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Scotland v England: Six Nations 2022, Match Preview pt I

Scotland v England
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

KO 4.45 at Murrayfield
Saturday 5th February 2022

Live on BBC1

As the Six Nations kicks off, Scotland are looking for their third win against England in the last five tournaments. To put that into context this would be the same number of victories over the Auld Enemy that the dark blues managed in the previous 27 iterations of the championship. Scotland have not won back to back matches against the English since the fixtures in 1983 and 1984.

Scotland’s Calcutta Cup wins (12) and draws (5) in the last 50 years:

  • 2021 – won at Twickenham
  • 2019 – drew at Twickenham
  • 2018 – won at Murrayfield
  • 2010 – drew at Murrayfield
  • 2008 – won at Murrayfield
  • 2006 – won at Murrayfield
  • 2000 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1990 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1989 – drew at Twickenham
  • 1986 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1984 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1983 – won at Twickenham
  • 1982 – drew at Murrayfield
  • 1979 – drew at Twickenham
  • 1976 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1974 – won at Murrayfield
  • 1972 – won at Murrayfield

England Scouting Report

Tenacious D

Scotland dominated the last Calcutta Cup encounter between these sides. 65% possession. 70% territory. 11 clean breaks to nil. 29 tackle breaks to 11. There are very few games in the Townsend era that come close to these kind of numbers. Ultimately though the gap on the scoreboard was narrow enough that one error at the end and England could still have come out victorious.

To put it plainly, Eddie Jones’ side were pretty dreadful in the opening fixture last year but, as a team built in their coach’s own image, even then they remained tenacious, obdurate and hard to subdue. The Scots can point to some of their own inaccuracies but despite almost nothing working for them, England still kept making the hits and challenging every facet of the game with their physicality.

It’s highly unlikely that the visitors will be as poor this time round. With Marcus Smith running the show the threats will be varied and tough to defend. Even so, the fundamental test for Gregor Townsend’s men will still be maintaining their own standards in the face of an onslaught – England are ‘coming to get Scotland’ after all. If the home side can live with their visitors’ relentless physicality (something they struggled with in the autumn against South Africa) it will be game on.

The Only Discipline Is Indiscipline

Last season at Twickenham, England conceded 15 penalties in their defeat to Scotland. Against South Africa in the Autumn Nations Series that number crept up to 18. Their tally of 67 for the last Six Nations was the equal worst record alongside Italy – and 20 more than both France and Ireland conceded. Maro Itoje (12) and Mako Vunipola (9) were right at the top of the tree for individual penalty counts.

Scotland themselves have been pretty solid in this area. Two poorish games against France apart (16 pens at Murrayfield in 2020 and 15 at Stade de France in 2021 – both still wins though) the dark blues are averaging in single digits for penalties conceded across the last couple of years.

The Scots need to pressure England at every turn to try and stimulate this thread of indiscipline that has run through most of the recent games where the visitors have been tested. Meanwhile Scotland themselves need to keep their noses clean and maintain their recent solid streak in the crime count.

Miscellaneous

  • England had to mix and match their props a bit but would still have been disappointed with conceding 10 scrum penalties in the 2021 Six Nations, the second highest tally behind Italy.
  • The English made the fewest carries (502) and second fewest passes (666) in last year’s tournament. They may well feel it’s better to double down on this risk averse strategy though – they only made 454 carries and 590 passes while winning the 2020 championship.
  • What might have been lacking in the 2021 edition was an effective kicking game. 5,496 metres kicked – the most in the 2020 Six Nations – became just 3,874 last season, behind France, Wales and Ireland.
  • Henry Slade (13) and Tom Curry (11) ranked third and fourth highest for missed tackles behind a pair of Italians in 2021. Curry could at least point to the most dominant tackles in the tournament (7) in mitigation as he targeted the big hits.

Previous results

This will be the 12th time the two sides have played at Murrayfield in a Six Nations’ match. The head to head looks like this from Scotland’s perspective:

W L L W W D L L L W L

Most recent meeting in Edinburgh:

Scotland 6 – 13 England

(8 minutes of highlights? From that game? Someone’s having a laugh…)

Significant stat
79 – kicks in the game. That’s the most in any fixture during the Townsend era. It’s a close run thing though with 78 kicks in last season’s Calcutta Cup match. These sides even managed to squeeze 63 kicks in amongst all the tries in the 38 all draw at Twickenham in 2019! Even if conditions are conducive to running rugby it might be reasonable to still expect a fair amount of hoofing the ball on Saturday.

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

Officials

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant Referee 1: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referee 2: Craig Evans (Wales)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

Scotland have a pretty good record with Mr O’Keeffe as referee – although this will be the first time they won’t be the ‘big’ team in the fixture. The Kiwi whistler has yet to experience a full noise Murrayfield on a Six Nations’ weekend. While he will no doubt be able to block out the helpful souls pointing out that every single thing he is doing is wrong, the influence of a partisan, noisy crowd is always likely to give the home side a bit of an edge.

There’s also the chance to impress next week’s ref as AR1, Mr Berry, will be taking charge of Wales v Scotland in Cardiff.

Scotland’s previous games with Mr O’Keeffe in charge:

  • 2016 – beat Japan (A)
    Penalties: 27 (For 16 – 11 Against)
    Cards: Japan 2 YCs
  • 2016 – beat Argentina (H)
    Penalties: 20 (For 11 – 9 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2019 – lost to Japan (A)
    Penalties: 11 (For 7 – 4 Against)
    Cards: none
  • 2020 – beat Italy (A)
    Penalties: 18 (For 8 – 10 Against)
    Cards: Italy 1 YC

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

Scotland team to face England: Stuart Hogg, Darcy Graham, Chris Harris, Sam Johnson, Duhan Van der Merwe, Finn Russell, Ali Price; Rory Sutherland, George Turner, Zander Fagerson, Jonny Gray, Grant Gilchrist, Jamie Ritchie, Hamish Watson, Matt Fagerson.
Replacements: Stuart McInally, Pierre Schoeman, WP Nel, Sam Skinner, Magnus Bradbury, Ben White, Blair Kinghorn, Sione Tuipulotu.

England team: Freddie Steward, Max Malins, Elliot Daly, Henry Slade, Joe Marchant, Marcus Smith, Ben Youngs; Ellis Genge, Luke Cowan-Dickie, Kyle Sinckler, Maro Itoje, Nick Isiekwe, Lewis Ludlam, Tom Curry (capt), Sam Simmonds.
Replacements: Jamie George, Joe Marler, Will Stuart, Charlie Ewels, Alex Dombrandt, Harry Randall, George Ford, Jack Nowell.

40 Responses

  1. It’s interesting looking at the lineups from last year’s Twickenham victory. Out of our starting xv from last year it is highly possible the only change will be in the shape of Sean Maitland. Whereas England will have a host of changes due to injury or players no longer on form.

    If you’re a glass half full person you could claim Scotland are the far more settled side and this will benefit us. However, in reality their changes make them look a different beast:
    Dombrandt/Simmonds playing for better than Billy V
    Sinkler is better than Stuart
    Lawes is better than Wilson
    Smith is playing better and more expansively than Farrell
    Atkinson has more to his game than Lawrence
    Steward is more threatening and better in the air than Daly

    I suppose these guys are all quite green with single figure caps but the fact that Jones is finally picking on form rather than his old faithful is quite a worry!

    For what it’s worth, I think we will have a stronger bench than last time which should significantly help.

    1. It’s hard to say whether England’s new look back row and midfield will ultimately benefit them or not, whether they take time to settle as units and into the test environment or not. Ultimately though, playing at a packed Murrayfield should be a big factor and Scotland having a fairly settled side should give us confidence. If we lose we are in dire straits in this championship so it is a bit of an acid test for our progress.

      I’m much warier of Wales and Ireland. Scottish fans have started assuming the Italy game is a gimme but our record against Wales and Ireland in the last decade is pretty much comparable to Italy’s record against us. We should be cautious about the Italian threat and humble about our chances in Cardiff or Dublin. Even 3 wins in this championship should be a satisfying return, even if we all dream of more.

  2. Jamie Bhatti has withdrawn from Scotland’s squad and replaced by Alan Dell. Josh Bayliss is remaining with Bath due to his concussion.

    1. Hard to understand why Kebble wouldn’t be brought in at this stage. The only assumption I can make is that they don’t want to deplete the Glasgow front row at this time.

  3. Maybe stating the obvious but I think this weekend will be vitally important to our 6N campaign, win and we will be on the front foot, lose and it’ll be the same old again. Ireland in Dublin is a big ask, they seem to be our bogey team recently other than the win in 2017 with THAT try from Hoggy.

    France, who knows. Our record against them recently has been very good but I don’t think they will care about that. We should beat Wales on paper and on grass but most people should have been capable of beating Wales recently and it hasn’t happened, they continue to win regularly and consistently for no apparent reason other than bloody minded determination. As ever, give Italy the respect they deserve, we have had a bloody nose off them far too many times to be mentally taking 5 points before the game or fielding a B team. We have been better the last few years at putting them away like the other teams do but nervy wins with shoogley looking penalties in the last minute are fresh in my mind as is that game in 2007…

    We do have a settled side and that should help. I hope with Gray and Cummings coming back in we will have a bit more fire power up front, I think teams know they just need to batter us up front and we won’t be able to deal with it, the hail Mary’s will start and the errors will creep in compounding our woes. However if we get parity we have shown for some time now that no one is safe. Hopefully Finn and Hoggy can fully utilise the 50:22, I do worry about our lack of a proper goal kicking machine though. I know we probably have slightly unrealistic views due to having had two of the best goal kickers of all time in Paterson and Laidlaw. We really need someone that is kicking regularly for their club, Finns not bad but that’s about it, I hope he has been practicing. What is Hogg like? His record for Scotland is quite poor but I think that’s mainly because he is taking a punt at ones from the half way line and not “normal” kicks.

    Wonder what Sean Maitland has done to piss on Toonies chips, I know he’s getting on a bit now and probably doesn’t have that long left but he should make the WC next year injuries aside. I have always liked him, a class, clever and sensible player, sound defensively and will rarely make a mistake. I feel he’s a more steadying influence whereas Finn, Hoggy and others can start getting a bit wild when the desperation sets in. I would probably still have him starting in front of Darcy Graham.

    1. As ever, the first up game is almost do-or-die in this Championship. Win and it sets us up nicely for a chance to win away against a depleted Wales. Then have the confidence to beat France again – at home this time – and an easy win away to Italy to set us up for a Grand Slam decider in Dublin.
      Of course, if we lose it’s a tricky trip to Cardiff followed by the very strong favourites, France and the possibility of slipping up in Rome, Wooden Spoon on the line.
      However, our inconsistency makes me believe that neither the GS nor the Wooden Spoon is ours this year. Even if we lose on Saturday, we have the players and experience to bounce back against Wales and even if we win the Calcutta Cup we have the ability to implode in Cardiff.
      On Maitland – he will be 35 by the time of the next RWC and that’s old for a prop, never mind a winger. His selection would be a step backwards, IMO, when you have the likes of DVDM, Graham, McLean and Rowe in the squad.

      1. And not a single one of those is a patch on Sean’s defensive ability, game reading even at his age.
        IMO

    2. Agree on Maitland – huge fan. Graham and McLean are essentially a very similar proposition (whoever’s in best form should simply get in) but Maitland, like DVDM, offers something unique to all the others. And agree that temperatment and decision-making under pressure are still two of our biggest question marks – and he is unmatched on that in our backline, even ahead of Hogg IMO. Would feel better if he was in the squad.. Having said that, our other wingers are also class – I just hope we haven’t pushed out sean unnecessarily when we might need a change in the game.

    3. PS – agree on the kicking – Finn is actually good, but he is literally the only good (and not event great) kicker in the whole squad I think? Which makes it all the more puzzling as to why Hastings isn’t in the training squad. Along with multiple other puzzling questions relating to that decision…..

  4. I truly believe that if we manage to keep all 15 players on the pitch for the full 80 minutes we should win this. Discipline is key in frustrating the English, especially at home as if we’re still in touch at 60 minutes the crowd (and maybe a bit of magic) will carry us over the line.

  5. I see the weather forecast is looking grim. No idea how that will play out but it’s deeply disappointing again after the hurricane in 2020. Really wish we would push the 6N back a month.

      1. Who’s going to pony up for that? We’ve barely finished laying off the stadium we built thirty years ago.

    1. Indeed, the 6N is great at this time of year as there is naff all else happening but it really isn’t conducive to good rugby. March – April would be much better.

    2. FF yeah the weather looks grim for Saturday with heavy rain and 20mph winds forecast. The team that copes best to the conditions likely to come out on top. May me a turgid match full of errors but tactical nouse is interesting and essential part of good team management. Do we have the ability to play to different conditions. My concern is a lack of leadership within the team to adapt as the game transitions.

      1. Tbh I just think that if the weather slows the game down and turns it into a slugfest it doesn’t benefit a team like us that tries to play quick and move the ball around. OTOH England are missing some influential players in Lawes, Underhill, Hill, Tuilangi and have a relatively inexperienced backline. So perhaps there are opportunities there.

        I will just be gutted if we lose without a game breaking out as once again, out home advantage will have been turned into something of a weather lottery.

  6. On a positive note, we won in Wales in filthy conditions, we kicked wonderfully and demonstrated laudable patience v France and have the players Hogg, Russell and VDM are proven at the highest class.
    Think Redpath must start as he provides more options (both kicking and passing) than Johnson.
    Makes the Hastings omission even stranger.

  7. My Team for England

    Stuart Hogg – Kyle Steyn – Chris Harris – Sam Johnson – Duhan Van Der Merwe – Finn Russell – Ali Price – Matt Fagerson – Hamish Watson – Jamie Ritchie – Jonny Gray – Grant Gilchrist – Zander Fagerson – Stuart McInally – Rory Sutherland

    Darcy Graham – Cameron Redpath – Ben Vellacott – Magnus Bradbury – Sam Skinner – Willem Nel – George Turner – Pierre Schoeman

    With this England side being a bit of an unknown with the amount of Injuries i think squad familiarity will work to our advantage, particularly our defensive systems and discipline around the breakdown, hence the backrow and midfield remain despite a few players arguably not being at there best.

    It’s looking like a lot of Englands line-out options are missing.. so Gilchrist retains his spot to hopefully achieve some dominance there and in our driving mauls. Gray joins him as i’m expecting a rather powerful ball-carrying backrow that are going to be a handful (Dombrant/Curry/Simmonds)

    Looking for physicality & aggression from the bench, Schoeman, Turner, Skinner, Bradbury are the most physically dominant players in there positions.

    Fagerson has always had Genges number at scrum-time from what i remember. Nel to deal with Marler/Rodd. later on.

    1. Seems a bit harsh on Scott Cummings but agree with that 23 for this Saturday.
      It’s been a long while since we’ve had strength in depth that the likes of Cummings, Haining, Darge, Bennett, Maitland and Kinghorn cannot even get on the bench (if this is indeed the 23 picked). Not to mention Brown, Horne and Hastings not even getting into the squad!

  8. For me, the most encouraging thing is that there is no individual or unit within that side (even the bench) where you could say we look weaker than England and a number where we look stronger. I’m 68 and I can’t recall ever being able to say that before!

  9. With Itoje, Genge, Sinckler and Curry all starting in their pack I trust that Eddie has been leading practice drills on running 10 yards backwards.

    We haven’t lost control of the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield for almost 40 years, no reason for us to start now.

  10. A little surprised at Sutherland over Schoeman given the latter has had more game time recently and really gutted for Vellacott; can only assume it’s down to game plan with the likely weather conditions on Saturday. Gilchrist, Johnson and Graham especially will need to play well given the pressure on their positions but like the consistency that is building. Skinner on the bench is a good call as could add beef to the back row if needed. The new normal feeling of slightly nervous anticipation, definitely preferable to the unrealistic optimism of 6Ns in the noughties.

  11. Ready for a ridiculous stat? This is the first time we’ve gone into the England six nations game with more caps than England in the starting 23 since 2014. Literally for two world cup cycles, they’ve gone into the game with more experience than us.

    That, frankly, seems impossible. But I guess it goes to show the extent to which we threw out the formula and went with youth over the past decade. I don’t know if it means anything really – there are some high quality England players there with few caps. But it does feel that this group is ready and trusts each other, and that’s come growing up together.

    1. The combination of Eddie picking youngsters (mostly due to injury) and Toonie finally having a settled side.
      They still have more players from the class of 2014 in the 23 than us, though (Marler, Youngs, Ford, Nowell vs Hogg, Jonny Gray and Gilchrist).

      I expect us to win on Saturday by 5-10 points, but it’s difficult as this England side are an unknown entity.
      Cut out the compounded errors (eg knock on followed by scrum penalty, technical infringement followed by silly penalty) and we should win.

  12. Crap weather predicted, relatively untested back-three under high ball for England (I know Stewart is highly regarded in this), hopefully Hogg, Russell can make there day a nightmare, keep them pinned in their half and the pressure may start to tell on a backline that has played very little together.

    1. Problem might be that England’s back three is two full backs and Marchant, who Jones reckons is their best under the high ball. Plus they have kickers across the backline, whereas we just have kickers at 9, 10 and 15.

  13. Starting 15 is very strong, not convinced by the bench.
    Can see us falling off towards the end and let’s hope there’s no early injuries in certain key positions….

  14. Given the weather and comments about strong kick/chase capability in England’s ranks (multiple kickers, two full backs in backline etc) I’m surprised to see Darcy Graham on the wing ahead of e.g. Kyle Steyn. I love DC, he is pure class and has scored some brilliant tries – but slightly worried about this one – plus hasn’t he gone off the boil recently?

    Really not sure what to make of Ben White ahead of Vellacott – anyone have an opinion who’s actually watched Ben White?

    I’d also have had Redpath ahead of SJ who just makes us a bit pedestrian alongside Harris in attack I think.

    Otherwise strong looking team/squad.

    1. Good points. As far as I understand, Ben White is in for his superior kicking game which is probably Vellacott’a biggest weakness and what largely has done for George Horne’s place in the SH pecking order (though his passing can be a bit more suspect). I agree Kyle Steyn white have been a good option, also we might feel the absence of Maitland who has a far lower error count than Graham or DVDM.

      I think Toonie judged Redpath wasn’t quite match fit for such an intense Calcutta Cup game, but I reckon he’ll be introduced against France assuming he gets a match or two more for Bath in the meantime. Let’s hope we still have a championship to fight for by that point.

      1. Ok, thanks, just haven’t seen Ben White and seems to have come from nowhere. As mentioned in another thread, I think our backs subs look positively lower-class compared to England’s although I do like our pack subs (apart from not being able to find a spot for Darge!).

        Here’s hoping on your last point FF…..

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