Rugby World Cup 2011 Match Preview: Scotland vs England
For Scotland the knock-out stages have started a week early, as they realistically need to beat their ‘Auld Enemy’ England at 8:30 on Saturday morning in their final pool game.
For one team a Quarter-Final with New Zealand or France awaits, for the other, the departure lounge. Despite the many permutations created by who wins Georgia vs. Argentina, the most likely scenario will be who ever wins this game goes through to the knock-out stages joined by Argentina.
Bonus points and points difference could ultimately be crucial, but both teams will be looking to win outright. And this attitude has been reflected in the teams selected. Scotland have named a strong and dynamic side, looking to run the ball as they have endeavoured to for the whole of the World Cup, much to their credit.
Six changes see Captain Alaistair Kellock return to partner Richie Gray in the second row, strong scrummager Euan Murray returns to tight head and nippy Mike Blair to scrum half. The hard running Sean Lamont is moved to centre with Simon Danielli taking his place on the wing. The solid Graeme Morrison drops out to be replaced by the more elusive Joe Ansbro, with Richie Vernon replacing Kelly Brown.
England meanwhile have replaced Mark Cueto, who is still not 100% from his recent back injury, despite scoring a hat-trick last week, and Courtney Lawes returns from suspension straight into the pack, along with Matt Stevens who steps into loosehead. For the players available, this is the strongest side England has put out in this year’s tournament.
The battle of the packs will be crucial as always. Murray has particularly been impressive so far, as demonstrated by his bullying the Georgia pack a fortnight ago. Up against a reinvigorated Matt Stevens who had needed more game time at Test match intensity, the battle here will dictate momentum at scrum time.
The strength of depth in the Scottish back row is admirable, and the breakdown will be targeted by them, as this is an area England have proved fallible. The Argentineans and Irish in Dublin did this and it was hugely disruptive to the way England want to play on both occasions.
With the ongoing issues with the match balls, unlike many important World Cup games, kicking may not be the deciding factor. Considering both Wilkinson and the metronomic Paterson will both be on the pitch, who has been putting the most work in on the training paddock may swing it.
It is in the outside backs I think the game will be won, with England edging it in the back three although the mercurial influence Max Evans will have should not be discounted. In tight games, which this game will no doubt be, it could be a moment of magic that is the difference. With many of the Scottish lads familiar with Chris Ashton from either earlier Six Nations or league rugby, he may be marked out the game unless he builds his confidence early on. And the direct running of Foden will hopefully generate some line breaks that will need to be well supported.
However I think the key man will be Tuilagi for England. Looking at the teams England are the stronger team, but the occasion and work ethic of Scotland will mean many positional battles could be deadlocked. It is 20 year old centre Tuilagi who has that little extra that could decide the match, be it through one of his now trademark bursts or by distracting defenders from those around him.
Scotland will be ferocious from the off and England may be knocked off their feet initially. It will be there response to this and their discipline at the much challenged breakdown which could be their downfall. Nonetheless, I still expect the men in white to win by more than 7 points, but it may take the whole 80 minutes to achieve.
England team: B Foden; C Ashton, M Tuilagi, M Tindall, D Armitage; J Wilkinson, B Youngs; M Stevens, S Thompson, D Cole, L Deacon, C Lawes, T Croft, L Moody (capt), J Haskell.
Replacements: D Hartley, A Corbisiero, T Palmer, N Easter, R Wigglesworth, T Flood, M Banahan.
Scotland team: C Paterson; M Evans, J Ansbro, S Lamont, S Danielli; R Jackson, M Blair; A Jacobsen, R Ford, E Murray, R Gray, A Kellock (capt), A Strokosch , J Barclay, R Vernon.
Replacements: S Lawson, A Dickinson, N Hines, R Rennie, C Cusiter, D Parks, N De Luca.