the retirement of Greig Laidlaw.
Forwards – advantage England
Based on player weights taken from the respective unions’ squad lists it appears that Scotland have a size advantage in both the tight 5 and the back row. That may seem counterfactual to generations of Scotland fans raised on a diet of seeing their heroes bullied by other nations’ behemoths. It’s not just size that matters though. Aggression and a commitment to raw physicality are required at this level and these haven’t always been instinctive Scottish traits.
This side has its fair share of spiky characters and demonstrated against Ireland an unwillingness to back down and an ability to go toe to toe with a pack replete with 5 British and Irish Lions. England’s selection includes another 5 Lions with 1 more on the bench. It doesn’t get any easier and this is going to be one hell of a challenge for Scotland’s young group of forwards.
Subs– advantage England
The 6 forwards, 2 backs split on the bench for England is an intriguing one. Followers of Scottish rugby will know that if their team attempted such manoeuvres among the replacements then Murphy’s law would be engaged. There would undoubtedly be a couple of injuries in the outside backs and a scrum-half playing on the wing before the first quarter of the match had been completed!
Bench composition is nearly always a series of compromises at best and a downright gamble at worst. If weather driven by Storm Clara closes in, it’s an arm wrestle and the subs can all be tactical, Eddie Jones will probably look like a genius. If it’s all running rugby and his hand is forced by injuries it could look a bit silly. Unlike us armchair experts, however, international coaches have to make a decision and live or die by it….
– One change to the starting XV and two changes to the 23 are the equal fewest alterations made by Gregor Townsend during his time as Scotland head coach.
– Sean Maitland has scored a try in 7 of his last 10 games at Murrayfield for Scotland. Huw Jones has notched 10 scores in 17 appearances at the national stadium for club and country.
– How relevant are past results given the differences in playing personnel? From the last time these sides clashed at Murrayfield there are 26 changes in the combined 23s. Even compared to the match in London last season there will be 21 fresh faces. Just 4 players in the starting XVs for this game also started in both 2018 and 2019 – Sean Maitland and Hamish Watson for Scotland and Jonny May and Owen Farrell for England.
– At the start of the 2023 World Cup cycle, England have 7 players aged 29 or older in their lineup (5 starters and 2 subs) who might be considered unlikely to make it to France in just under 4 years’ time. Scotland have 6 in the 29+ bracket (2 starters and 4 subs).
– Since their loss at Murrayfield in 2018, England have only won three times in the Six Nations. That’s their equal worst return of victories from a sequence of nine matches since the tournament expanded in 2000.
Missed part 1? Check it out here. Featuring the previous history between these two sides; England scouting report; and Scotland’s record with M. Gauzere as referee.