5 talking points as Scotland and England renew hostilities in Six Nations

By Sports Desk February 23, 2024

Scotland and England renew hostilities when they meet in rugby’s oldest international fixture at Murrayfield on Saturday.

For both sides it is win or bust in a critical Guinness Six Nations round-three clash that will shape their respective Championships.

Here, the PA news agency looks at five talking points heading into the Edinburgh showdown.

Furbank’s second coming

 

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Steve Borthwick is capable of throwing curve balls in selection – think Marcus Smith at full-back, Alex Mitchell starting at scrum-half at the World Cup – and the latest example is George Furbank’s return at full-back. Freddie Steward controls the air against any opposition but Borthwick has cast aside England’s safety blanket in favour of a more natural ball player who will provide a counter-attacking threat and greater mobility in defence. Promoting Furbank is a bold call and even if the six caps won between 2020 to 2022 failed to provide compelling evidence of his Test pedigree, he is an exciting pick who has been on fire for Northampton this season.

Heavyweights collide

England take a more balanced backline to Edinburgh after recalling Ollie Lawrence at inside centre. For the first time in this Six Nations there will be genuine ball-carrying clout in midfield after Lawrence recovered from the hip injury that ruled him out of the wins against Italy and Wales. In the words of assistant coach Kevin Sinfield, the powerful Bath runner is “ready to kick the door down” and it will be hoped he can provide a counter weight to the similarly physical Sione Tuipulotu. It is a heavyweight collision that will influence the outcome of the match.

Lopsided rivalry

Scotland are odds-on favourites to retain the Calcutta Cup – and rightly so. They have won their last three Tests against the ‘Auld Enemy’, whose victory in 2020 is their only triumph in the last six meetings. The games have been ferociously competitive but Scotland are simply a better team, having turned a one-sided rivalry on its head. Defined by this fixture, these are the glory days for Scottish rugby and for a measure of England’s decline in recent years – finishing third at the 2023 World Cup aside – look no further than their recent struggles against their oldest foes.

Moment of truth

Gregor Townsend admitted that the history and emotion of a clash with England made it Scotland’s “most important game of the season”, but the head coach also knows that settling old scores is only part of the bigger picture. A golden generation in the nation’s rugby history, epitomised by their fly-half genius Finn Russell, is in danger of passing without winning any silverware and after the injustice of seeing a late match-winning try disallowed against France in round two, they can not afford any more slip ups. Time is running out for Russell’s Scotland to prove they are a serious team.

Cautious optimism

England arrive at Murrayfield with two wins in the bank and alongside Ireland they are the only unbeaten team left in the tournament. Coupled with their bronze medal finish at the World Cup and that should be cause for optimism when they face Scotland for the 142nd time. But a side in transition that is attempting to evolve its attack and get to grips with a new blitz defence has so far faced the Six Nations’ two weakest sides. The level of competition cranks up significantly on Saturday and while there is no danger of Borthwick’s resilient side being blown away, defeat would signpost another Championship of underachievement.

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    Jess Breach insists England enter unknown territory when they meet a rapidly improving Scotland in the Guinness Women’s Six Nations on Saturday.

    The Red Roses have not lost in the fixture since suffering an 8-5 defeat in 1998 but that record faces its sternest test yet at a sold-out Hive Stadium in Edinburgh, where a record crowd of 7,774 will be attendance.

    Scotland toppled Wales in Cardiff in round one before being edged by France a week later and, having won the WXV 2 tournament in October, there is evidence the 28 professional contracts awarded at the end of 2022 are raising standards.

    England remain favourites but wing Breach insists the element of jeopardy is good for the Red Rose and the Six Nations.

    “It is going to be a really competitive game. And we’ve probably never been in this scenario with Scotland before,” said Breach, who has won on all 35 of her caps.

    “Everyone’s really excited because it’s going to be challenging for us. Hopefully we can showcase really good rugby for the fans.

    “It’s great for the competition. You can see that every nation is getting better after being contracted.

    “Italy put up a great fight against us in the first half, so it just shows that if money is pumped into the game and players are allowed to go full time, the Six Nations gets better.”

    Demonstrating the growth of women’s rugby is that Scotland’s victory 26 years ago was staged at an independent school in Edinburgh, compared to a packed Hive Stadium in 2024.

    “It feels like we’re growing and heading in the right direction. Every nation wants big crowds,” Breach said.

    “That’s happening at the moment and heading into the 2025 World Cup we should be able to sell most stadiums out. It’s exciting and who doesn’t want to be part of women’s rugby?”

  • John Souttar insists his full focus is on Rangers’ season run-in John Souttar insists his full focus is on Rangers’ season run-in

    John Souttar will put Euro 2024 aims on the backburner as he looks forward to a potentially thrilling finale to the domestic season with Rangers.

    The Light Blues already have the Viaplay Cup in the Ibrox trophy room and will play Hearts in the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden Park on Sunday week.

    Philippe Clement’s side are also chasing cinch Premiership leaders Celtic at the top of the table as they prepare for the trip to Ross County on Sunday and while the summer offers the possibility to go to the European Championships in Germany with Steve Clarke’s Scotland squad, the Gers defender is looking no further than Dingwall.

    The 27-year-old said: “To be honest, my full focus is on Rangers. It is massive for us at the end of the season, there are six, seven weeks left and everyone knows what is at stake. So for me, the full focus is on every game.

    “I know it is cliche but it is so important we go into every game with full concentration and full belief in what we have been doing for the last months since the gaffer came in.

    “We stick to everything that has got us in this position and the rest will take care of itself.”

    After an injury-ravaged first season at Ibrox following his move from Hearts, Souttar is pleased to have racked up 35 appearance for Rangers this season so far.

    “Everyone knows last season for me was far from ideal and it wasn’t what I dreamed of when I signed here,” he said.

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  • On this day in 2004: Brian Lara makes record Test score of 400 not out On this day in 2004: Brian Lara makes record Test score of 400 not out

    On this day 20 years ago, Brian Lara regained the individual Test score world record on his way to an unbeaten 400 against England in the fourth Test in Antigua.

    Ten years after hitting 375 to claim the world record for an individual innings against England at the same venue, Lara exceeded that effort by becoming the first player in history to score 400.

    By doing so, he became the first player to hold the individual Test innings record twice.

    Lara reclaimed his record from Australian Matthew Hayden, who only six months earlier had broken the record with 380 in Perth in October 2003.

    Lara’s mammoth innings steered the West Indies to a total of 751 for five before declaring and reflecting on his achievement, he said: “When I scored it before I didn’t know what to expect – this time it was very tiring, but I’m here again.

    “Matthew Hayden must have batted very well against Zimbabwe because it doesn’t matter who you are playing against, it’s very hard.

    “It’s a great feeling, but it’s dampened by the series result. Ten years ago the match ended in a draw, but this time we’re looking for a result.”

    Upon achieving the record, Lara was greeted in the middle by Baldwin Spencer, the Prime Minister of Antigua, while England captain Michael Vaughan hailed Lara as “one of the all-time great players”.

    “We all set out to achieve greatness, but he is a gifted, gifted player – throughout his innings we tested him with a few things but he was much better than us for those two days,” Vaughan said.

    “He is one of the all-time great players, he has achieved something that has never been achieved before even with the amount of pressure he had on him before the start of this Test.

    “He will go down as one of the greats of the game and it will take some player and some performance to beat his 400.”

    Mahela Jayawardene went close with 374 for Sri Lanka against South Africa two years later but Lara remains first and third on the list two decades on.

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