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