Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


Scotland v England, Six Nations 2020: Match Preview pt II – head to heads

Scotland v England
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

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

Tries   78
   Average weight   90kg
Total caps   298
6N caps   120
6N debutants   0
Average age   28.3

   Pack weight   873kg
Tries   14
Total caps   256
6N caps   106
6N debutants   0
Average age   26.2

Tries   21
141   Total caps   258
6N caps   102
6N debutants   2
Average age   26.8


1 change to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v Ireland)

  • 8 – Bradbury for Haining [+]


Stuart Hogg (c)
Sean Maitland
Huw Jones
Sam Johnson
Blair Kinghorn
Adam Hastings
Ali Price

Rory Sutherland
Fraser Brown
Zander Fagerson
Scott Cummings
Jonny Gray
Jamie Ritchie
Hamish Watson
Magnus Bradbury

Stuart McInally
Allan Dell
Simon Berghan
Ben Toolis
Nick Haining
George Horne
Rory Hutchinson
Chris Harris

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

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

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

George Furbank
Jonny May
Jonathan Joseph
Owen Farrell (c)
Elliot Daly
George Ford
Willi Heinz

Mako Vunipola
Jamie George
Kyle Sinckler
Maro Itoje
George Kruis
Lewis Ludlam
Sam Underhill
Tom Curry

Tom Dunn
Ellis Genge
Will Stuart
Joe Launchbury
Courtney Lawes
Ben Earl
Ben Youngs
Ollie Devoto


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.

31 Responses

  1. Very pleasing to see, for the second week in a row, we are the younger team (save for the bench). This gives a bit of confidence for the future and that this squad can really build on something.
    Confidence from the present comes from the significantly better try/cap ratio we are seeing. Although we seem to have dried up a little in that department, you can always count on a few scores on the home turf.

    I think the battle of the backrows will be very crucial and ours will really have their work cut out. As soon as it seems like the English lads are tiring, they are able to replace their BIL engine room with a completely fresh BIL engine room. Almost seems unfair! Could also limit the impact of G Horne coming on as the legs he is running at won’t be so sluggish.

    Cannae wait for the match, hoping it is another one for the ages!

  2. Interested to see that we are heavier in the forwards and backs. Is that a first against England?

  3. How many of the England 23 are experiencing The Calcutta Cup for the first time and how many are having their first Six Nations season even though they may have had one test last week?

    1. 7 playing their first Six Nations season for England (3 starters and 4 subs) and it’s the same players who are first-timers for the Calcutta Cup as well.

      3 Scots who hadn’t played Six Nations before last week (all on the bench – Haining, Horne, Hutchinson). Another 2 who haven’t played a Calcutta Cup match before – Sutherland and Ritchie.

  4. My big worry is that Hastings will be targeted by the less, er, civilised members of the England team in the knowledge that we don’t have proper backup at 10. Lose him and the ride is apt to become more than a little bumpy.

    1. They will also have knowledge of Hutchinson cutting them open for fun in the Premiership over the last year and a half (admittedly from centre) so not going to be too keen to see him running at them.

      1. I’m looking forward to seeing what Hutch can do in Scotland colours – at centre. Asking him to step into the breach at 10 in the fury of a Calcutta Cup game would be one heck of a big ask.

  5. I don’t see, necessarily, why wet and windy makes for an arm wrestle. Kicking obviously affected, but running rugby can be just as good.

    Different era, but see NZ vs Australia Wellington 1996 for inspiration…6 tries for NZ (only 2 converted)

    1. Dunno if you have ran on wet grass before…but it slows you down..because you are always conscious of losing your footing…its just like driving…you drop your speed to achieve control. Windy affects you also because you have to think harder about when and where you throw the ball…especially loop passes.
      Kicking turns into a total lottery in high winds.
      If its a slugfest…England will be more happy with that…if we dont make good decisions and execute them…it’ll be a long unpleasant 80mins!

      1. I love running on wet grass…especially against heavier & less well balanced opposition. Like a hot knife through butter. Admittedly my local touch league is not the Calcutta Cup.

        I think guys with good balance and good hands can thrive if given opportunity. See Cullen & Zinzan in the above game…

        May and Daly will be a handful but plenty of good feet in our backs too…handling is the main issue.

        I just think too many teams mentally put adventurous play away as soon as it gets wet/windy. It suits us to keep the tempo up I think.

  6. Gotta say, I don’t see the logic behind Sinckler being seen as better than Fagerson. Both are active in the loose, but Fagerson is the better scrummager. The only rationale I can think of is that Sinckler was a Lion, but had someone other than Roundtree been forwards coach, would he have made it?

    1. I don’t really get it either. Zander showed real promise when he made his debut in, I think, 2016 when we had a bit of a tight head crisis. Didn’t pull up trees but did reasonably well, indeed exceptionally well for a young prop thrown into Test matches.
      For a couple of years or so after that he seemed more interested in practising his handbag skills.
      He appears to have recovered his scrummaging prowess and regained more self-control this season – for club and country.
      I didn’t rate Mako as a scrummager in 2013 and for a few years after that, but I do think his propping has improved and his loose work has always been impressive. Should be an interesting match-up between the two tomorrow.
      Hoping our forwards keep their cool tomorrow while maintaining the aggression that took that Ireland pack by surprise last week, because the England pack will be desperate to exhibit the ‘brutality’ that Eddie promised and they didn’t deliver in Paris last week.
      I foresee a couple or more yellows tomorrow in a right ding-ding up front.
      Come on, Scotland!

      1. Agree the yellow card risk is high. I worry about Zander. A couple of dodgy clear-outs v Ireland that went largely un_commented on amongst all the other ruck shenanigans.
        Got to be smart with the ref and ensure Hastings is protected. The forward battle will be interesting.

      2. Zander was on the limit in the last game. Hopefully someone’s had a word with him in the post match analysis of the breakdown about his clearout technique. We don’t wont him carded or a self inflicted neck injury. If we’re going to be successful in this game we’re going to need controlled aggression for 80 minutes and all the players on the pitch.

  7. I have some trepidation about this match. A lot of people talking up Scotland and talking down England.

    Bookies have England as 7 point favorites.

    England’s scrum destroyed France’s.

    This is normally when we fall flat on our faces. Only a week ago we were talking about not winning a game this year now we’re going to beat the world cup finalists.
    We’re never as bad as we think we are.
    We’re never as good as we think we are. I’m keeping my expectations firmly in check this week.

    1. I feel trepidation too, but it’s the weight of punter money in favour of a sizeable England win that leads the bookies to offer a seven point handicap.
      It was punter money that led to Ireland being offered winners at evens with -14 points, and look what happened there.
      I resisted the temptation to back us at plus 14 last week, and will resist a very tempting plus 7 for tomorrow.

    2. They only destroyed the French scrum when Bamba came on. He seems to have been promoted way beyond his ability.

  8. Wonder if Farrell, Itoje etc might be upset at possible outing from ERC for Sarries. Maitland might be, too, I suppose. Chance for a little sledging in any case.

  9. its interesting…..really interesting, they haven’t got an 8 or a real brute going forward, they have brutes but nothing to replace BV or MT. Their whole revolves around forward dominance. Their backs look average (in comparison to recent years). Farrell was poor last week, aimless kicking, nothing going forward, if he struggles, England struggle, Then the weather……………. who wins?, its tight.

    1. England do have a bruiser and very good in form #8 in Sam Simmonds…and Jones completely ignored him! Bizarre.
      Curry is a very very good 6&7….but he isnt even close to being an 8. Ludlam??….Meh! bang average!
      Underhill ..very good player.

      1. Ludlam’s selection is so weird… From what I’ve seen of the premiership, Ludlam has been reasonably good (similar to Furbank) for an overperforming Saints side. Yet they have Simmonds, Dombrandt, Earl and Jack Willis who have all been (among) the best players in their team this season.

        Who knows… the luxury of being the England coach I guess.

        Agreed that Underhill and Curry are both class flankers though,

  10. Whatever happened to Nathan Hughes, wasn’t he “stolen” to play 8?

    I meant 8 or bruiser in the squad.

    If we play properly, stay calm & lady luck smiles upon us we should go close.

    1. Nathan Hughes is more comfortable in the wide channels than doing a BV impression, if memory serves.

  11. Hearing that Toonie tapped up Aidan Ross of the Chiefs and Fraser Armstrong from the Highlanders for this 6N tournament but both turned him down due to the super rugby season kicking off. Both interested in the fixtures later in the year though.

  12. Watched the U20 match, big crowd, looked really good. Deserved to win but England were more clinical. This must be a totally different set of players from the ones who had a nightmare the last year or 2?

    1. Lots of returnees and the extra year physical maturity makes a big difference + they’ve been involved in S6.
      They were leading into the final Q and just need the confidence to get over the line in those tight games but it will come if performance stays high.

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Scottish Rugby News and Opinion