Scottish Rugby News and Opinion


England v Scotland, Six Nations 2023: Match Preview pt II – head to heads

England vs Scotland
pic © Scottish Rugby Blog

Of the 46 players on show this weekend, just 3 have started all of the last 3 Calcutta Cup matches at Twickenham – Owen Farrell and Kyle Sinckler for England and Finn Russell for Scotland. Another 5 have at least been in the 23 for that trio of fixtures – Ellis Genge and Ben Youngs on the English side and Jonny Gray, Chris Harris and WP Nel for the Scots.

Tale of the tape

27   Tries  68
   Average weight   98kg
169   Total caps  240
6N caps  122
2  6N debuts  0
25.1   Average age   28.2

911kg   Pack weight  918kg
   Tries   19
262   Total caps  290
6N caps   115
1  6N debuts  1
27.3   Average age   29.8

369   Total caps   284
6N caps   115
1  6N debuts  1
   Tries   29
28.8   Average age   29.8

7 changes to Scotland starting XV from last Test (v Argentina)

  • 14 – Steyn for Graham [-]
  • 13 – Jones for Harris [+] attack; [-] defence
  • 9 – White for Price [=]
  • 2 – Turner for Brown [=]
  • 3 – Nel for Fagerson [-]
  • 4 – R. Gray for J. Gray [+]
  • 6/7/8 – Crosbie for Dempsey with Ritchie to 6 and Fagerson to 8 [+]

15 Steward
14 Malins
13 Marchant
12 Farrell
11 Hassell-Collins
10 Smith
9 van Poortvliet

1 Genge
2 George
3 Sinckler
4 Itoje
5 Chessum
6 Ludlam
7 Curry
8 Dombrandt

16 Walker
17 Vunipola
18 Cole
19 Isiekwe
20 Earl
21 Youngs
22 Lawrence
23 Watson

ADV Scotland
ADV England
ADV England
ADV Scotland
ADV Scotland

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

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

Hogg 15
Steyn 14
Jones 13
Tuipulotu 12
van der Merwe 11
Russell 10
White 9

Schoeman 1
Turner 2
Nel 3
R. Gray 4
Gilchrist 5
Ritchie 6
Crosbie 7
Fagerson 8

Brown 16
Bhatti 17
Berghan 18
J. Gray 19
Dempsey 20
Horne 21
Kinghorn 22
Harris 23


Backs – advantage Scotland

While current top try scorer Darcy Graham missing out is a blow, Kyle Steyn will be a useful addition for helping to try and defuse the aerial bombardment that is expected to come Scotland’s way. The risk for England is that any loose kicks are likely to be punished by a Scottish backline packed with attacking threat.

The dark blues will still need to pick the right moments to run though. The domination of territory and possession the last time this fixture was played at Twickenham came off the back of the Scots’ own kicking game with Finn Russell and Stuart Hogg to the fore. That duo (and others) will need to be at their very best again in this facet of play if there is to be another upset at the headquarters of English rugby.

Forwards – advantage England

Zander Fagerson started at tighthead prop in 27 of the 30 matches played by Scotland since the last World Cup. His replacement for this game, WP Nel, knows all the tricks and has become something of Six Nations’ specialist, featuring in 12 of the dark blues’ last 16 matches in the tournament while only playing 4 out of 15 other Tests. Simon Berghan is in line for his first cap since March 2021.

How the Scottish pack manage to deal with the elder Fagerson’s absence at the setpiece and, almost certainly more crucially, in terms of work rate around the park (Zander is a big contributor in terms of carries, tackles and rucks hit) will be a significant factor in seeing which side can get the edge up front.

Subs – advantage England

The 8 England players on the bench have more previous Six Nations appearances (175) than their starting XV (173). How vital might that experience be in the dying minutes of the contest?


–  This will be the 96th start for the national side for Stuart Hogg, tying Chris Paterson’s record for the Scotland Men’s team.

– With an average age of 29.3, this is the oldest matchday 23 selected for Scotland during the Townsend era.

Ali Price played in all 30 of Scotland’s previous games since the last World Cup, starting in 28 of those fixtures.

– With Price and Zander Fagerson both missing, the longest active streak of consecutive appearances belongs to Pierre Schoeman who has featured in all 17 matches since his debut in 2021.

– The Huwipulotu partnership in the centres may have their numbers reversed from the way they have been named for Glasgow but 12. Sione Tuipulotu / 13. Huw Jones better reflects how they more usually line up in defence and attack. Expect some mixing it up though – and maybe even a little bit of Sione at first receiver?

– Until the most recent Autumn Nations Series, the only occasion that Jonny Gray was selected on the bench with big brother Richie Gray in the starting lineup was the younger Gray’s Test debut against South Africa. This will be the 3rd time in the last 4 matches that a reinvigorated Richie has restated his primacy as the elder sibling.

– It’s clearly a good time to be an international rugby player named Benjamin with 4 in line to play at Twickenham. In fact you might say there will be more Bens than a Mercedes’ showroom…

Missed Part 1? Check it out here with a scouting report on England and Scottish history with the referee, Mr Williams.

20 Responses

  1. I’d say some of those head to heads are a bit generous to England. That said, I think this time around England will be a considerably better as a sum of parts team than under E Jones….far better prepared..organised …more focused.. clear instructions…and improved team spirit. Cockers will have some insight into a fair few of our defensive players..but not much on the attack side.

    I think our attack will be better than it has been for a while…with Pete Horne and Jones in there we’ll attack differently and better. I think our front row will struggle..and our 2nd row lacks the mobility that Englands have…our back row is our strength in the forwards. I think a lot will depend on how disciplined we are with and without the ball…we have been sloppy for a long while..and this year we need to put the breaks on the penalties to have a chance of success.

    I think it’ll be an England win in a very competitive match. Home turf counts for a lot in the 6N combined with a total refresh for England. I don’t think they’ll win the 6N but they’ll win this one.

  2. Recent 4 games glasgow edinburgh Bath saracens we’ve came out on top on aggregate (that was without the best 10 in the world playing)
    Secure parity in the scrum, win our line-out Disrupt theirs (Turner’s throwing gives me the fear) let Finn orchestrat the rest……….simples (well as simples it gets for Scotsmen)

    1. Before kick off on paper the lineout should be a strong point but who knows.

      Apparently Pete Horne was doing great work on ruck speed and getting clean ball for Glasgow….for the players we have that is exactly what we need.

      I would love to see A George Horne support run in last ten in not only the try that wins it but that puts us 10 points ahead and England flapping go secure a losing bonus…

      This fixture has much more tries than the reverse historically….and it being dry leans itself to that too…could be a cracker….let’s just keep mauls to a minimum and get Jones, and Hogg flying.

    2. It’s not just that Finn is playing – it’s the options he has in this backline: Tui, Jones, Hogg, VDM, himself. Crosbie too.

      If we can get parity, or even the upper hand, up front. Get the territory and just play the field.

      Exciting, coming in under the radar as dark horses, but knowing we will win this one, one way or another.

  3. I think it will be a high scoring game. All 4 refs are NZ , with Paul Williams in the middle. What do we have on him Kevin ? If anything !

    I have no doubt our regulars will have opinion on how that might go.

    Mind you , Wales V Ireland have an RFU ref.

  4. I’ve a horrible feeling it could come down to a red card for a mistimed tackle, or a charge down / intercept thrown by you know who … I so, so hope not …

    1. Thrown by who ? Russell is match fit and played a big role in European and domestic matches for a top European side. I do hope it is not Russell you are concerned about , he gets it wrong , but he also gets it right ! His timing , his kick accuracy will be split second accurate.

      What you should be concerned is a man who has had no matches this year stepping up to play in one of the most intimidating stadiums in a fast paced game. That is Scotland for you. We put so much on so few. Hoggy might get 60 minutes and then Kinghorn will be on. We never learn. He hasn’t played this year , It is stuff like timing that will be out of sync.

      Ideally he should not be back till game three when he has had a club game behind him. Stuff like that makes us appear weak. Like we can only just scratch a team to play.

      1. Kinghorn is certainly a worry but I’m not sure Hogg starts if he’s not fit…they were saying few weeks ago he couldn’t run on his heel.

        Fagerson or Watson didn’t make it due to not being ready im sure they’ll be on top of Hoggy for this.

        Russell’s kicking is a superb part of his game now. High hanging balls just outside 22…switches of play to expose and grabbers to turn the defense…

        Hogg and Russell can let lose 50-22 kicks now too do this will earn us the right….to start making moves in the back lime

      2. Fit for what ? Passed a fitness test ! been able to train all week.

        My point was is the timing right, those split second decisions in close play. You cannot test that outside of match conditions.

        Did you read the comment ? I thought it was well articulated and hard to misunderstand.

      3. My point being Kinghorn unlikely to replace Hogg as he’ll be fit to play…Kinghorn’s form is another thing entirely. Not sure he’s been poor for Scotland and sometimes better players can raise ur game…but maybe more form players…guess we’ll find out

      4. I think Finn’s likely to play the full 80. If kinghorn comes on, it’ll be for a back 3 player (injuries notwithstanding of course).

      5. Referendum : Well I am not sure you predicted that right. Hogg, was not fit enough to see out the 80 minutes, he was replaced by Kinghorn, who was impressive in his short stunt.

  5. Managed somehow through pals with connections to get a ticket for this.
    Worried somewhat about Borthwick giving it the ‘new manager bounce’ to England tomorrow. By all accounts he’s a good coach and man manager.
    It’ll be the usual at Twickenham, as it is in any away Test match. Get on top up front early and shut the home crowd up, and I think Townsend’s picked a strong enough starting eight to do that.
    On the head to heads, Itoje v R Gray should be evens imo. Maro is an excellent player but Richie really has recaptured his old mojo – was outstanding against the All Blacks.
    Bit worried about Berghan on the bench because he doesn’t seem to have pulled up trees for a few seasons now.
    Please, Scotland, shut up the Barbour Brigades from kick-off tomorrow!

    1. Yes, R Gray is in the form of his life. During his years in France, he seemed to lose his interest in the game but since coming back to Glasgow, he’s been excellent, IMO much better than his brother. Similarly Gilco, is playing better than ever. Both (he and R Gray) have turned into prolific ball carriers instead of offering the past ineffective practice of taking the pass then flopping to the ground before turning over the ball.
      I also worry about Bergan and to a lesser extent Bhatti. I fear that at 60 minutes, they’ll come on (along with Brown) to replace the front row and a series of scrum penalties will follow. England kick to the corner then line out, rolling maul, etc, etc.

  6. Alex Stewart has not put a foot wrong this season and is very safe under a high Ball. He has come on a lot in the last year. He is not an attacker like Hogg , very few are , however he is at the top of his game and Hogg has had an injury. For me it is not a clear advantage to Scotland.

  7. Never seen our backs have more tries than England ever…guess times have changed…partly down to new caps but still

    1. Well you have now. The average age of our backs is 3 years older. Of their 169 caps 93 (source ESPN) belong to one man, Owen Farrell. We have much more maturity , let’s hope that is a differentiator.

  8. How the officiating team view things will be crucial. There is always a marked difference in how Southern Hemisphere officials referee matches. Often, in my opinion, they are biased towards the home team , easily influenced by the vocal home crowd or with a nod to the union who has picked up the hospitality tab. Watch out for much shaking of the heads of Scoo and Nel as the penalties count against them.

  9. My dream for this six nations is expectation from the fans. But proper, positive expectation, not the panicky, constrictive expectation we’ve all been guilty of in the past. Welsh expectation sounds like “we’re going to win”. Scottish expectation sounds like “we effing better not lose.”

    We’re massive underdogs for this game. Any sensible gambler would put it all on England. But we’re a good team. We’re the only team to take anything from Twickenham in the past four years (other than Ireland, who were helped by a red card in the first minute) and we’ve done it twice. This team have every right to go into this game with a bit of confidence, and we should reflect that back to them .

    Good luck everyone. See you on the other side.

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