Home advantage tomorrow and their display last Saturday should give Scotland confidence that they can knock England over.
Accuracy again let Scotland down last weekend. “They were close, but…” how many times have we said this under the current coach. A cussed Irish defence impressed when it mattered: one metre from its own goal-line. As ever in rugby, broken field big gains are easy to make, that last metre can be impossible and is often the measure of how good a team actually is. It was a game that had the feeling, after Scotland failed to cross the Irish line after dominating the ball for the opening five minutes, that it was going to be a home win.
Gregor Townsend said “we’ve got to do better” after the Ireland loss. He knows that England will be a tougher proposition than the one-dimensional Ireland. And, Scotland can do better. The final nail at the Aviva Stadium, one even felt at the time, was Sam Johnson’s idiotic barge on Andrew Conway on 71 minutes, Johnny Sexton slotted the penalty to make it 19-12.
Although Scotland scrummaged well, played with width, looked fluent with ball in hand and fielded the high ball well, ultimately Ireland deserved their win.
Sir Ian McGeechan said at half-time: “Scotland, in rugby terms have had a good half, they haven’t turned it into points…”, they could have just replayed the same clip of him speaking 40 minutes later. The changes that Eddie Jones has made to his Calcutta Cup pack in particular should be worrying for Scotland. He is clearly an exceptional coach, which is why the selection of Courtney Lawes in the back row last weekend against France was strange. Lawes would not get into any other Six Nations starting team (barring Italy) in the back row. The heavy hitting and big talking Lewis Ludlam replaces him.
George Kruis is an exceptional lock, a few cuts above the discarded Charlie Ewels and prop Mako Vunipola can rumble. This pack looks a better unit and they will look to bully Scotland.
Scotland bringing in Magnus Bradbury is a positive, this pushes Nick Haining to the bench and he should make an impact later in the game. The home eight will have its work cut out to hold the England pack and it will take a massive performance to do so. Big, stopping, first-up double hits will be key. As will cutting the penalty count from a massive 13 conceded against Ireland.
England reached the World Cup final 14 weeks ago. World beaters on their day, they are also regularly derailed. To do so tomorrow Scotland will need to cross the whitewash, probably more than once. Scotland’s three tries in this fixture in 2018 were their first Murrayfield Calcutta Cup tries since Simon Danielli touched down in 2004. A win tomorrow gives Scotland a real chance to build momentum in the championship with Italy away next up.