Joe Marler is desperate to help England wrestle back the Calcutta Cup on Saturday after growing exasperated with Scotland’s recent dominance of the fixture.

The 33-year-old prop grew up in an era when the Red Rose firmly held the upper hand over the Scots and he was on the winning side four times in a row after first playing in the highly-charged showdown in 2014.

The tables have turned since 2018, however. Scotland have lost only one of their last six matches against the Auld Enemy under Gregor Townsend and go into this weekend’s match buoyed by having won each of the last three.

That situation rankles with Marler, who is intent on ensuring England are celebrating on enemy territory come Saturday evening.

“It would just be nice to be on the winning end of it for once because it has been so long since we have,” he said at Murrayfield on the eve of the match.

“Obviously we had 2020, but the continued dominance from Scotland over us – it has been a long time now.

“From the start, we hadn’t lost to Scotland. Then the 2018 game the tide started to turn, the players that have come through in the Scottish side, you go, ‘Hang on, they have got some world-class operators now’.

“And it does shift the mindset slightly coming in as underdogs.

“The last few years without that cup, seeing Finn Russell and Greig Laidlaw, that video of them with their shirts off and singing with the cup.

“I wish I could be doing that rather than watching it. Or that famous Finn Russell photo where he’s got his Spiderman hands up and he’s loving it.

“That stirs passion in me to go, ‘I want that cup’, and I know a number of the other boys in the team want that cup back as well.”

Marler is pleased to still be in a position to help improve England’s record against Scotland after wondering if the World Cup last autumn might signal the end of his international career before Steve Borthwick assured him he still had a part to play.

“It’s almost like an addiction,” he said of his ongoing involvement with the national team. “I want to be part of a winning England team, creating new stories, creating new memories.

“I thought the World Cup was going to be my last opportunity at that, but Steve rang to ask if I’m still hungry.

“He asked if I had the desire to still crack on because he needed to blood some new players and move into the next cycle, but he also needed guys around to help with that.

“I asked my wife first but for me, yeah, it’s that addiction to be part of a winning England team and helping those young guys come through. That’s why I keep coming back.”

England will be led out at Murrayfield on Saturday by captain Jamie George, who lost his mother, Jane, a week last Wednesday following a short battle with lung cancer.

Marler, who will start on the bench, has been hugely impressed with the way his friend and fellow 33-year-old front-rower has dealt with the situation.

“Jamie has been incredible,” said the Harlequins prop. “I remember talking to him a few weeks before coming into camp, and he was talking about the captaincy being offered to him and he wasn’t sure whether he was going to take it up with things going on with his mum.

“Having known Jane since I was 16, 17, coming through the age groups with Jamie, I said, ‘Mate, just flip it and tell her you’re not doing it and see how upset, disappointed and gutted she’d be if you didn’t do it. You’ve got enough support around you in terms of the senior group to help you with it and you’re the best bloke for it, so let’s crack on and do it.’

“I’m pleased that he did. It has been tough since we found out about Jane, but he’s shown huge strength, and vulnerability which is great for the whole group, especially the youngsters to see that.

“He’s very much thinking, ‘I want to come up here, get the job done’. He’s dealt with it incredibly well.”

Scotland talisman Finn Russell is unfazed by the prospect of being targeted by England’s new blitz defence in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown at Murrayfield.

The Red Rose have adopted a more aggressive approach for this year’s Guinness Six Nations after highly-regarded defence coach Felix Jones joined Steve Borthwick’s backroom team in the wake of helping South Africa win the World Cup. 

England are expected to try to swarm stand-off Russell and his midfield colleagues in an effort to neutralise Scotland, but the 31-year-old has no issue with the possibility of being singled out.

“It’s probably similar to a lot of teams in that the 10s are the key players in attack,” said co-captain Russell. “I’m not sure what England are going to do – if they are going to fire out the line and try to take me out or shut me down from the outside.

“That is something we will have to figure out in the game. We will have to be able to adapt, with myself and Sione (Tuipulotu) and Huw (Jones) being on the same page and having Blair (Kinghorn) out wide as another option.

“Although the 10 controls a lot of the attack, it is not just down to me to create things. We will be looking to other boys to get away from them.”

Scotland were tamed the last time they came up against a Jones-inspired blitz defence when they lost 18-3 to South Africa at the World Cup in September, but Russell insists they have learned from that encounter.

“We have looked back and talked about that game, and obviously looked at England’s first two games of this campaign,” said Russell. “I think our learnings from the World Cup were not to go into our shells if we do feel the pressure.

“There were chances in that game against South Africa that we probably never saw on the pitch. Under pressure we probably went into our shell a little bit.

“Tomorrow we just need to have belief in ourselves and trust the work we have put in over the last six months to a year.

“At times we will be under pressure and it will be tough, but we can fall back to what we have done building up to this game.

“We can have belief and confidence in ourselves and hopefully we can take the chances that will be out there.”

After Russell lost his first three Calcutta Cup matches, including a 61-21 defeat at Twickenham in 2017, the Scots have won each of the last three meetings and have lost only one of the last six.

“With us and England, we have been progressing and over the last few years they have potentially not been as good as they can be,” said Russell. “But the World Cup showed how good they can be, getting to the semi-finals.

“Obviously they have won their first two games of this campaign so they are getting back to where they should be. They are one of the best teams in the world.

“We can’t look back at the last few games and think it has turned in our favour. Every time we play England, it is always a huge challenge and we have got to be at our best to be able to beat them.”

Zak Crawley insisted there was never any doubt “phenomenal” Joe Root would return to form for England following his unbeaten century against India.

Root came into the fourth Test having not reached 30 in the series while a couple of uncharacteristic dismissals recently led to scrutiny on whether he should tailor his methods to fit the ‘Bazball’ philosophy.

The argument has been Root does not need to alter his approach and he put his lean patch behind him with a more traditional Test innings to amass 106 not out as England went to stumps on 302 for seven.

The 33-year-old rescued England after they had slipped to 112 for five in a helter-skelter opening session on a cracked Ranchi pitch and Crawley believes the Yorkshireman is the only batter who could have dug the tourists out of the fire.

“He’s probably the only bloke in our team who could have done that knock, he’s that good and he’s stepped up when we needed him to,” Crawley said.

“He’s a phenomenal player. We fully expected him to get a good score at some point in this series. He was due, he’s the best player we’ve ever had and he played phenomenally.

“We’re so happy for him and we never doubted him. If anything we know that when he’s got a couple of low scores he’s even more likely to get the big one, and we expected that from him.

“He deserves everything he gets, he works so hard at his game and he always comes good.”

Root’s 31st Test hundred – brought up off 219 balls, the slowest century by any England batter under the leadership of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum – was marked in understated fashion as he kissed the badge on his helmet and raised his bat to team-mates who were celebrating enthusiastically on the dressing-room balcony.

There was no sign of the reverse ramp he had gotten out to in Rajkot, which proved a sliding doors moment in England’s heavy defeat as they went 2-1 down in the five-match series, while conventional and reverse sweeps were rare occurrences.

Root was unbreachable in defence, judicious off front and back foot and unfurled his customary late cuts and leg glances behind square, while there was also the odd cover drive.

Crawley, though, insisted a surface offering early movement and uneven bounce throughout dictated Root’s more classical innings, rather than widespread criticism he has faced in the last few days.

“If the pitch had been truer, I reckon he would have still played those shots,” Crawley said.

“It might have just been the variable bounce which stopped him sweeping and paddling, it wasn’t really the pitch for that kind of thing; it was too inconsistent.

“In Dharamshala (which will host the fifth Test), it’s a flatter wicket, I’d fully expect him to reverse ramp one. That’s just Joe. He’s very present when he bats and doesn’t overthink too much.”

England went at 4.63 an over in the morning thanks to counter-attacking knocks from Crawley, who made a run-a-ball 42, and Jonny Bairstow’s 38 off 35 deliveries.

But the tricky surface, rather than a brain fade, was largely responsible for England’s precarious position at lunch, with Crawley bowled twice by Akash Deep, the first off a no-ball, as the India debutant bagged a three-wicket haul.

While the odd one still kept low, batting conditions improved upon the resumption as Root and Ben Foakes (47) combined to put on 113 to stabilise the tourists.

Crawley hopes England’s seamers can make similar inroads with the new ball but anticipates spin to dominate for the remainder of the match.

“I got out still fairly early but it looked like it wasn’t bouncing anywhere near as much or as quickly as earlier on against seam,” Crawley added.

“It got harder against the spin, it will continue to break up. It might be a new-ball wicket, hopefully it is when we bowl but the I think the spin’s only going to get harder.”

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.

Jamie George will draw inspiration from the heartwarming thought that his late mother will be watching down on him as he prepares to lead England into Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with Scotland just over a week after her death.

The 33-year-old Saracens hooker found out on the same day that he was appointed captain of the Red Rose last month that his mum Jane had been diagnosed with cancer. Her situation deteriorated quickly and she died last Wednesday.

George takes some solace from the fact a woman he described as “the biggest rugby fan on earth” was able to see her boy skipper his country for two matches, the Guinness Six Nations victories over Wales and Italy.

“We’ve been going through a lot as a family for a long period,” he said, speaking with remarkable composure about his ordeal from England’s team hotel in Edinburgh city centre on Thursday evening.

“The deterioration she had was really fast. I found out on Sunday about the fact that she was terminal, and she passed away on Wednesday [last week].

“My mum was the biggest rugby fan on earth, she loved this team, loved watching me play, she never missed a game.

“The text I’ve got from her before my first game as captain is something I will treasure forever. She said it was the proudest day of her life so given what she was going through, to still be able to put a smile on her face was huge.”

George was adamant he did not want to excuse himself from England duty. He turned up on the Friday after his mum’s death to participate in an open training session at Twickenham and had no doubt in his mind that he wanted to lead his team into battle with Scotland.

George’s father, his brothers, his uncle and his cousin will be at Murrayfield for what he hopes will be a cathartic experience for the family amid the trauma.

“Taking time off is the last thing she would have wanted me to do,” said George. “It’s not what I wanted to do.

“I feel very privileged to do what I do and hopefully the boys will agree that I’ve been able to fulfil my role as captain and fulfil my role as a player in this team.

“It’s not an ideal situation to be in, but there was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to be involved in this game.

“Wherever she is now, she will be looking down telling everyone that is there that her son is the England captain. I know for a fact that meant a huge amount to her.

“Whenever I’ve played, I’ve always wanted to make my family proud. It’s been a huge driver for me. That won’t change this weekend – it will probably be enhanced this weekend.

“It will be emotional for me coming out. It will be the first game that she won’t be there. She wasn’t able to come to the first two games to watch, which has been tough in itself, but before that she was always there, she never missed it.

“My dad, my uncle, my cousin and both brothers are coming up this weekend. It’s going to be great for them to be able to be there. It’s amazing what rugby can do in situations like this.

“When I first became captain, I spoke a lot about showing how much it means to play for England and what an amazing impact you can have on people’s lives.

“I have seen it first-hand because my mum was on her death bed talking about the England rugby team and how proud she was of me being able to do what I do.

“That’s absolutely incredible. She will be with me in some capacity on Saturday and that means a huge amount to me.”

Gregor Townsend says Scotland’s sole focus is on winning their “biggest game of the season” against England this weekend and maintaining their recent dominance of the Calcutta Cup.

The Scots go into Saturday’s showdown with their bitter rivals knowing they will almost certainly require a victory to stay in contention for the Guinness Six Nations title after their controversial defeat by France last time out.

Townsend is adamant that any lingering injustice from ‘trygate’ a fortnight ago has been parked and that any talk of contending for the title can remain firmly on the backburner until after their high-stakes encounter with Steve Borthwick’s side.

“When you’re coming in off the back of a defeat, you have to bounce back with a victory,” said Townsend, when asked on Thursday how the France defeat has left his side’s title prospects.

“You’re not really thinking about the championship. We’ll see where we are on Saturday.

“The full focus is on this game because it’s our most important game of the season.

“It’s the most important game for our supporters and we also play for a trophy, in amongst the Triple Crown and other trophies.

“But this is one that we’re focused on more than the others. That probably shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

“It’s history. It’s emotion. We’ve seen the impact this game has on Scottish supporters when we do manage to get a victory in this fixture. That’ll drive us on Saturday.”

Having beaten England only three times in 27 attempts between 1990 and 2018, the Scots now find themselves going into this weekend’s fixture on the back of a three-game winning run and having lost only one of their last six meetings with their old foes.

Townsend, who was accustomed to regular defeats against England in his time as a player, admits his team’s recent burst of Calcutta Cup success has given them increased belief going into Saturday’s match.

“Yes, for sure,” he said. “The game in 2018 (Scotland’s first win over England in a decade) has certainly given the players confidence when they’ve taken on England in the last few games.

“But what’s most relevant is the game you’ve just played, the things you have to work on to be a better team, and the threats that England bring.

“This England team is different to the one we faced 12 months ago but ultimately it’s just about delivering in the 80 minutes on the day.”

Townsend has made three changes to the side that started the 20-16 defeat by France, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing Les Bleus game when his wife went into labour and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn back after sitting out the first two matches with a knee injury.

Kyle Rowe and Harry Paterson, who deputised in the absence of the two experienced backs, drop out of the squad altogether.

The most notable change is in the back row where Edinburgh flanker Jamie Ritchie, who recently lost the captaincy and then was then left out of the 23 for the France game, returns to the number six jersey in place of Matt Fagerson, who is dropped from the squad.

“Jamie has really accepted the challenge that was there about a month ago that there’s increased competition in the back-row and for that reason he was no longer going to be captain,” explained Townsend.

“But since that conversation he’s played two games for Edinburgh and one for Scotland in Cardiff and he’s played well.

“We believe this game will suit his strengths and his experience he can bring to the team as well will be a boost.”

Jamie Ritchie has been restored to Scotland’s starting XV for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with England a fortnight after being dropped from the squad altogether for the Guinness Six Nations home defeat by France.

The recently deposed captain is back in the side as one of three changes made by Gregor Townsend, with experienced duo Blair Kinghorn and Kyle Steyn returning to the back three.

Kyle Rowe, Harry Paterson and Matt Fagerson – all of whom started against Les Bleus – drop out of the squad altogether, with the bench unchanged.

Ritchie – who lost the captaincy to Finn Russell and Rory Darge earlier this year – started the first match of the Six Nations away to Wales before being left out against France, but the 27-year-old Edinburgh flanker is back in the number six jersey in place of Fagerson this weekend.

Toulouse full-back Kinghorn returns after missing the opening two matches with a knee injury sustained days before the championship began, while Glasgow wing Steyn – who started against Wales – is back in the mix after having to withdraw from the team on the morning of the France game when his wife went into labour.

Rowe, who started the first two matches in the absence of Kinghorn, has not made the squad this weekend, while 22-year-old Edinburgh back Paterson, who was drafted in at the last minute to start against France following Steyn’s withdrawal, is also out.

England have put an emphasis on height in selecting seamer Ollie Robinson and off-spinner Shoaib Bashir for the fourth Test against India on a pitch expected to offer turn and variable bounce.

The surface in Ranchi was described on Wednesday by Ben Stokes as “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” 48 hours before the start of the Test, with cracks running down one side of the cut strip.

After a second inspection on Thursday alongside head coach Brendon McCullum and selector Luke Wright, England captain Stokes elected to keep faith with two seamers as Robinson partners James Anderson.

Robinson and Bashir are both well over 6ft and the bounce they can extract has earned them the nod over skiddier pair Mark Wood and Rehan Ahmed as England look to hit back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“We get asked about the pitch and we give our opinion but that doesn’t mean we are going in with too many preconceived ideas,” Stokes said. “The pitch could be as flat as a pancake, who knows?

“If it is, we will adapt to that. We do like to look at the pitch two days out and one day out, because that’s how we like to pick our XIs. Looking at that, I think there is going to be assistance for spin.

“But I think also it looks like someone like Bash, who releases the ball from such a high release point, the extra bounce that he gets we feel is going to bring us more into the game.

“I also feel having two seamers gives us a good chance purely because of Ollie Robinson’s release height and his relentlessness with his areas.”

The selection of Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test in July, and evergreen Anderson may lessen the need for Stokes to resume his career as a fully-fledged all-rounder.

Despite reporting no soreness after a 35-minute spell of bowling full tilt on Wednesday, Stokes was coy about if he would give his side, trailing 2-1 in the five-match series, another seam option.

“I’ve pulled up really well,” Stokes told the BBC. “It’s another step forward for me in terms of the ball. As keen as I am to get there, I do have to be very sensible about it.”

Bashir took four wickets in his debut for England in the second Test in Visakhapatnam before bring dropped in Rajkot but he partners slow left-armer Tom Hartley as the tourists’ two main spinners.

That means no room for Ahmed, who played in the first three Tests and took 11 wickets at an average of 44, although Stokes insisted the young leg-spinner’s absence was no reflection on how he has performed.

“He’s gone out and tried everything that we’ve asked of him,” Stokes said. “The way in which he has taken the game on with the ball is something I’ve been very, very impressed with.

“I think he’ll take a lot of learnings out of these three games, which will only progress his career, rather than not being the person who bowled in that situation, if that makes sense.”

Despite bowling 38 overs in the 434-run loss in Rajkot and just four days’ rest between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth, Anderson retains his spot.

Anderson needs just four more wickets to become the first fast bowler in history to reach 700 in Tests and Stokes marvelled at the 41-year-old’s professionalism and longevity.

“If you’re a young fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson is the one person who you want as your role model,” Stokes added. “Not only the amount of wickets he’s got but the fact he can keep going at his age.

“Even saying approaching 700 Test wickets as a fast bowler is incredible. He’ll know that but I don’t think that will be at the top of his mind for this week, just because of where we’re at in the series.”

Danny Care has revealed the unconventional secret behind his career longevity as he closes in on becoming England’s sixth Test centurion – cookies and saunas.

Care will make his 99th international appearance in Saturday’s Guinness Six Nations clash with Scotland and even at 37-years-old the high-tempo Harlequins scrum-half is in the form of his life.

On top of showing the persistence needed to emerge from a three-and-a-half-year spell in England exile, he has taken his own approach to making sure he can perform at the highest level.

 

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And unlike former Red Rose team-mate Jonny May, who is famed for his dedication to training and preparation, Care takes a more unorthodox route.

 

“I’m definitely not like Jonny May! I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum to Jonny May. More cookies. Cookies and saunas. And why not if it works? Everyone is so different,” Care said.

“I’ve always been quite lucky in that I’ve not been massively into nutrition or believe fully in it, which the nutritionists hate me for!

“I don’t think I’ve cracked it, but I’m 37 and I like to think I’ve shown an alternative way of doing it. Rather than all the protein and the supplements every day…

“I’ve definitely put a bigger emphasis on my recovery in the last few years but I feel better now than I did four or five years ago.

“The team hotel is also an amazing five-star spa, which helps. The sauna and the ice bath are our best friends.

“It’s amazing when you’ve got that on your doorstep and have the time to do it. When I’m at home I can’t just nip out for a couple of hours to ‘recover’, my wife would… well, she wouldn’t be my wife any more!

“But when you’re here and you’ve got the best S&C guys, nutritionists, everyone and it’s all for you. You can be selfish in that way and that helps me a lot.”

Care refuses to put a timeframe on his retirement but knows this will almost certainly be his final visit to Murrayfield and is hoping to have clarity on his club future after the Six Nations.

He was among those dropped by Eddie Jones after the ‘black hole game’ against Japan in 2018, so called because the dismal performance spelt the end of several Test careers.

But having compelled Jones to reconsider on the basis of his swashbuckling form for Harlequins, he continues to be an important part of the England set-up under Steve Borthwick.

“I feel more liberated, I feel more free, I feel like I can just enjoy it. You never know which one is going to be the last one so in a way that gives me freedom to just be myself and really enjoy it,” Care said.

“That’s something that is hard to do when you play for England because you’re constantly on the edge of being judged and want to do well and stay in.

“There are also so many other lads who people think should be playing instead of you, but I don’t care about any of that any more, which is nice.”

Ben Stokes is poised to resume his status as an all-rounder and boost England’s bowling options on a pitch expected to be the most spin-friendly on the tour of India.

Stokes will wait to see how his body reacts to a demanding 35-minute spell of fast bowling in training on Wednesday before deciding if he will send down any overs in the fourth Test, starting on Friday in Ranchi.

He has not bowled competitively since early July and initially had no plans to do so in this series after surgery in November to have stitches in his meniscus and a bone spur removed from his left knee.

Indeed, Stokes had made a “pinky promise” with England’s physiotherapist Ben Davies not to bowl in India but that looks increasingly likely to change with his side 2-1 down in the five-match series.

“Whatever way we decide to go, (if) I feel I am capable of bowling, I will bowl,” said the England captain, who added he would buy Davies a beer if he broke his vow.

“I think there is a possible chance but I will just have to wait and see how everything is.

“I wanted to get a long spell in to see how everything coped whilst doing it then see how I pull up. It is all good at the moment. That is the longest I have bowled in six months.

“Before I went and had the surgery I was told 12-13 weeks before I could start bowling. I am two weeks ahead of that and I am quite far ahead, but there are things I have to think about other than my knee.”

Stokes returning to bowl allows England to have two seamers in their XI and select three frontline spinners in Tom Hartley, Rehan Ahmed and Shoaib Bashir, as well as the part-time offerings of Joe Root.

The playing surface in the Jharkhand capital 48 hours out from the first day of the penultimate match has cracks running down one side of the cut strip, which a bemused Stokes admitted he has never encountered before in India.

The evidence points to a wicket which will offer lavish spin but there may be some variable bounce as well which could aid the quicks as England look to bounce back from a heavy defeat in Rajkot.

“It just looked interesting,” said Stokes, echoing the observation England vice-captain Ollie Pope made a couple of hours earlier.

“If you looked down one side of opposite ends it just looked different to what I am used to seeing, especially out in India.

“It looked green and grassy up in the changing rooms but then you go out there it looked different, very dark and crumbly and quite a few cracks in it.”

One or both of James Anderson and Mark Wood could make way after their heavy workloads in Rajkot, which might mean a first appearance of the series for Ollie Robinson, who has not played competitively since the third Ashes Test last July.

Robinson, who averages 22.21 in 19 Tests, can move the new ball both ways, while his use of reverse swing on the predominantly lifeless pitches of Pakistan last winter caught the eye.

“He’s got unbelievable skills to be a successful bowler anywhere in the world,” Stokes said.

“He has worked incredibly hard while he has been out here. Not playing the first three Tests can be tough and disappointing but I’ve told him he has been a great example of doing the right things and waiting your turn if it comes.”

England’s attacking methods came in for some flak after a 434-run loss last time out but Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum are resisting calls from some ex-players to tinker with their approach.

“You get plaudits when it goes well and a bit of s*** when it doesn’t,” added Stokes, when asked if he was surprised by some of the criticism. “It’s part of it, I’ve been around long enough to know that but we crack on.”

England are confident they have the composure to cope with any mind games played by Scotland in Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash.

The rivals collide in round three of the Guinness Six Nations, with Gregor Townsend’s hosts aiming to continue their recent dominance of the fixture that reads three successive victories.

Adding to the challenge of facing one of the most talented sides in Scottish history is the hostile atmosphere awaiting England at Murrayfield.

England fly-half George Ford was targeted in the tunnel by Ryan Wilson in 2018, sparking a brawl when Owen Farrell intervened, and the team bus is customarily held up by bagpipers.

Other tactics used in the past to unsettle the ‘Auld Enemy’ have been turning off the hot water in the changing room and disruption to their warm-up by entertainers.

England are on alert for niggle during the build up to the match and on the pitch itself, but number eight Ben Earl is backing his side to take any Scottish machinations in their stride.

“There’s a resilience in us, for sure,” said Earl, who is set to continue in the back row when Steve Borthwick names his team on Thursday afternoon.

“There is a good group of experienced players in this team now – Jamie (George), George Ford, Joe Marler, Dan Cole, Ellis Genge. Those guys are all different characters, but they’ve seen all the curve balls in the past.

“And then you’ve also got a group of lads who might not have played a load of Test rugby but who have played a lot of club rugby in some great games and in some great stadiums.

“So I’d say the group, in terms of expectation, is probably as prepared as any to deal with anything that’s thrown at us.

“You have to love it. If you don’t love it, then you’re playing the wrong sport at the wrong level. I absolutely love it.

“We’ve certainly spoken about the kind of Scotland are, what a good team they are, how good they are at home.

“It’s a tough place to play and we’ve definitely touched upon the trend of results over the last three or four years.

“But in terms of motivating factors, that’s one of many that we’ve got. We know the journey that we’re on as a team, in terms of what we’re trying to grow and evolve into. And that’s as much of a motivating factor as playing those guys.”

England are considering unleashing Manu Tuilagi against Scotland amid a warning from Kevin Sinfield that the midfield powerhouse remains a potent force.

Tuilagi is in contention to make his first appearance of the Guinness Six Nations at Murrayfield on Saturday, having been sidelined since December because of a groin tear.

It is the latest of many injury setbacks for the 32-year-old Sale Sharks centre, who broke his hand twice at last autumn’s World Cup, ruling him out of the start of the club season.

Tuilagi’s return would provide the ball-carrying muscle missing from England’s back line – Ollie Lawrence is also an option for the role – and Sinfield insists he still has plenty to offer the national side.

“I would say this without any doubt – don’t write him off yet,” the assistant coach said.

“He’s still got some really good years ahead of him and he’s very much a big part of how we move forward and what we are doing here.

“When you play like he has done for so long, and you are so physical, it is inevitable that at some point in your career you will have a run of injuries.

“What you find with the powerful-type guys, one injury tends to lead into another.”

Also back in contention for the pivotal round-three encounter in Edinburgh is George Martin, the star of England’s heartbreaking World Cup semi-final defeat to South Africa who is fully fit after tweaking his knee.

The 22-year-old enforcer, who can operate at lock or blindside flanker, stood toe to toe with the Springboks and his physicality will be a valuable asset against Scotland.

“Big. Physical. Aggressive. Great ball carrier and he’s one of our better defenders,” Sinfield said.

“In the semi-final he really stood out on the international stage against some of the biggest, nastiest, most aggressive forwards in the world. He was in and amongst it.

“If selected I have no doubt he’ll leave a mark on somebody. He’s already a top player, but he’s going to get better and better.”

England have won only one of their last six meetings with Scotland and visit Murrayfield knowing it is the most hostile of all opposition venues for Red Rose teams.

Fly-half George Ford has braced his side for a “niggly game” – he was targeted in the tunnel by Scotland number eight Ryan Wilson in 2018, sparking a brawl with Owen Farrell – and Sinfield insists frayed tempers are inevitable.

“There’s certainly going to be some niggle. When you’ve got two angry, nasty forward packs wanting to go at each other, there will be some niggle,” he said.

“It’s a Test match, there’s a lot at stake and we haven’t won against them for a number of years, so no doubt there’ll be some niggle.

“There will be some bits thrown at us over the next couple of days that we haven’t planned for or we haven’t quite expected.

“But that’s the nature of being in top-level sport and we meed to make the best of some of the circumstances we are faced with.

“The history is important for us to understand but it won’t change anything – we’re not going up there with any fear.

“We know how dangerous they are, we know they’re a good team, we know they’ve got some great players. But so have we.”

Scotland are hopeful that talismanic wing Darcy Graham will be fit enough to play a part in the Guinness Six Nations even though he will stay on the sidelines for Saturday’s Calcutta Cup showdown with England.

The 26-year-old – who is second on the national team’s all-time try-scoring list – missed the opening two matches of the championship against Wales and France with a quad problem.

Graham was scheduled to return to the fold for this weekend’s Murrayfield clash with England, but it emerged on Monday that he had suffered a new groin issue while training with Edinburgh last week, which has ruled him out of contention.

The free-scoring back – who missed the entirety of last year’s Six Nations with a knee injury – is due to be assessed this week and Scotland are hoping he will be able to return for the championship-concluding fixtures away to Italy and Ireland next month.

“Darcy had started back with Edinburgh and we were very happy about that,” said scrum coach Pieter De Villiers at a media briefing on Tuesday.

“But he’s picked up a bit of a groin niggle at the moment so he’s just nursing that. We’ll see how that goes.”

Asked if Graham was expected back before the end of the tournament, De Villiers said: “We’ve got another fallow week (after England) so that will hopefully give him enough time and then we’ll just assess things from there.”

Despite Graham’s ongoing absence, Scotland will welcome back two senior members of their back three this weekend, with Glasgow wing Kyle Steyn returning after missing the France game for the birth of his child and Toulouse full-back Blair Kinghorn available after sitting out the first two games with a knee injury.

“Blair has been training really well and we’re excited to see him back in the squad again,” reported De Villiers.

Saturday’s Calcutta Cup clash will be Scotland’s first outing since their agonising defeat at home to France, when the officials controversially decided not to award them what would have been a match-winning try after Sam Skinner appeared to ground the ball on the whitewash in the last action of a tightly-contested affair.

De Villiers admitted that having last weekend off was beneficial in helping the Scots banish any lingering frustration at having their hopes of a Grand Slam dashed in such galling fashion.

“Yes, it almost feels long ago,” he said of the extra time out of camp to regroup. “A bit of time off was good for the team.

“There’s obviously been frustration and disappointment. I thought we’d done enough to win that game but that’s the way rugby goes. Sometimes things don’t go your way.

“It’s the best thing for us to move on and prepare for England which is a fantastic game to look forward to. It’s all behind us.”

De Villiers has no concerns about any hangover from the France game plaguing Scotland this weekend as he feels recovering from such setbacks is “part of what we do”.

“It’s important to be able to move on,” he said. “It’s important to be able to be frustrated as well.

“As much as there were things we could have done better, it’s good to know that we did enough (to potentially win the game) as well.

“That’s important for our psyche and for moving on. It’s not the first decision to go against us and it won’t be the last decision to go against us.”

England will get a break from Jasprit Bumrah in Ranchi as India rest their star paceman for the fourth Test which starts on Friday.

The world’s number one-ranked Test bowler did not travel with the India squad as the two teams moved from Rajkot to the Jharkhand capital on a charter flight on Tuesday afternoon.

Bumrah has been the only frontline fast bowler from either side to be an ever-present in the series so far and there is just a four-day turnaround between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth.

It was widely reported that Bumrah would miss out in Rajkot after his starring role earlier this month in Visakhapatnam, where a nine-wicket match haul helped India level the series.

Bumrah featured in the third Test but had a more understated role with just one wicket in each innings on a flat pitch as India claimed victory by a record 434-run margin to move 2-1 up with two to play.

Despite being without several regulars in this series, including Virat Kohli because of personal reasons and injuries sidelining Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant, India have opted to rest Bumrah this week where conditions are again unlikely to be in his favour.

Batter KL Rahul will sit out again having missed the third Test with a quad injury.

“Jasprit Bumrah has been released from the squad for the 4th IDFC First Bank Test against England in Ranchi. The decision was taken keeping in mind the duration of the series and amount of cricket he has played in recent times,” a Board of Control for Cricket in India statement read.

“Meanwhile, KL Rahul is ruled out of the fourth Test. His participation in the final Test match in Dharamsala is subject to fitness.

“Mukesh Kumar, who was released from the squad for the third Test in Rajkot, has joined the squad in Ranchi.”

Bumrah is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 dismissals at a stunning average of 13.64 and it is thought the more seam-friendly conditions in Dharamshala – the venue for the fifth Test – will be much more to his liking.

England head coach Brendon McCullum anticipates a wicket which will turn as they take a step into the unknown later this week at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

The venue has played host to just two Tests, the most recent in October 2019 where India beat South Africa by an innings and 202 runs, while England’s only previous visit to Ranchi was 11 years ago in an ODI.

Joe Root is the only survivor from that match in the current England squad. The Yorkshireman has struggled with the bat in the past few weeks, yet to reach 30 in six attempts although he has had a more prominent bowling role, sending down 107 overs so far.

Asked if Root could shuffle down the batting order by a place or two to make allowances for his extra workload, McCullum insisted the idea has not been discussed between him and captain Ben Stokes.

“I haven’t thought about it,” McCullum said. “I think Joe wants to be in the game. He’s totally invested in where this team wants to go. You see him on the field: he’s constantly going up to Stokesy.

“He’s incredibly invested. He spent a lot of time with his team-mates working in the nets on stuff as well. He wants a bigger role that he’s obviously offering. Honestly, I think Joe will be absolutely fine.”

England may get a break from Jasprit Bumrah in Ranchi as India are set to rest their star paceman for the fourth Test which starts on Friday.

It is understood the world’s number one-ranked Test bowler did not travel with India’s squad as the two teams travelled from Rajkot to the Jharkhand capital on a charter flight on Tuesday afternoon.

While there has been no definitive confirmation Bumrah will miss out, he has been the only frontline fast bowler from either side to be an ever-present in the series so far and there is just a four-day turnaround between the end of the third Test and start of the fourth.

It was widely reported that Bumrah would miss out in Rajkot after his starring role earlier this month in Visakhapatnam, where a nine-wicket match haul helped India level the series.

Bumrah featured in the third Test but had a more understated role with just one wicket in each innings on a flat pitch as India claimed victory by a record 434-run margin to move 2-1 up with two to play.

Despite being without several regulars in this series, including Virat Kohli because of personal reasons and injuries sidelining Mohammed Shami and Rishabh Pant, it seems India will leave out Bumrah this week where conditions are again unlikely to be in his favour.

Bumrah is the leading wicket-taker in the series with 17 dismissals at a stunning average of 13.64 and it is thought the more seam-friendly conditions in Dharamshala – the venue for the fifth Test – will be much more to his liking.

England head coach Brendon McCullum anticipates a wicket which will turn as they take a step into the unknown later this week at the JSCA International Stadium Complex.

The venue has played host to just two Tests, the most recent in October 2019 where India beat South Africa by an innings and 202 runs, while England’s only previous visit to Ranchi was 11 years ago in an ODI.

Joe Root is the only survivor from that match in the current England squad. The Yorkshireman has struggled with the bat in the past few weeks, yet to reach 30 in six attempts although he has had a more prominent bowling role, sending down 107 overs so far.

Asked if Root could shuffle down the batting order by a place or two to make allowances for his extra workload, McCullum insisted the idea has not been discussed between him and captain Ben Stokes.

“I haven’t thought about it,” McCullum said. “I think Joe wants to be in the game. He’s totally invested in where this team wants to go. You see him on the field: he’s constantly going up to Stokesy.

“He’s incredibly invested. He spent a lot of time with his team-mates working in the nets on stuff as well. He wants a bigger role that he’s obviously offering. Honestly, I think Joe will be absolutely fine.”

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