The Calcutta Cup is the oldest international fixture in the calendar but not always the most eagerly anticipated, at least not by Scotland fans who have had a hard time of it of late. They have not won this fixture since 2008 and have not scored a try against England at Murrayfield since 2004.
For the first time this millennium the two teams looks evenly matched. Scotland have a boost from their World Cup display while England will be keen to show the world that they are better than they appeared. Here is where the match will be won and lost:
Set piece and referee
England shot themselves in the foot when their World Cup preparations concentrated on mobility at the expense of stability and the problem is ongoing on all available evidence. Tighthead Dan Cole is operating below the standards that earned him three caps for the Lions. More of a pussycat these days, he was part of the Tigers’ front row that leaked three penalty tries to Saracens earlier this season, earning a yellow card in the process.
Joe Marler is little better. Found wanting in the World Cup by Australia he now shoulders the unwanted reputation of not pushing straight (thank you, Bob Dwyer) and he was pulled from the pitch inside 50 minutes after conceding two scrum penalties to Australia in that must-win match.
The pair will benefit hugely from all the girth and aggression that comes with Dylan Hartley sandwiched in between them but neither prop will scare the Scots who will feel that they have an advantage at the coal face. As ever, much will depend upon how referee John Lacey calls it.
Scotland must tighten up on restarts but the lineouts looks pretty evenly matched, both teams boast one big lump in the second row (Jonny Gray and Joe Launchbury) and one more athletic lock (Richie Gray and George Kruis). David Denton is a useful third jumper but both James Haskell and Chris Robshaw have soft hands. Scotland’s problems are going to appear after the lineout.
The driving maul
A good driving maul is extremely difficult to stop in its tracks and Scotland certainly hadn’t mastered the trick during the World Cup which saw Japan and South Africa profit from the tactic.
England will use the tactic to milk penalties in the middle of the field and they will use it to score points in Scotland’s half.
Scotland insist on competing, rather than standing off and tackling the man at the back of the maul (if the ball is moved to the back and the lineout is called over) or tackling the jumper once he’s landed (if the ball is not moved to the back). It would at least keep England guessing.
The only reason for not boxing clever is that it tacitly acknowledges that Scotland would struggle in a straight fight but we can safely assume that Eddie Jones and Steve Borthwick know that already.
The back row, the breakdown and the gainline
Scotland boast two sevens, England twin sixes, surely both coaches can’t be right? The wet weather that is forecast supports England’s choice of size over speed but Vern Cotter is betting that Scotland have the skills to impose their high tempo game regardless.
It is a gamble because the one lesson learned from last season’s whitewash was that Scotland lacked physicality against the biggest and best, so throwing John Barclay into the mix in place of a traditional ‘stopper’ at six was a bold call. Cotter is banking on Hardie and Barclay working in tandem and the pair should have an advantage at the breakdown.
England have more carrying power in their back row and, if Japan are anything to go by, England will play one or two pass rugby in the middle of the field. Danny Care will make darting sideways runs to: a) create a weak shoulder for a big runner on the cut or b)make an outside break himself when least expected.
If Scotland stop England’s big men on the gain line and slow their supply of ball Cotter may manage a smile, otherwise we’ll be watching 80 minutes of the Ford & Farrell Show.
They happen but they can prove costly.
l Stuart Hogg is brilliant in attack but suspect under the high ball.
l Scotland’s midfield, where Matt Scott’s decision making is crucial to Scotland’s defensive integrity, has been too porous.
l George Ford is what is known as a “speedbump”, he slows the opposition rather than stops them and the Scots will get after him.
l Discipline will be paramount. Scotland had the lowest penalty count at the World Cup after...Eddie Jones’ Japan.
l Finn Russell has a habit of firing long cut-out passes across his back line which are spectacular when they work but beg an interception.
l Scotland need accuracy in attack because one dropped pass ruins a heap of good work.With little to choose between them, the side that executes best will win. Scotland by a score, since you ask, although I’ve got my usual fiver on a draw.