Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


6 Nations England v Scotland Match Preview pt I

England vs Scotland
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

KO 4.45 at Twickenham Stadium
Saturday 6th February 2021

Live on ITV1

Let’s get the doom and gloom out of the way early:

  • Scotland have won one match at Twickenham in the previous 50 years.
  • The last victory for the dark blues is so long ago that not only were none of the current players born but Cameron Redpath’s dad, Bryan, was himself only 11 when Scotland triumphed 22-12 in 1983.
  • Australia 2015, one minute to play…
  • England 2019, time up on the clock…

But on the bright side….erm…Scotland won the last 46 minutes they played at Twickenham by 38 – 7.

England Scouting Report


During the Autumn Nations Cup England’s efforts were angled towards dominating possession and territory, using their kicking game to control where they were working with the ball. Georgia struggled to get out of their own half. Wales were barely allowed a sniff of the England 22 (just 46 seconds of possession in the red zone). Even the French, despite a remarkable effort in the final with an understrength team, spent just 27 seconds in the England 22 – compared to 8 minutes 39 seconds for England in the French 22.

In their second match of the tournament though Ireland’s ability to hang on to the ball for phase after phase and play a similarly controlled kicking game saw the English have to turn into counter punchers. They worked off minimal possession and time spent in the Irish half but still ran out comfortable winners.

The lesson for Scotland is that they themselves will need to be flexible. Even if the Scots can impose themselves early on they have to be prepared for their hosts to change things up to find a more successful formula.

Ruck Speed

In each of their Autumn Nations Cup fixtures bar the game against Ireland, the English managed consistently higher ruck speeds than their opponents. Until they came up against France less than 10% of England’s rucks took 6+ seconds to recycle (the French managed to increase this to 20% for the final although this was also the game that the English had the highest percentage of lightning-fast ruck ball – less than 3 seconds).

Scotland’s defence has generally been much more solid in the last year or so but they cannot afford to be exposed by quick ruck ball. England’s heavy brigade of forward carriers and their rapid outside backs are well capable of making mincemeat of disorganised defences. Even if they cannot effect turnovers, Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie’s ability to get involved at the breakdown and slow ball could hugely benefit Scotland’s ability to keep the pressure up in defence.

Kicking Variety

Of late Scotland have been heavily reliant on their 9, 10 and 15 when it comes to the kicking game. By comparison England have far more options available with Owen Farrell, Ollie Lawrence and Henry Slade in the centres as well as Jonny May on the wing all contributing 50+ kicking metres in games during the Autumn Nations Cup.

That variety makes it far more difficult to defend than a kicking game coming almost exclusively from the halfback channel. With kicks such an important part of a team’s attacking weaponry as a way to beat packed defensive alignments, England have a distinct advantage here.

It’s an area the introduction of Cameron Redpath into the Scottish squad will be intended to improve. On Saturday though, much will depend on how well Scotland play without the ball and whether they can effectively close down and cover the English kicking game.


  • Owen Farrell’s tackle stats during the Autumn Nations Cup were 19 made and 3 missed for his starts at stand off compared to 8 made and 9 missed for his games at inside centre.
  • The sheer force of Billy Vunipola’s carrying certainly draws the eye. It’s the relentless nature of his work that makes him so central to England’s plans though. Not only was he the top carrier among the English forwards in each of their Autumn Nations Cup games but he was also the top tackler in 3 of the 4 fixtures (3rd top v Georgia).
  • The English setpiece is a well-oiled machine. They only lost 1 scrum and had just a single lineout stolen during the Autumn Nations Cup. They won 13 scrum penalties while conceding 6 for a net gain of +7.

Previous results

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


The most recent meeting at Twickenham (start the video at 2:26 and stop it at 5:16 – don’t torture yourself…)

England 38 – 38 Scotland

Significant stat
The entire match was just madness from start to finish. There were 80 missed tackles across the two sides – and two defence coaches crying in the corners of Twickenham. The Scots missed more tackles in all but the English tackle completion dipped down to 77%. The only teams with a lower percentage against Scotland in the last 4 years are Georgia (on their 2019 trip to Murrayfield) and Russia who both managed a lowly 76%. Let’s be honest, it’s not often those sides are being compared to England…

The rather bewildered Scottish Rugby Blog match report is here.


Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland)
Assistant Referee 1: Pascal Gauzere (France)
Assistant Referee 2: Mathieu Raynal (France)
TMO: Joy Neville (Ireland)

Mr Brace was scheduled to take charge of Scotland’s Autumn Nations’ Cup clash with Fiji before it was cancelled. They still have recent experience with the Irish ref though, after he whistled Wales for 16 penalties in the delayed Six Nations’ fixture played in November. Given how frequently he has refereed both Edinburgh and Glasgow as well there should certainly be no excuse for not knowing his tendencies and the best way to communicate with him.

M Gauzere is AR1 for both of Scotland’s opening fixtures in the 2021 Six Nations. The man who has taken charge of more Scotland games than anyone else in the last four years would be in line for his 13th Test involving the dark blues if there are any injuries to the matchday refs.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr Brace in charge:

  • 2018 – beat Fiji (H)
    Penalties: 20 (For 12 – 8 Against)
    Cards: 2 YCs for Fiji
  • 2020 – beat Wales (A)
    Penalties: 26 (For 16 – 6 Against)
    Cards: none

Part II of the preview, including the head to heads, will follow on Friday after the team announcement on Thursday.

34 Responses

  1. Well that was a welcome antidote to the obviously unfounded hope that had started to bubble up.

    Any win at Twickenham would be a massive upset. The best that can be said is surely we have to win again there eventually.

    We have to find a way to disrupt England’s attack, hang in there for the first quarter to steady the early onslaught and then maintain composure and concentration for 80minutes. Do that and we have an outside chance of a result.

    1. Lost one, drawn one, won one in the last three years. No crowd. Let’s not beat ourselves!

      Man for man – this Scotland side depending on the XV has every chance.

      1. Still a long shot but you never know…doubt an early lead for Englamd will be to Scots advantage again and a big lead for Scots although welcome would make me nervous through the hope given…

  2. Here is one to get us moving. Has there ever been a number 8 to equal Iain Paxton in a Scottish Jersey. Just look at him charging up the pitch ball in hand against Wales. Join around about 1 min 10 seconds. Great moments. BTW I think Richie Gray has to start this weekend. This is a game where size counts.

    1. I tend to agree about big Richie. I’ve always thought Jonny plays better at international level next to Richie whose bulk and height will go well to shoring up the set piece early doors and putting the ‘right’ thoughts in the refs mind.

      Bring on Cummings with his great athleticism with 20 to go.

  3. The thing that gets me most about England (as opposed to say France or New Zealand) is not so much the (usually) negative results but it’s the way they play.

    Boring is not the word…more like stifling.

    They have superb talent in the squad for an open game, but that is very much plan C.

  4. As with virtually all matches, it all comes down to the pack. If we are able to maintain quick ball and get over the gain line I genuinely feel we have the backs to exploit space. It has to be the near perfect performance from us, ie playing on the edge but no penalties. Players like Richie and Turner are so often on the wrong side of the ref, this is the area that could cost us the game.

    I hope we see plenty of strike runners cutting good angles and, after a few phases, Russell given free reign to call something. Conservative play from us plays right to their strengths.

    I hope Redpath is at least on the bench but have a feeling it’ll be VDW and Jones covering centre and back three with Taylor and Harris starting.

    It’s the hope that kills you…

    1. I’m fairly confident Redpath will start. Bench is a bit of puzzle – guess it will be Steele, VDW and Taylor.

      Really harsh on Jones who looks like he’s getting back to his best.

      1. Tend to agree with you but I’d love to see a bench of Dobie (I know he’s young but I genuinely think he has x-factor) VDW & Jones, who’s form has been great and Taylor has played little top level rugby this year.

      2. I’m not sure why there’s a clamour for VDW on the bench. He can only cover stand off and would only enter the field there if Finn was injured.

        I’m not sure what the odds would be on your stand off getting injured (15% chance maybe?), but if we were to lose Finn either Redpath or Lang could cover from the 23. This would give us a lot more options to make changes to the back line and ensure we keep Finn at s/o unless he gets hurt.

      3. Yeah, I don’t think JVDW is going to get many caps for Scotland.

        But I also can’t imagine making a debutant cover 10 when it isn’t their regular position. I haven’t seen much of Lang at 10. Maybe he’s decent but I’m assuming he is no better than ok. Ultimately the bench is balancing covering risk with getting impact. I feel you need a specialist 10, or at least someone playing there regularly, at this level. JVDW tackles v well and has a boot on him – in a crisis he’d be fine. Not sure why Lang would be considered a better option tbh.

      4. You would only have Lang on the bench paired with a back three, not a centre. Otherwise you’re changing both your centres (assuming 10 doesn’t get injured) or you’re leaving someone on the bench for the full game. I reckon the fact Jones covers 15 gives him the edge for the bench and pairs well with vdw who only covers 10. Agree it would be a bit much to have Redpath covering 10 on his first game and also don’t see him being on the bench with Jones. Assuming Taylor and Harris start, the bench will either be vdw and redpath/jones or Lang and Graham/maitland. If it’s vdw and redpath then Harris covers wing. I think this is the least likely as they only over 10/12 so you’re relying on players on the pitch to move which doesn’t help. Of course, this could all be nonsense!

      5. Huw Jones problems started when he arrived at Glasgow and became a Scotland squad member. The late, Bill McLaren used to say he never coached a player, he allowed them to develop natural skills: he was no advocate of heavy coaching . I think the Huw jones problems are all about coaches trying to coach him and inadvertently supressing the instinctive nature, of his flair.

        So for me , he is better miles away from this set up , until he gets a new club that will allow him to flourish.

        Now compare Harris, in my opinion , he needs coaching and benefits from it. He is that way inclined, comes across as still learning. Toony , well , he likes compliance IMO, a partnership made in heaven.

        I would be more concerned if he did pick Huw Jones as I don’t think we will get the real Huw Jones back in a Scotland Jersey in this set up.

  5. Seen a few reports that England are wanting to change their attacking shape so they can rip teams apart. I fully expect them to try and start that against us this weekend so I hope we keep some flexibility to react to what they bring and not leave it to half time to review the tactics.

    I think the key to playing against the English is speed and precision. In other words fast rucking, accurate passing, avoid turnovers and minimise the penalty count.

    1. Also worth pointing out however that Jones said back in the Autumn that he wasn’t going to do too much work on the attack until the summer tour (if it goes ahead,) and with their skills coach stuck in Australia thanks to Covid I doubt they’re suddenly going to start flinging it around like the Baabaas. I suspect that we’ll continue to see the sort of rugby we saw in the autumn from all sides involved, at least in the early rounds of the tournament

      1. He has been the constant through the defensive revival…
        So I think that’s very harsh…he has now scored tries and rarely makes mistakes now and has become very solid for Scotland

  6. I agree with Border Badger with Cummings hitting the last 20ish minutes taking and making big hits. Turner if he can channel his focus has massive potential to be a real pain in the backside. So is the consensus that Graham starts at 8. It’s the centre partnership which take my focus once the team is announced. Taylor I’m not sure. Does the squad video launched today give it away Redpath to start??!!!

  7. England starting with Farrell at 10 and Lawrence at 12. They’ve gone with Wilson in the backrow and Lawes in bench duty.

    Pack still looks formidable but having Ford on bench might mean they are sticking with more conservative game plan?

  8. Redpath starts opposite Lawrence, his England u20 centre partner. Maitland starts, no Graham. Gary Graham on bench and Fagerson keeps his place. Jones on bench.

    Fairy happy with team – some bold choices and some impact from the bench.

    Let the unfounded hoping commence!

    1. I just don’t see what Matt Fagerson brings to be honest. He’s an honest player with some decent skills and he’s an above average Pro 14 player but isn’t international class, always seems underpowered in my opinion. I appreciate we’re not particular blessed with lots of options at 8 however so I wish him luck. That back row will be in for a long afternoon.

    2. As happy with that team as I was ever going to be.
      Injuries have taken a bit of a toll and some players are never going to be dropped.
      Some of the subs are a bit of a concern if there are early injuries.
      Really hope Jones comes on and capitalises on the opportunity.

  9. A pretty settled Scotland side now.

    This one is going to be a real test for VDM, he is a great attacking talent but he is going to be turned a lot and under a lot of high ball in this one.

    I would have rather seen an other option than VDW on the bench, but that is about my only issue with it.

    1. Ting: Why would this be such a test for VDM more than any other ? At 6 ft 3 he has nothing to fear from a High Ball IMO and from what I recall mops it up like any other.

      I agree it is time to see the benefits of a ‘settled side’ Toony has only changed 5 players in the 15. (A third , one man in every three is changed) The bench has forced changes , perhaps not as ‘settled’ as it might initially appear ! However not as random as usual either , I will give you that.

      1. Ford and Farrell are probably the two best tactical kickers going, Watson is pretty excellent under the high ball, a standard way above the Pro 14. I expect England to put a fair bit of pressure on VDM both with the high ball and kicks in behind to get him turned around, it is going to be a pretty big test of his defense, a level far above what he has seen before, I don’t think that is that controversial a statement TBH.

        I would rather Townsend made changes than picked players who are injured to be fair, be pretty grim and shan selecting guys like McInally and Brown (when injured) and leaving out Finn (injured at the time) Watson (rested at the time) just for the sake of pleasing folks on the internet…. there are often reasons behind changes…. it takes about 20 seconds of work to see the logic in 4 of the changes v the Ireland game.

      2. England will be kicking to everyone , why are you picking on VDM and not Maitland for example ? I think it would be fair to say the whole of the back three will be under a high ball and turning , especially when Hogg is forward as he often is in his capacity as an attacking fullback . Now that reads more like the position IMO. It is not just VDM who will be tested and he would not be there if Toony thought it was beyond him.

      3. I wasn’t really “picking” on VDM, you are being a bit over sensitive there… it was general shooting the sh*t analysis that goes on before sports games…

  10. I am happy with the selection. Whilst i don’t think a victory is on the cards a close game is a possibility. Parity in the scrum is important in this fixture so Let’s hope that Sutherland discovers the form he found at the start of last years 6 nations and Fagerson senior doesn’t fall foul of the ref. When he first appeared on the scene he had a reputation for breaking all records in the gym and ‘ripping up trees’ but although he is always a presence in the loose i have not witnessed any improved scrummaging dominance.
    Lots of doubt over Fagerson junior but i think he has the attributes for the position, he has good hands and is very mobile and has the ballast, perhaps being young he just hasn’t acquired the confidence that comes with age. For all those shouting for Gary Graham, lets hope to see a point of difference when he gets on.
    As for Cameron Redpath, lots of shouts going around the country for him to be parachuted straight in the team where previously there was no mention. I don’t know where this blind optimism comes from that we’d rather throw a new name in rather than blood him properly against a weaker team and use someone with pedigree. I hope it works , and we do need some guile in the centre because Harris isn’t going to do it on his own. Ritchie Gray on the bench is a welcome addition but rightly don’t need him to start as his scrummaging assistance is poor, coming on later with Nel and Keble should see no real deterioration in performance.

  11. The battle of the 12s is going to be really interesting. I do hope Toony has been on the phone to Duncan Weir, with Russell and Redpath, to find out as much as he can about Ollie Lawrence and what his weaknesses are. Good luck to Cammy Redpath and the rest of the team.

  12. Very happy with the team and think there’s some real firepower on the bench. Wouldn’t be surprised to see redpath and Harris switch sometimes in defence as Harris is a strong defender. Redpath will know Lawrence’s game well from u20s and playing him in the prem.

    With the exception of Hogg there’s not a lot of out and out pace in the backs but I think redpath and Russell will link very well and put less pressure on Hogg to come in as second receiver so hopefully he has more space out wide.

    Kebble, Gray and Graham to come on for the forwards is exciting too, hope they get on early enough to make an impact as I often feel Toony is a slow subber.

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