The Calcutta Cup is one of the highlights of the Six Nations every year, though perhaps less so for Scottish fans when the match is in London. The numbers make for grim reading. A draw in 1989 is the best Scotland have achieved at ‘Fortress Twickenham’ in the last 30 years. Outright victory has eluded them since 1983. More often than not it’s a question of class, but there’s no doubt that a psychological hurdle is present when the Scots venture south.
Scotland have been disappointing in the championship, there’s no way around that fact. They could have easily arrived at this game unbeaten, instead they are at the bottom of the pile. A terrible defeat at the hands of an ordinary Italian side has rubbed salt in the wounds. The coaches are upset, the players near distraught. How will they cope with England, the auld enemy, themselves let down but still in the picture and champing at the bit to vanquish their chagrin?
Vern Cotter has responded with five changes, four of which were expected. Finn Russell returns from suspension to bolster the side at no10 after Peter Horne filled against Italy. Jim Hamilton returns to fitness and replaces Tim Swinson, and injury to Sean Lamont gives Dougie Fife a chance on the wing. David Denton gets his first start at no8 in place of Johnnie Beattie, who is perhaps lucky to find himself on the bench after failing to make an impact in the last couple matches. The presence of both he and Adam Ashe on the bench is a bit strange considering neither are specialist flankers.
The big blow, the unexpected one, is the loss of Alex Dunbar during the week with a serious knee injury. It could hardly have been worse news for Cotter & Co. with few top class options in the midfield. Thankfully Matt Scott is available to fill in, but Dunbar has arguably been Scotland’s best in the championship. His defense and presence at the tackle have improved to match his offensive prowess. It is a massive loss, and he must be long odds to recover in time for the World Cup, though it’s not impossible.
England have also tinkered only slightly, recalling fit-again Courtney Lawes in place of unlucky George Kruis, with Geoff Parling taking the place of Nick Easter on the bench. Injuries to Henry Thomas and Tom Croft open spots for Kieran Brookes and Tom Wood. The biggest boost is the return of Mike Brown at fullback, recovered from concussion that ruled him out of the Ireland test.
Stuart Lancaster will be desperate for his troops to regain their form, and a home match against a rattled Scotland is just what the doctor ordered. It was impossible to see Italy winning last week at Murrayfield, and yet they did, so it’s just not appropriate to say the Scots have no chance, but it will be immensely difficult. It’s not so much the psychology this time, England just look the better side period. Expect the contenders to rebound in style, beating a competitive but overmatched Scottish side by around 14 points.
ENGLAND vs SCOTLAND
Saturday, March 14, 17:00 GMT, London
Referee: Romain Poite (FFR)
Assistants: George Clancy (IRFU) & Marius Mitrea (FIR)
TMO: Ben Skeen (NZRU)