Six Nations games between England and Scotland have always been packed brimful of expectation and emotion, but in recent years they have started to become the stuff of legend. Can anyone ever forget that remarkable Scotland comeback from 31-7 down in the second half in 2019 at Twickenham? Then there was last year’s heroics on the same ground as Scotland secured their first victory at England HQ since 1983. Ironically, Murrayfield doesn’t seem to produce the same level of success against the English. In their last five encounters at Murrayfield Scotland have only won one of them.
As for England, that defeat to Scotland last year at the start of the tournament on such hallowed ground stung them to the core, and in many ways set the tone for what would prove to be a disastrous English Six Nations campaign. To say that Eddie Jones and his charges are out to return the favor this time on Scotland’s home turf would be a bit of understatement. The conditions look set to be horrific and would seem to favor the grit and determination approach favored by England as opposed to the pace and skill game of Scotland. Both sides have players of enormous talent and could provide us with a thrill ride of note, but we fear that Mother Nature is likely going to put a bit of a damper on proceedings, excuse the pun. Consequently it will be more of a slog than a F1 race, and as a result the team that can endure the longest while keeping their composure and discipline will emerge the winner.
England’s front row may creak but the glue that binds it is exceptionally strong
We have genuine concerns about England’s front row, particularly in terms of balance as we feel it is just not gelling. For us Kyle Sinckler is too much of liability in terms of discipline and technique at Tighthead despite his bruising abilities in the loose, and the same could be said to a certain degree of Ellis Genge on the other side. However, their man in the middle Luke Cowan-Dickie need make no apologies. In our opinion he’s the best option England have by a comfortable margin, and one that is only going to get better. England’s bench doesn’t really fill us with confidence either with the possible exception of renaissance man Joe Marler. While Scotland may also struggle with front row balance, and let’s not talk about their woeful lineout accuracy, we still feel it’s a more cohesive and effective unit. With that said though we feel it’s Cowan-Dickie’s technique and abilities in the set pieces that may ultimately give England the slight edge in the front row contests.
Scotland’s dynamic duo look set to cause havoc once more
One of our favorite back row pairings in the Six Nations is back in action again on Saturday and will be up to their usual mischief. Scotland’s Hamish Watson and Jamie Ritchie take great pleasure in raining on England’s parade and are rather effective at it. Watson is everywhere disrupting rucks, making turnovers and generally making a massive nuisance of himself while Ritchie plays the role of enforcer in the set pieces and physical battles. The pair are ferocious competitors and take very few prisoners. They will be up against it this time as England finally look to have a settled and balanced back row, with some equally dynamic ball players. However, even if the conditions don’t allow Scotland their preferred chaos management stlye of game, much of the work done by these two will set the tone of how well Scotland will be able to cope with Plan B.
England finally decide what they want their back row to look like
After seemingly denying the value of a specialist number eight, England Coach Eddie Jones has finally decided to listen to his critics, and include not just one but two in his matchday 23 to face Scotland. The long suffering Sam Simmonds finally gets to start at eight in place of Tom Curry. Curry fulfilled the role with admirable efficiency at times last year, but is still much more valuable as a flanker where he now finds himself along with wearing the Captain’s armband. For Simmonds though it’s been a long time coming and very much overdue given his outstanding form at club level with Exeter. England really are spoilt for choice here as once the dynamic Simmonds starts to tire, Jones gets to bring on Harlequins demolition expert Alex Dombrandt whose presence in an England jersey was consistently called for by England supporters during the course of last year. It’s a position where we feel Scotland are really going to struggle to compete, and despite Matt Fagerson being ably assisted by Jamie Ritchie and Hamish Watson, England may just have too much power here.
Of all the contests this weekend, the battle of the fly halves at Murrayfield will be the most influential. Marcus Smith may be the new kid on the block in terms of Test Rugby compared to Finn Russell who is no stranger to the roller coaster ride of the Six Nations, but the Englishman’s skill set is every bit as good as his opposite number. Both individuals are hungry for success, but we’d argue that as driven as Smith is, despite his youth he appears to have the more measured head on his shoulders. We are often in awe of Finn Russell who can produce miracles out of nothing, but all too often he loses sight of the larger picture, something we feel that Smith is better at grasping despite his lack of Test experience.
Russell is a world class 10 plain and simple, but we feel that he often only sees the game through the lenses of a fly half. Smith on the other hand, in the few Tests we’ve seen him play so far, seems to have a better eye to what the game may be looking like for the rest of his squad mates. He is a remarkable player, but despite his almost manic competitiveness he always looks like he has weighed up all his options before committing himself, even if he has done it in the blink of an eye. Although Finn Russell has become slightly less reckless in his approach to managing Scotland’s game, he is still prone to rolling the dice and hoping that luck favors the brave. Sometimes it works for Scotland with spectacular success but when it doesn’t Scotland start to unravel very quickly. We can’t wait to see who fortune favors on Saturday, but given the conditions the odds may be slightly stacked in the Smith camp.
Scotland’s Power and Pace combo may lose out to Mother Nature
Unfortunately as talented as they are, the weather at Murrayfield on Saturday may just not favor the 100 mile an hour game that fullback Stuart Hogg and winger Duhan van der Merwe prefer. For Scotland’s fleet footed but devastatingly powerful winger raised on the hard dry pitches of the highveld, conditions may mean that we see little of him. With gale force winds predicted it’s also unlikely there will be a lot of aerial contests from which Hogg can launch his lightning fast counter attacks that can leave defenders guessing for an unbroken 50 metres. England’s Max Malins and new fullback sensation Freddie Steward can provide an equal number of thrills but we’d argue that the big English fullback is likely to be slightly better at adapting to the conditions despite his lack of Test experience. If the two Scots are allowed to run wild then England could be at sixes and sevens defensively, especially the new kids on the block in the back line. However, we can’t help get the feeling that simply may not be the case if Mother Nature has her way in Edinburgh on Saturday.
Either way it should be a cracking game and one of the most anticipated of the tournament and you won’t want to miss it. In many ways we feel that Scotland have more to prove of the two especially in front of a home crowd, and that added to the weather may mean England squeak a narrow win and level the playing field between these two sides after last year. But then nothing in this glorious tournament is ever a certainty and definitely not between these two sides, so bring on Saturday and let the game do the talking!