Injuries will force Eddie Jones to tinker further with his England rugby team as they prepare to take on Scotland at Murrayfield on Saturday. It has been a long time since we last saw an England rugby team without Owen Farrell, Courtney Lawes or Jonny May. Injuries, a fire and Covid have not helped England in their preparations for the Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. That said, England have enough firepower to avenge their Twickenham performance last year. Eddie Jones continues to evolve the squad and it will create opportunities for others. The likes of Mark Atkinson and Ollie Hassell-Collins are poised to get their chance on Saturday. There are some tough selection decisions for Eddie Jones to make and Charlie Inglefield reviews his options.
Launch Dombrandt and Simmonds
There is no Courtney Lawes or Sam Underhill so we will see a very different back-row line up against Scotland. Lewis Ludlam’s power may be utilised at blindside with Tom Curry’s versatile excellence shifting to the openside. This in turn will give Alex Dombrandt a chance to cement his standing as England’s starting number 8. Sam Simmonds again will be unlucky to miss out but he can make a huge impact from the bench. What may swing it for Dombrandt is his telepathic understanding with Marcus Smith. These two work so well at club level for Harlequins and although the fury of a Six Nations match is a step up, Smith and Dombrandt are more than capable of translating their club form to the Six Nations.
So much will depend on whether Jones will go for size and aggression to compensate for the loss of Lawes and Underhill. England cannot rely on grunt to get over the mighty challenge of an ever-improving Scotland at Murrayfield. The retention of both Dombrandt and Simmonds in the match-day squad would suggest that Jones has seen enough for one of these two to start at number 8.
Resist the urge to start with Ford
George Ford has been tearing it up in the Gallagher Premiership for the last 12 months. His form is far better than Owen Farrell’s and it would be understandable if Jones goes for him the cauldron of a Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. We hope not. Marcus Smith is England’s coming superstar and yes he will have off days. Thus far, Smith has passed every test thrown at him and that includes the might of the Wallabies and South Africa. His place-kicking has been outstanding for England and Scotland will be another significant match-up for his talents. By all means, have George Ford on the bench but picking him over Smith would surely be a step backwards in England’s evolution towards the 2023 Rugby World Cup.
With the absence of Manu Tuilagi and Owen Farrell, Mark Atkinson is poised to partner Henry Slade in the centres. Atkinson was all positive hustle and bustle in his only appearance against Tonga. Crucially Atkinson knows his good friend and fellow Gloucester centre Chris Harris very well. Atkinson would be responsible for getting England over the gain-line and giving Henry Slade a foot or two of space to work in. Slade’s excellent form in the autumn will need to continue against Scotland if England are to triumph.
Nowell’s versatility vital for England rugby team
Jack Nowell’s inclusion becomes vitally important for an England rugby team beset by injury absences. Nowell has aspirations to move inwards to the centres but he should start in place of Jonny May. If England need options in the second half then Nowell can move further infield for England. His priceless ability to squeeze through the tightest of defences and consistently make the hard yards will be needed at Murrayfield. This is Nowell’s second rebirth for England and Jones will surely put in the team somewhere.
Fans of Adam Radwan will be disappointed that he has not made the match-day squad but Ollie Hassell-Collins deserves an opportunity. He would have seen much change with the perennially inconsistent London Irish but has always been very good for them. Hassell-Collins would not let down the England rugby team if Jones decides to put him in.
England to play with energy
It is difficult to know where England are at going into this sumptuous Calcutta Cup clash. Undoubtedly they made decent strides in the autumn series but moving away from home, particularly in the Six Nations, England have to go up another level. The first game, especially away from home in the Six Nations sets the tone for what happens for the remainder of the tournament. It will be a very inexperienced England rugby team to what we are used to seeing. The hope, if you are an England fan, is that the team starts fast and plays with pace and intensity. Scotland for all of their improvements can still ship points.
The likes of Marcus Smith and Freddie Steward will not have experienced the ferocity of a Calcutta Cup clash at Murrayfield. Their respective temperaments would suggest that they can get through it unscathed. Maro Itoje and Joe Marler have a big job on their hands in guiding England’s pack. This is a component of England’s game which has fallen slightly over the last 12 months. Eddie Jones will want to see a much-improved set-piece.
What is exciting for England rugby is the inclusion of fresh blood and energy to the squad. It may be that Tom Curry becomes England’s captain for Murrayfield. He is an exceptional rugby player who along with Maro Itoje are England’s first picks. Can he show the leadership that Courtney Lawes did so admirably in November? Lawes led by his actions, a no-nonsense approach that worked well in Owen Farrell’s absence. Curry has all the attributes to follow in Lawes’ steps. He will go in full throttle against the Scots and will expect his lieutenants, Joe Marler and Maro Itoje, to lead the way with him.
Scotland will be wary of England’s slight unpredictability this year. With so many absentees and with an injection of youth this is a dangerous England rugby team. The question is whether England’s youthful outfit have enough to be able to deal with the Murrayfield factor and an improving Scottish team? Scotland to win this by a score – 24-20.
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