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Scotland capable of causing a big upset at Twickenham

CALCUTTA CUP CHALLENGE - England coach Stuart Lancaster

CALCUTTA CUP CHALLENGE - England coach Stuart Lancaster

 

Thirty years is a very long time for Scottish supporters to wait for a win at Twickenham but I have a fear this year could just be the opportunity they have longed for.

There is a certain congruence with the story back then as there is now: England were out-and-out favourites and Scotland were expected to hop back over the border with their tails between their legs.

It turned out to be a famous win for our cousins north of Hadrian’s Wall and left a scar on me as it was my first trip to Twickenham. To travel home after losing a ‘banker’ was a tough pill to swallow for an 11-year-old boy.

Fast forward 30 years and Scotland again are expected to be second best on Saturday but there is nothing more dangerous than a Scotland team that has been written off.

It is important to get into context that this is a new Scottish coaching regime and, as we saw with England last year, with any new coaching setting the players generally react and performances improve.

Sometimes there is a honeymoon period of a few games, but sometimes that improvement is built on more solid foundations and the team can keep growing.

Whatever will happen to Scotland by the end of the championship one thing is certain: They will be a massive test for England on Saturday.

One thing that is clear about Scott Johnson’s approach as their new head coach is that he has always been viewed as a player’s coach.

Well respected after his stints in Wales, he will undoubtedly get the best from his new charges.

Johnson, coupled with the wily experience of Dean Ryan as interim forwards coach, will believe they are capable of causing an upset.

The days of an England team underestimating the opposition are well gone - if they ever existed at all - which is why I was amused by the rantings of ex-Scotland and Lions guru Jim Telfer this week, calling England arrogant and pretentious.

It’s amusing because this type of rubbish is always pedalled at times like these, but nothing could be further from the truth with this current England set up.

They are hardly words that you would use to describe the likes of Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree, more down to earth men you could hardly wish to meet, and that attitude of humility and respect has filtered into their squad during the past 12 months.

They, better than anyone, realise their stunning performance against New Zealand will be quickly forgotten if they fail to back that up on Saturday.

The mindset and expectation has now fundamentally altered and England have to live with that.

By 6pm on Saturday evening we will know whether they can live with that. I believe they can but it will be much tighter than many people are expecting.

Tactically England are up against it this weekend, with the absence of Manu Tuilagi, who has been a real menace in the midfield, and his ability to smash over the gain line will be missed.

His absence gives an opportunity for the burgeoning talent that is Billy Twelvetrees.

I first met him when he was a gawky-looking teenager in the academy at Leicester Tigers a number of years ago. If you had told me back then that this guy was a future international player it would have been hard to see.

But over the past few years that lanky player has bulked up and taken his opportunities, firstly at Tigers and now at Gloucester.

He is a really talented footballer and also a big physical presence, so I expect him to fit into that jersey well, which is some journey considering where he started.

This will be one of the first times I can remember that the Scotland pack will be a bigger unit than England, and they will be relishing that battle, particularly at the lineout.

That will be a huge contest, as you have some of the finest lineout forwards in the British game on display, and the team that can get the upper hand in that department will dictate things.

Foden return is a big boost for Saints

I can’t say I was totally surprised to see Ben Foden left out of England’s 23-man squad for the clash with Scotland at Twickenham this weekend.

The full-back’s form since his return from injury has been a little patchy by his very high standards and he is playing in a position where there is significant competition for the jersey.

I do expect him to be involved at some point during this year’s Six Nations, and after the disappointment of missing out this week he will be determined to win that jersey back.

It’s good news for the Saints man as he is a player with a point to prove.

It’s not a bad thing for Foden to have a week or two out of the England spotlight as he looks to regain some of his verve and I am sure England boss Stuart Lancaster will be keeping a close eye on events at Exeter on Saturday evening.

Saints’ trip to Sandy Park for the LV=Cup clash will be a tough task but one made a little easier by England’s decision to release Foden and scrum-half Lee Dickson.

Unlike qualification for Europe, Northampton’s destiny in this competition is firmly in their grasp, as they sit top of Pool 4 heading into the final round of fixtures.

A semi-final berth in the cup, for the fourth time in five seasons, will be a big boost for them in what has been a frustrating campaign so far, but getting a result at Exeter will, no doubt, be incredibly tough.

The Chiefs, who sit second in their pool, are also in the hunt for qualification and are not hurt, as Saints have been, with the absence of some their grunt up front.

Fresh in the memory, though, is Saints’ result in the Premiership a few weeks ago, which has been one of the performances of the season so far.

Whilst still not a totally assured performance against Gloucester last weekend, there was enough to suggest that a positive result is on the cards this Saturday.

 

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