Calcutta Cup: Desperate England to edge out Scotland

England Rugby's Owen Farrell releases the ball at Pennyhill Park in preparation for the Calcutta Cup against Scotland

The 2023 Calcutta Cup is set for one of its most intriguing battles for many a year. England has a new coach, a seemingly new approach and they desperately need a win. Scotland have been the perennial underachiever with Gregor Townsend at the helm. So, who wins it? It is such a difficult one to call. Edinburgh’s convincing win over an England-laden Saracens two weeks has added additional intrigue to this Calcutta Cup clash. Both teams have pulled some major selection surprises. From an England perspective, the much-criticised Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell combo are retained. Scotland has decided to dispense with the services of in-form Ali Price and Chris Harris. Charlie Inglefield reviews England’s potential approach ahead of the Calcutta Cup.

Clarity and an improving attacking approach for England

As good as Steve Borthwick is, England rugby cannot expect miracles to happen straight away. England has been hit badly by injuries particularly in the centres with Henry Slade, Dan Kelly, and Elliot Daly all injured. If we asked an England fan what they wanted to see by England – clarity and an improving attacking approach would probably be near the top.

Borthwick will want his team to all sing from the same hymn sheet for starters. The all-important duo of Marcus Smith and Owen Farrell immediately comes under scrutiny for the game plan England will look to adopt. It is a big risk putting this combination back in but new attack coach Nick Evans could be the man to make it work. It is the first big tick under Borthwick’s command. Evans has revolutionised Harlequins’ attacking strategy despite Harlequins being one of the premier kicking teams in the Gallagher Premiership.

Under Borthwick, we can expect a strategy around kick-chase, solid set-piece and aggressive defence. Some may say conservative but don’t discount the importance of Nick Evans’ role in Borthwick’s strategy. England will look to build on the back of getting their basics right but the message will also be to incorporate the ‘if it’s on go for it’ approach. Nick Evans recently talked about giving his backline clear direction and clarity to England’s game plan. Never a truer word said when analysing the merits of a Smith and Farrell combination.

Get the set-piece working properly again

One of the disappointing aspects of England’s autumn campaign was the inconsistency of their set piece. Borthwick’s renowned attention to detail, particularly at the lineout will have been a key focus in the lead-up to the Calcutta Cup. Dan Cole’s selection is an example of how England wants to bolster their front row options but also get their set-piece going again.

Ben Curry, Lewis Ludlam and Alex Dombrandt will lead a more dynamic and explosive backrow. Ollie Chessum beside Maro Itoke is another selection that would point towards a more abrasive engine room but utilise Chessum’s dynamism in the loose. On paper, this looks like a much more pacey and expressive England pack. If they can win the first 20 minutes then England will go a long way to winning back the Calcutta Cup. Expect England’s forwards to fly out of the blocks (preferably, legally) against their Scottish counterparts.

Borthwick has Jamie George available again and the Saracens’ hooker will be charged with the responsibility of hitting his jumpers and giving England a platform to attack. The lineout is Borthwick’s baby so to speak and it should function much better than what we saw in the autumn.

Discipline the key to England’s rebirth

Not that we want to give Steve Borthwick a shopping list of priorities to work through. But, discipline or England’s lack of will be hugely important to get England back to winning ways. It has been a constant thorn in England’s side over the last few years. We saw too many times during the autumn, cheap and avoidable penalties. Every team has to find that fine line between aggressive line speed in defence and penalties that will happen as a result. But, blatant indiscipline caught England short time and again.

England fans want to see their team play with aggression and pace and for that to happen they can’t constantly yield possession and territory. Scotland has a very decent backrow led by Jamie Ritchie, who is growing into his role as captain. Two weeks ago, Edinburgh won the breakdown battle against the Saracens. The breakdown will be key as ever at this level and the selections of Ben Curry and Alex Dombrandt is wise given how well they jackle in the Gallagher Premiership.

England is a team in transition

Two years ago, Scotland famously won at Twickenham. They are unbeaten in four out of the last five Calcutta Cup meetings. England does not need any more motivation than that. On Saturday, Twickenham will be packed out with an expectant crowd hoping for a crucial first win under Steve Borthwick’s leadership. It is a wonderful opportunity for England rugby to get their mojo back. However, it is going to be a mightily difficult task.

Everyone will remember the booing after England’s last match against South Africa. To change mindsets, systems, personnel and direction in a matter of weeks is an awful lot to ask for. That is not an excuse, it is reality. What England fans will hope to see is a fired-up England pack who will take it to Scotland from the opening whistle. If they can win the first few collisions, and keep their discipline then the crowd will come into play.

READ MORE: England v Scotland 2023: Excitement building, despite climbing injury toll

England to edge Scotland in the Calcutta Cup

It’s an exciting England backline on paper but not a physical one. The considerable forms of Sione Tuipuluto and Huw Jones will severely test the relatively small shoulders of Smith, Farrell and Joe Marchant. England has gone for pace, dynamism and footwork out wide. Max Malins, Ollie Hassell-Collins and Joe Marchant all have the wheels to cause Scotland plenty of problems. If England’s forwards gain the ascendancy up front then England’s attack will have the quick ball to work off.

Scotland should fancy their chances at Twickenham. For all of the positivity and optimism coming out of the England camp, this is an England team very much in transition. Scotland has the team and the skills to beat England. They will have to take on an England team who are desperate to win and desperate to win back the Calcutta Cup. There will be nothing in it. With England at home, they simply must take advantage of that, especially in the Six Nations. England to win a tight Calcutta Cup contest 20-18.


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