Preview: England v Scotland

Date published: March 10 2017

England will hope to make it a record-equalling 18 Test victories in Tier 1 rugby when they take on Scotland in the Six Nations on Saturday.

Matching New Zealand’s streak would be another feather in the cap for Eddie Jones’ men but it won’t be easy against a side in form, bidding to win at Twickenham for the first time sine 1983.

Scotland have been the most entertaining outfit in the Championship this year, picking up victories over Ireland and Wales to remain in the frame for glory going into this penultimate round. Make no mistake, they can get the result at Twickenham and it wouldn’t be a huge shock.

In Vern Cotter’s swansong season, the Scots have really risen their game with the majority of their strike players on top of their form, while the workhorses such as the Gray brothers and captain John Barclay are doing their bit. Of course full-back Stuart Hogg has also been on fire.

They’ll need Hogg to lead their attack on Twickenham on Saturday and in Ali Price and Finn Russell they have half-backs who never take a backward step when the pressure is on. Going up against the returning Ben Youngs and mainstay fly-half George Ford will be a vital battle.

Doubts surfaced on Friday over the fitness of inside centre Owen Farrell after he received treatment on a leg problem in training.

Jones laughed off the concern but it would be a major setback losing the playmaking and goalkicking ability of Farrell at such a key time of the tournament.

There are positives in the form of Billy Vunipola’s return to the squad via the bench while Jonathan Joseph and Jack Nowell are set to offer more of an attacking threat than their predecessors in the jersey did against Italy, a game England will be delighted to finally put behind them.

Scotland meanwhile enter extremely confident after ending a 10-year drought without a victory over Wales in Round 3.

They now have their sights set on a first victory at Twickenham since 1983, with Barclay wisely talking up the pressure being on England rather than themselves.

“We kind of feel like the expectation is more on England,” he said. “They’ve gone how many games unbeaten. We’ve only won two games this Six Nations. We feel like there’s not much pressure on us.

“We’re playing good stuff which is maybe externally building a bit of pressure. Within the group we are not getting carried away. England are playing well. You don’t go that many games unbeaten without playing well.”

A clever stance from Scotland’s stand-in captain who will know deep down England haven’t been firing on all cylinders of late, which makes for an intriguing contest.

England will rightly be favourites at Twickenham but write off this dangerous Scotland line-up at your peril.

Players to Watch

For England: It is rare we pick out a replacement as a one to watch but the return of Billy Vunipola and the impact he could have off the bench will be worth monitoring. A rapid recovery from injury sees him return to the 23 after just one match back for club side Saracens but such is the threat he poses England have picked him in their squad. Watch his ball-carrying when he replaces Nathan Hughes.

For Scotland: This game could well see Ali Price make a name for himself. The Glasgow scrum-half, who moved into the nine shirt after Greig Laidlaw was injured against France in Round 2, will relish another bite at the cherry at Twickenham and England must be wary of his talents. Alongside Finn Russell, they will impose themselves on the English defence and Price in particular will keep the tempo high.

Head-to-head: A fascinating battle awaits at lock as Courtney Lawes and Joe Launchbury face Richie Gray and Jonny Gray. The English pair, who have impressed in the absence of George Kruis and due to the positional switch of Maro Itoje, face two hard-working second-rows in the Grays.

Throw in the carrot of a British and Irish Lions tour and this quartet, plus Itoje later on, will empty their tanks.

Previous results:

2016: England won 15-9 at Murrayfield
2015: England won 25-13 at Twickenham
2014: England won 20-0 at Murrayfield
2013: England won 38-18 at Twickenham
2012: England won 13-6 at Murrayfield
2011: England won 16-12 at Eden Park
2011: England won 22-16 at Twickenham
2010: 15-15 draw at Murrayfield

Prediction: A lot depends on Owen Farrell’s fitness but if he starts then the hosts should make it four from four. England by three.

The teams:

England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 James Haskell, 6 Maro Itoje, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Joe Marler
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Tom Wood, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Danny Care, 22 Ben Te’o, 23 Anthony Watson

Scotland: 15 Stuart Hogg, 14 Tommy Seymour, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Alex Dunbar, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Ryan Wilson, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 John Barclay (c), 5 Jonny Gray, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Zander Fagerson, 2 Fraser Brown, 1 Gordon Reid
Replacements: 16 Ross Ford, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Tim Swinson, 20 Cornell Du Preez, 21 Henry Pyrgos, 22 Duncan Weir, 23 Mark Bennett

Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Twickenham
Kick-off: 16:00 GMT
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
Assistant Referees: Romain Poite (France), Marius Mitrea (Italy)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)