At the time of writing, Grand Slam winners Wales – congratulations, by the way, and well deserved – have a 25-0 lead over Ireland, meaning that England are playing for second here. On paper, that might take the edge out of the last game of the tournament, but it’s unlikely to do so.
England have played to the full 80 in their three wins this tournament and been praised to high leaven by Eddie Jones for it, whilst there is also the small matter of World Cup places to be sealed, whether from the XV or the bench; Oh, and England might want a small bit of revenge for a 25-13 defeat last year ahead of a home crowd. All things summed up, I think the home side will be motivated enough for this.
That is something which, all emotions aside, most onlookers would expect – England have won three of their four games by at least 12 points and are at home, facing a Scotland side that is currently second from bottom with just six points, and with a dreadful away record; Scotland have not registered an away win in the Six Nations anywhere other than Italy since the last day of the 2010 championship.
They are also decimated by injury. That has been the case for much of this Championship, but they had recovered a few players before their clash against Wales, when they pummeled the Welsh line in the second half – albeit to no avail, but that game took a toll in the one division they can ill afford injuries – their backline.
Stuart Hogg, Huw Jones, Blair Kinghorn and Tommy Seymour are all out of this game, robbing them of their best wingers and fullback, and that spells deep trouble for them – in the same way that having nearly a full XV out meant they were hammered in a 27-10 defeat to France that could and should have been more comprehensive with the hosts having two tries disallowed.
England have no such worries and whilst this might indicate disrespect to Scotland – it doesn’t – their biggest worry might be how bad Storm Gareth is, with Wales having to play in foul conditions earlier, and whilst the winds are high, Twickenham is set to be dry for the crucial period between 5 and 7.
That ought to allow England to show yet more of the sharp attacking talent that we’ve seen from them right from the first minute of the Championship with a tremendous Johnny May try against Ireland. They went onto win that game 33-20 and whilst they were battered by Wales for 20 minutes in Cardiff, there’s still a huge amount for Jones to take forward from this campaign – and certainly more than last year.
Owen Farrell can be relied upon to be consistently excellent but he’s been aided by Ben Youngs’ fantastic performances during this Championship, with the two taking the kickchase strategy to new highs during the first two rounds of the Championship. Wales managed to stop it at source, but they had a fully fit side and home advantage, and they will once again look to target Sean Maitland, and especially Darcy Graham and Byron McGuigan in the back three.
Jones used blunt force to carve through Italy but he has more playmaking options if he wants them and Henry Slade returns to replace Ben Te’o whilst Jack Nowell replaces the widely popular Joe Cokanasiga which suggests a high octaine kicking game to supply the brilliant chaser Johnny May, who has five tries this tournament.
Given the advantage in the pack, where Billy Vunipiola, Tom Curry, George Kruis and Kyle Sinckler have been outstanding, England should have the go forward to put a decent margin between the two sides and this can be a comfortable win.
4 pts England -19 (10/11 general)
1 pt England to win by 31-40 points (9/2 general)
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
Kick-off: 17:00 GMT
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Jérôme Garcès (France), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)