Preview: Scotland v England talking points

Scotland and England line up before match during 2020 Six Nations Scotland and England is the oldest rivalry in international rugby (David Davies/PA)

Scotland and England clash in the Six Nations at Murrayfield on Saturday with a lively build-up lighting the fuse for the latest instalment of the Calcutta Cup.

Here, we examine five talking points leading into the match.

Red hot Scots

Eddie Jones was returning to his occasional role as match promoter when he installed Scotland as “red hot favourites” for the 140th meeting between the old foes in contravention to the view of bookmakers, who have England narrowly in front. It is a well trodden path for the England head coach after similarly talking up Scottish expectations in 2016 and 2021 and the mind games were given short shrift by opposite number Gregor Townsend.

Entering the lion’s den

But despite the well rehearsed backs-to-the-wall routine, this Calcutta Cup clash is genuinely fraught with danger for England. Aside from the terrible weather conditions forecast, Scotland are in the midst of a revival as their wins at Twickenham and the Stade de France last year attest. Meanwhile, Jones’ men head north with seven starters possessing 10 caps or less and scrum-half Ben Youngs supplying a quarter of their caps total. It is a journey into the lion’s den made all the harder by the hostile Murrayfield crowd and having triumphed only once in their last four meetings, England know their foes must not be underestimated.

Russell v Smith

At the heart of the contest will be the duel between two supremely gifted playmakers. United by their feel for the game but separated by a chasm in experience, Finn Russell and Marcus Smith will direct operations at Murrayfield in the hope that the conditions will not entirely blunt their attacking instincts. Russell is the most dangerous fly-half on the international stage, able to dip into a large box of tricks, while Smith has been tearing up the Gallagher Premiership and looked every bit a Test player during his five caps. But as Russell is poised to take another Murrayfield outing in his stride, Smith will find out for the first time what it is like to play at the stronghold of one of England’s fiercest rivals.

Dark arts

Jones expects Smith to be targeted by Scotland, alongside firebrand props Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler. It is a tactic that paid dividends in 2018 when Ryan Wilson goaded George Ford as they walked down the Murrayfield tunnel after the warm-up. Owen Farrell came to his team-mate’s assistance, shoving Wilson as the pair clashed in an incident dubbed ‘Tunnelgate’. Scotland went on to win 25-13 and Wilson later revealed that he told Ford: “We’re coming for ya, watch yourself. Might have spoke about breaking some bones somewhere”. England are braced for something similar this time. “Scotland brag about being able to get into the psychology of England, don’t they? So let’s see on Saturday,” Jones said.

Captain Tom

Leading England into the Celtic cauldron is Tom Curry, who becomes the country’s youngest captain since Will Carling in 1988. The 23-year-old’s promotion in the injury-enforced absence of Farrell and Courtney Lawes is seen by the visitors as a statement of intent in how they want to take the game to Scotland. One of the first names on the team-sheet, Curry is destructive in each of the key areas of a back row – he carries hard, has stopping power in defence and is a nuisance in the breakdown. With question marks over the longer-term prospects of Farrell and Lawes, Saturday could see the 2019 world player of the year nominee make a convincing pitch for the role.

More England Six Nations Rugby News >