England will hope their title ambitions will not be over before the game has even started when they face Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday.
With Wales taking on Ireland before the clash in London, the Red Rose’s chance of claiming the Six Nations will be dashed should Warren Gatland’s men emerge victorious at the Principality Stadium.
No doubt eyes will be fixed on that encounter but, irrespective of the outcome of that game, Eddie Jones’ side still have a job to do. After the disastrous campaign in 2018, it has been a positive start to 2019 for the 2016 and ’17 winners, having comfortably defeated Ireland, France and Italy.
The loss to the Welsh was their only blemish in what has been a step forward for Jones and his team. They have found a much better balance to the side and, although they were poor in the second half of their Round Three encounter, there is an impressive spine to the XV.
England will therefore expect to round off the tournament with another good display, particularly versus a Scottish side who are struggling. Gregor Townsend’s outfit have endured a torrid few weeks, with injury depriving them of many of their best players.
Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour are among those to be out of this encounter, while Hamish Watson and WP Nel only returned to the squad for the Wales clash.
As a result, they have failed to gain any continuity and their performances have suffered. The games have been peppered with mistakes and ill-discipline, which has seen them succumb to Ireland, France and Gatland’s team.
Watson and Nel will certainly need to be at their best if they are to stop the hosts on the gainline and at the set-piece. Should the Scots manage to halt the Red Rose’s big ball-carriers then the openside flanker is very adept over the ball, while the tighthead will attempt to put pressure on Ben Moon at the scrum.
Jones has so many threats at his disposal, though, that it is difficult to see how a weakened Scotland team can stop them. They at least won’t have to face the gargantuan Joe Cokanasiga who, for some reason, has been dropped from the squad completely, but England still have a well-balanced backline.
Henry Slade comes in at 13 to add a bit more dexterity and Elliot Daly is beginning to look more assured in the full-back role. On the wings, Jonny May and Jack Nowell combine pace, footwork and a willingness to work, with the former in especially fine form.
Then there is Manu Tuilagi, who is looking more like the player that dominated the All Blacks in 2012. Italy could not handle his power and, although Saturday will be another level up for the centre, Scotland certainly won’t like facing him
There is also a matter of revenge to consider. Townsend’s men stunned the Auld Enemy at Murrayfield with a superb display in 2018, eventually coming away with an outstanding 25-13 triumph, and England would like to repay the favour.
And they should do too. All the momentum is with the Red Rose and it would take a remarkable effort for Scotland to overturn their rivals and claim their first victory over the home side at Twickenham since 1983.
Players to watch:
For England: After a destructive performance against Italy and a new contract in the bag at Leicester, will Manu Tuilagi put in a similarly impressive display versus better opposition? The Tigers powerhouse has shifted one position to 12, after playing at outside centre last weekend, but no doubt him and playmaker Henry Slade can interchange to get him into the wider channels, where he was so effective in Round Four. Tuilagi is starting to get back to his best and the Red Rose will be an even more frightening proposition at the World Cup providing the 27-year-old can stay injury free.
For Scotland: After a bruising performance against Wales, where he carried hard and made ground consistently in traffic, Magnus Bradbury needs to do the same this weekend. Josh Strauss was pretty ineffective with ball in hand in Round Four and Gregor Townsend will hope that Bradbury has the required impact as they look to get some consistent front foot ball. It will not be easy, however, as England’s defence, under the guidance of John Mitchell, has been very sturdy in this tournament.
Head-to-head: After a stunning impact in the previous round, Hamish Watson’s battle with Tom Curry should be a thriller. Watson looked like he was making up for lost time when he came onto the field against Wales, after sustaining a broken hand before the Six Nations. The 27-year-old was physical and made ground superbly, almost helping the Scots overturn a 15-6 half-time deficit. It adds to their carrying options and they will need more of that on Saturday, but Curry has been defensively outstanding in this tournament. England’s standout forward, the youngster continues to impress, and will be looking to force the Scottish players back in the tackle.
2018: Scotland won 25-13 at Murrayfield 2017: England won 61-21 at Twickenham 2016: England won 15-9 at Murrayfield 2015: England won 25-13 at Twickenham 2014: England won 20-0 at Murrayfield 2013: England won 38-18 at Twickenham 2012: England won 12-6 at Murrayfield 2011: England won 16-12 in Auckland
Prediction: Scotland are ravaged by injury while the Red Rose are looking powerful, so it should be a comfortable victory for the hosts. England by 20.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Manu Tuilagi, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (c), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Mark Wilson, 5 George Kruis, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Ben Moon Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Brad Shields, 20 Nathan Hughes, 21 Ben Spencer, 22 George Ford, 23 Ben Te’o
Scotland: 15 Sean Maitland, 14 Darcy Graham, 13 Nick Grigg, 12 Sam Johnson, 11 Byron McGuigan, 10 Finn Russell, 9 Ali Price, 8 Magnus Bradbury, 7 Hamish Watson, 6 Sam Skinner, 5 Grant Gilchrist, 4 Ben Toolis, 3 Willem Nel, 2 Stuart McInally (c), 1 Allan Dell Replacements: 16 Fraser Brown, 17 Gordon Reid, 18 Simon Berghan, 19 Jonny Gray, 20 Josh Strauss, 21 Greig Laidlaw, 22 Adam Hastings, 23 Chris Harris
Date: Saturday, March 16 Venue: Twickenham Kick-off: 17:00 GMT Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand) Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina) TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
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