Rarely has an England line-up lacked in caps as much as the one that will emerge to tackle Scotland in the Calcutta Cup this Saturday.
Rarely has an England line-up lacked in caps as much as the one that will take on Scotland in the Calcutta Cup.
233 will be the total amassing from the starting XV wearing white this weekend against a home side that has substantially more – 499 is their total.
Scotland are also unbeaten in their previous three clashes with England at Murrayfield, which makes it a touch surprising that they go in as underdogs. Let's face it, Andy Robinson's charges are more familiar with each other, settled on a game-plan and also have the burning desire to put World Cup memories of so-called English arrogance firmly to bed. One gets the feeling that Robbo is more fired up for these clashes than his team!
Their most recent, of course, was in the RWC when only a late Chris Ashton score denied Scotland what would have been a memory to banish their 1991 loss. But alas the soon-to-be Saracens winger crossed with three minutes remaining at Eden Park as England marched on to the quarter-finals full of confidence.
We all know what happened next.
Enough of the World Cup though as this is largely not the same squad that went through 'Ballgate' and other episodes in the Land of the Long White Cloud. England are looking to rebuild with a fresh start that sees ex-Saxons maestro Stuart Lancaster in the hotseat.
While the Cumbrian's opening 10, 12, 13 combination is comfortable at club level, Test rugby in a hotbed such as the Scottish capital will be a different kettle of fish. Charlie Hodgson seems reborn mind you following a switch from Sale and credit must go to the likes of Andy Farrell and Paul Gustard for fixing frailties. He has already mentioned of how he has gone through hard times to come out a better player – his distributive tools have always been first rate. But make no bones about it, Scotland will come at Hodgson hard, with centres Sean Lamont and Nick de Luca set to be tasked with keeping him honest.
Don't expect much width from the Scots in attack in Edinburgh, where the weather forecast is bleak. That will mean those aformentioned centres will be running straight – when they see possession from the hands of fly-half Dan Parks. Parks is chosen over Edinburgh's Greig Laidlaw to navigate the conditions, and despite grumbles from many, he does it well.
Rain means it promises to be yet another classic Scotland v England scrap and that's why I am swinging the way of the home side's stronger front-five to prevail. Win and they will head to Cardiff confident in a Six Nations that will finally see them finish near the right end of the table for a change. For England – as much as they focus on the here and now – the pressure will be tougher than Rob Andrew's grip on his chair if they lose before facing Italy in Rome.
Ones to watch:
For Scotland: The form of Jim Hamilton at Gloucester has impressed this season and that is why he gets the nod over Al Kellock, who started and skippered their last outing in the World Cup. Praise indeed from Robinson and his combination with Richie Gray could be a big factor in how this one swings. Not to be forgotten in the debutants, Lee Jones is also making his bow this week while Ross Rennie is backed over John Barclay at seven.
For England: On one hand there is a new captain to keep an eye on in openside flanker Chris Robshaw, who has promised to let his playing do the talking before barking the orders to his troops. But with a first start and the responsibility of knocking over the points from the tee, Owen Farrell consequently is the man to follow at Murrayfield. He hasn't let anyone down at Sarries just yet and we expect the same to happen in international colours.
Head-to-head: As with Big Jim at Kingsholm, Allan Jacobsen has continued to churn out top class performances in an Edinburgh jersey, which sees Michael Bradley's side mixing it with the elite when the Heineken Cup resumes later this year. His battle with Dan Cole is set to be a cracker while the ones at eight and at wing between David Denton and Phil Dowson and Max Evans and Chris Ashton are also already whetting the Six Nations appetite.
2011: England won 16-12 at Eden Park
2011: England won 22-16 at Twickenham
2010: 15-15 draw at Murrayfield
2009: England won 26-12 at Twickenham
2008: Scotland won 15-9 at Murrayfield
2007: England won 42-20 at Twickenham
2006: Scotland won 18-12 at Murrayfield
2005: England won 43-22 at Twickenham
2004: England won 35-13 at Murrayfield
2003: England won 40-9 at Twickenham
2002: England won 29-3 at Murrayfield
Prediction: Tension galore with the hosts sneaking it. Scotland by 4!
Scotland: 15 Rory Lamont, 14 Lee Jones, 13 Nick De Luca, 12 Sean Lamont, 11 Max Evans, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Chris Cusiter, 8 David Denton, 7 Ross Rennie, 6 Alasdair Strokosch, 5 Jim Hamilton, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Euan Murray, 2 Ross Ford (capt), 1 Allan Jacobsen.
Replacements: 16 Scott Lawson, 17 Geoff Cross, 18 Alastair Kellock, 19 John Barclay, 20 Mike Blair, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Graeme Morrison.
England: 15 Ben Foden, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Brad Barritt, 12 Owen Farrell, 11 David Strettle, 10 Charlie Hodgson, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Phil Dowson, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt) 6 Tom Croft, 5 Tom Palmer, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley, 1 Alex Corbisiero.
Replacements: 16 Rob Webber, 17 Matt Stevens, 18 Geoff Parling, 19 Ben Morgan, 20 Lee Dickson, 21 Jordan Turner-Hall, 22 Mike Brown.
Date: Saturday, February 4
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Romain Poite (France), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
Television match official: Tony Redmond (Ireland)
By Adam Kyriacou