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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  • Fraser Brown ‘hugely proud’ of Scotland career as he announces rugby retirement Fraser Brown ‘hugely proud’ of Scotland career as he announces rugby retirement

    Fraser Brown declared himself “hugely proud” of his Scotland career as he announced his retirement from professional rugby.

    The 34-year-old Glasgow hooker has not played since rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament while playing for the World XV against the Barbarians at Twickenham last May and he has now conceded defeat in his bid to return to action.

    Brown won 61 Scotland caps, with the first of them coming against Italy in 2013 and the last in the Six Nations match at home to Ireland in 2023, the same game incidentally in which Stuart Hogg won his final cap. The front-rower went to both the 2015 and 2019 World Cups.

    “When you have a serious injury like I did with an ACL at the end of your career, it is always going to be hard to come back from,” Brown told Scottish Rugby.

    “That probably made it a little easier to announce my retirement but it’s still a surreal and strange feeling.

    “I’m hugely proud to have played so many times for Scotland during my career. To get one cap was great, but then my second one came against the All Blacks at Murrayfield which was such a special occasion.

    “To reach 50 caps was a big moment as I had to deal with a lot of injuries throughout my career and to be part of the growth process of the team which has resulted in where they are now has been cool.”

    At club level, Brown made 141 appearances for Glasgow after joining from Edinburgh in 2011.

    The hooker helped them win the Guinness Pro12 in 2015 with victory over Munster in the final in Belfast, while his last appearance for Warriors proved to be last season’s Challenge Cup final defeat by Toulon in Dublin.

    Glasgow head coach Franco Smith paid tribute to Brown, saying: “Fraser is the epitome of a modern professional and someone who should serve as a role model to any young player starting their journey.

    “The respect with which he is held, not only within the Glasgow Warriors community but within the wider rugby family, should serve to underline the achievements he has earned throughout his career and the manner in which he has achieved them.

    “His work ethic and determination to bring the best out of the people and players around him has been clear to all throughout his career.

    “I wish him the very best for whatever comes next and I know he will apply that same work ethic and determination that made him one of this club’s most distinguished Warriors.”

    Brown becomes the second experienced Scotland front-rower to announce his retirement in the space of a month after Edinburgh prop WP Nel recently revealed he would be hanging his boots up at the end of this season.

  • England tap into knowledge of Brian Ashton to play entertaining brand of rugby England tap into knowledge of Brian Ashton to play entertaining brand of rugby

    England have been tapping into the knowledge of veteran attack guru Brian Ashton to achieve their aim of filling Twickenham.

    The Red Roses ran in 14 tries in an 88-10 victory over Ireland that places them on the brink of claiming a sixth consecutive Guinness Women’s Six Nations title when they face France on Saturday.

    A thrilling attacking performance before a 48,778 crowd was born out of the belief that in order to play in front of a full house of Twickenham at next year’s home World Cup, they must play appealing rugby.

    And helping them achieve that aim is Ashton, a former England men’s head coach regarded as a visionary in the game whose expertise has been enlisted by Red Roses boss John Mitchell.

    “Brian makes us ask questions. ‘If this is the picture, what is the easiest way that you can take the wins?’” said Dow, who ran in a hat-trick against Ireland.

    “I do think it is about asking those questions and having Brian Ashton available throughout the week…I absolutely adore the man.

    “The way he phrases things almost makes you re-think the philosophy of rugby. I think in the English brand the philosophy is ‘let’s kick to the corner, let’s take the territory’. But is that the philosophy of all rugby? Can we expand that?

    “At the end of the day, professional rugby is a business in its own way. We need to be proving to the whole of England that we can play an exciting brand of rugby.”

    While England march on by overwhelming the opposition in front of them, Ireland’s blowout highlights the gulf in class in the women’s game and affects the credibility of the Six Nations.

    The Red Roses have accumulated 228 points after four rounds and France are the only European team capable of taking the wind out of their sails when the rivals clash in Bordeaux.

    “I 100 per cent think teams will catch up and as much as we may be on top now, it is on us to try and work to keep that place and demand more from ourselves,” Dow said.

    “Because as much as we’d love the game to grow, we want to keep the gap ourselves and continue to prove that we can be the best.”

  • John Mitchell: England motivated to fill Twickenham with captivating displays John Mitchell: England motivated to fill Twickenham with captivating displays

    England ran riot against Ireland with head coach John Mitchell revealing their pivot to an all-action attack is designed to fill Twickenham.

    A crowd of 48,778 watched the Red Roses plunder 14 tries in an 88-10 victory that keeps them on course to win a sixth successive Guinness Women’s Six Nations title when they face France in a likely Grand Slam decider next weekend.

    Unstoppable wing Abby Dow and player of the match Ellie Kildunne completed hat-tricks, but there were fireworks across the field as England delivered on their promise to put on a show.

    Their ultimate aim is to run out at next year’s home World Cup in front of a sold-out Twickenham and Mitchell insisted that can only be achieved by captivating audiences with a style of play no longer based on forward dominance.

    “The girls presented a performance that went up a gear. We asked that of them during the week and they certainly delivered it,” the Kiwi said.

    “We’ve got a drive to fill the stadium on a consistent basis because we want to play here consistently.

    “If we can continue to produce performances like that it won’t be too long before we do fill all the seats. From that point of view, it’s only that style of rugby that will bring people to watch us.

    “We know we have other strengths as well, but this is a good sign and we’re only in the infancy of it.

    “It’s a testament to the girls because they go out and own it and see the rewards from it.”

    England have amassed 228 points after four rounds of the Six Nations, conceding only 20, and the lopsided scoreline at Twickenham is an ugly look for the competition.

    “I’m sure some people will chat about the competitiveness, but at the end of the day we drive ourselves in the way we prepare and that’s all we can focus on,” Mitchell said.

    “We’re not really in a position to judge the competition or its competitiveness. Our standards in the way we prepare have gone up a little bit in terms of level.”

    Ireland head coach Scott Bemand admitted his side were left “shell-shocked” by the game’s dominant force.

    “Tough day at the office. We came up against the market leaders but we’ll dust ourselves down and come back next week,” he said.

    “This was a big game for a youthful group. Could we have predicted a margin like that? Probably not.”

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