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England and Scotland line up at Murrayfield

The tribal rivalries that underpin RBS 6 Nations are drenched in history. They are autonomous enough to render context redundant, and the Anglo-Scottish connection sits right at the top of the list in terms of intensity.

For that reason, the form book will count for very little on Saturday at 5pm when referee Romain Poite blows his whistle to get proceedings underway. This is an encounter to be taken in isolation.

Vern Cotter’s men lie at the foot of the table following three excruciatingly frustrating losses, but have also been responsible for some of the most ambitious, inventive attack seen across the tournament.

England stormed out of the blocks to conquer Cardiff and dispatched Italy with ease. Even so, the loss 19-9 to Ireland in Dublin a fortnight brought a significant set-back. In short, both sides are desperate to produce a backlash.

When? Saturday, 14 March
Where? Twickenham Stadium
Kick-off? 5pm

The teams

England15. Mike Brown, 14. Anthony Watson, 13. Jonathan Joseph, 12. Luther Burrell, 11. Jack Nowell, 10. George Ford, 9. Ben Youngs; 1. Joe Marler, 2. Dylan Hartley, 3. Dan Cole, 4. Dave Attwood, 5. Courtney Lawes, 6. James Haskell, 7. Chris Robshaw (captain), 8. Billy Vunipola.
Replacements: 16. Tom Youngs, 17. Mako Vunipola, 18. Kieran Brookes, 19. Geoff Parling, 20. Tom Wood, 21. Richard Wigglesworth, 22. Danny Cipriani, 23. Billy Twelvetrees.

Scotland15. Stuart Hogg, 14. Dougie Fife, 13. Mark Bennett, 12. Matt Scott, 11. Tommy Seymour, 10. Finn Russell , 9. Greig Laidlaw (captain); 1. Alasdair Dickinson, 2. Ross Ford, 3. Euan Murray, 4. Jim Hamilton, 5. Jonny Gray, 6. Rob Harley, 7. Blair Cowan, 8. David Denton.
Replacements: 16. Fraser Brown, 17. Ryan Grant, 18. Geoff Cross, 19. Tom Swinson, 20. Johnnie Beattie, 21. Adam Ashe, 22. Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, 23. Greig Tonks.

Key clashes

Courtney Lawes vs Jonny Gray: In an era characterised by young, talented locks tearing into Test matches and redefining the archetypal engine-room inhabitant from gnarled veteran to athletic whippersnapper, these two are easily among the most gifted on the planet. Gray has terrorised All Blacks and British Lions during his 11-cap career to date, marrying muscular brawn in the tight with power, pace and skill in the loose. Turning 21 on the day England defend the Calcutta Cup, he is a staggering prospect. Elder brother Richie is chosen for World XVs every now and then. Even this early, you suspect there could be cases of mistaken identity.

Lithe as an Olympic gymnast yet utterly destructive, Lawes brings ferocious physicality to the equation – something England missed in the trenches at the Aviva Stadium. A superb lineout jumper and caller, his presence will be welcomed by Northampton Saints clubmate Dylan Hartley as well. Finally, though George Kruis produced three hugely industrious shifts, few can match Lawes’ dynamism. On the back of two 80-minute outings in the Aviva Premiership, he truly is an important figure.

James Haskell vs Rob Harley: As Haskell put so poignantly in the aftermath of defeat to Ireland, international rugby hands players some unforgettable days and some very tough ones. Needless to say, the blindside flanker had endured the latter, and will have pored over the analysis these past two weeks to ensure England avoid a similar disappointment. Discipline was a big issue, and Haskell was guilty of conceding an early ruck penalty that was turned into three points by Johnny Sexton.

Peter O’Mahony, the rangy Munsterman, was a chief proponent in sapping England’s ruck-speed to a crawl and Harley is similarly awkward to shift from the breakdown. Perhaps underrated by the wider community of punters, the 24 year-old Glasgow Warrior is highly valued by Cotter and will revel in spoiling as much of the hosts’ possession as possible. With fair weather expected, England and Haskell must deal with Harley in order to take advantage of the pristine, fast Twickenham surface.

Jonathan Joseph vs Mark Bennett: Airing his thoughts for this week’s Veteran’s View column, former hooker Phil Greening called up England to inject verve into their phase-play so some “talented outside backs” could “tear into the opposition”. Dotting down for three tournament tries before being stunted in Dublin, Joseph certainly counts as a flag-bearer here. He will be looking to explode onto trademark outside arcs all afternoon if provided with enough front-foot ball.

However, Bennett is an intelligent, well-balanced runner and can look back favourably on two meetings with Joseph already this season. He scored two tries as Glasgow Warriors thumped Bath 37-10 in the pool stages of the European Champions Cup and put in another lively performance for the return leg, which the West Country side just scraped 20-15. Though he is deprived of clubmate and midfield partner Alex Dunbar, expect Bennett to be an extremely tricky customer.

Quotes from the camps

Graham Rowntree (England Forwards Coach): “It was only earlier this week that I actually got over the defeat to Ireland. It was very hard to take and we were disappointed with several aspects of our play.

“It wasn’t us. It wasn’t good enough. But I’m sure we’ll get a reaction this week.

“Scotland have been unlucky at times during this tournament and they are a hard team to play against. There is a lot there for us to respect and we have had a good look at them this week.”

Vern Cotter (Scotland Head Coach)

“This is a very important game. It will be played away from home at a very intense level and will allow us to assess further our ability to operate in a hostile environment.

“Our focus has been on ourselves and how we can perform better, by identifying the areas that we can control – like improving our skill-sets and reinforcing our cohesion – to withstand the difficult times and also apply some pressure.”

Previous meetings

  • February 2014: Scotland 0 England 20, Murrayfield
  • February 2013: England 38 Scotland 18, Twickenham
  • February 2012: Scotland 6 England 13, Murrayfield
  • October 2011: England 16 Italy 12, Auckland
  • March 2011: England 22 Scotland 16, Twickenham

Did you know?

  • Blair Cowan is the son of a Cook Islander father but qualifies to represent Scotland through his mother, who was born in the village of Blairmore near Dunoon in Argyll.
  • Stuart Lancaster handed Test debuts to seven players on his first game in charge in this fixture three years ago – Phil Dowson, Owen Farrell, Jordan Turner-Hall, Lee Dickson, Brad Barritt, Ben Morgan and Geoff Parling. Only Parling features in this match-day 23.
  • Scotland Head Coach Vern Cotter is close friends with Ireland honcho Joe Schmidt. The pair worked together for New Zealand province Bay of Plenty between 2003 and 2004 and from 2007-2010 with Clermont.
  • Courtney Lawes made 11 tackles, one of them a try-saver on Adam Ashley-Cooper on his last appearance at Twickenham against Australia last November.
  • In 1871, these nations contested the first ever international rugby football match. Scotland won by a try and a goal to a try.

  • http://www.englandrugby.com/news/features/england-...

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