Chandler Cunningham-South is relishing every minute of the Six Nations maelstrom as he prepares to play a part in England’s daunting clash with back-to-back Grand Slam chasers Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday.

Cunningham-South’s gamble in leaving New Zealand, where he had lived since the age of four, to return to the UK two years ago has paid off handsomely with his ascendancy to the full England squad for the first time this year.

His debut off the bench in the opening win over Italy, and subsequent appearances against both Wales and Scotland, have appeared to make the Harlequins flanker an integral part of head coach Steve Borthwick’s long-term plans.

“It has been a really big step up for me and I think I have done all right,” said Cunningham-South. “I think I am the youngest in the squad and I have been taken under a few people’s wings.

“I like it. Especially when we were up in Edinburgh getting off the bus – all the heckling and yelling. That sort of stuff motivates me and gives me an extra bit of energy.

“Twickenham is awesome to play at. You don’t actually realise how big the stadium is until you are on the field looking up. It seems to not stop. It was awesome – so loud, so passionate, a real cool place to play.”

Cunningham-South, who was born in Sidcup, decided to head back over to England to pursue his rugby career after finding his opportunities limited in New Zealand.

But he admits he had big moments of doubt after arriving in the midst of the Covid pandemic and finding himself struck down with the illness more or less immediately.

“I got the opportunity over in England and it all happened pretty quickly,” he added. “It was a weird time because I was stuck inside for 18 days with Covid and I was like, ‘Did I make the right decision?’ But once I had got rid of the Covid and got into training I knew I had done.

“I suppose it’s not meant to be easy. Moving over at that age I was a little homesick at first, but when you are working hard and having fun with new friends it gets pushed to the back of your head and I have been loving every minute of it.”

Cunningham-South initially joined the London Irish academy in 2022, representing England in the under-20 Six Nations in the same year, before moving on to Harlequins when Irish folded due to financial issues.

His swift ascent up the England ranks was confirmed when he came off the bench in the narrow opening win over Italy and Cunningham-South believes he is beginning to reap the benefits of his big career decision.

“I needed to develop a lot and that’s why I wanted to be a part of an academy set-up,” he added.

“And there was a definite mindset switch – what it takes to be a professional is very different to when you are playing uni rugby. I didn’t realise how much detail goes into the professional game. It was a bit of a shock, but it’s been good.”

Mauricio Pochettino insists Reece James will not be rushed back from the hamstring injury that has disrupted his season, even if a delayed return costs him a place in England’s Euro 2024 squad.

The club captain has made just eight Premier League appearances this campaign and is at risk of missing out on a second international tournament in as many years, having been ruled out of the 2022 World Cup with a knee problem.

He featured only 16 times in the league last season when a combination of knee and hamstring injuries kept him on the sidelines for club and country.

And after being forced off during August’s 1-1 draw with Liverpool he has had even worse luck this term.

The 24-year-old, who has only once in his Chelsea career reached 30 league appearances in a season, teased on social media this week that “the comeback is coming” and has returned to the training pitch, albeit working separately from his team-mates.

However, with a history of recurring fitness problems, Pochettino was understandably cautious about reintroducing him and was adamant he would not be hurried back for the sake of his international place.

“I cannot say the date of when it’s possible,” said the Argentinian. “His target and our target is for him to be fit and feel happy and well. Then we’ll see about the possibility of going to the Euros or not, or to be ready for next season or to play before we finish this season.

“The most important thing now is to build his confidence, his physical condition, to recover all the good feelings.

“The target is not to try and play the last five games or in the Euros or pre-season. The target is to build again his confidence and to feel strong, then to start to play when he feels strong and can deal again with the competition.”

Despite establishing himself as a key figure for Chelsea when fit, James has so far made just a single major tournament appearance, starting for Gareth Southgate’s side in a goalless draw with Scotland at Euro 2020.

He looked set to be a member of the squad in Qatar until a knee injury in a Champions League match against AC Milan scuppered his chances.

“I didn’t speak with (Southgate),” said Pochettino. “But we have spoken people involved in (the FA), medical, performance people.

“It’s not ‘now I can go on the pitch, I can play’. It’s to be sure we can go to the competition and he can feel strong and can forget all that has happened in the past.”

James will be one of seven players unavailable to Pochettino at Brentford on Saturday.

Injures have severely disrupted the seasons of Christopher Nkunku, Romeo Lavia, Lesley Ugochukwu and Carney Chukwuemeka, whilst Wesley Fofana is likely to be forced to miss the entire campaign.

The manager reiterated his frustration at the impact injuries have had on his first season in charge.

“When you start the season, you put in your head the idea of the potential of the squad,” he said. “When you think about Nkunku, Reece, (Ben) Chilwell or Fofana, Lavia, (Moises) Caicedo, you imagine the players in the best place, with all their potential.

“Then when the circumstances happen, of course it’s about translating the reality. If you go back and say ‘no, you said we can play to win the Premier League’ – when you see the possibility that you have with the squad, then of course.

“But then with the circumstance, the reality, we’ve had 10, 12 players every single week out. That will affect the performance of the team.”

Philippe Clement would welcome an England recall for Rangers goalkeeper Jack Butland but knows Gareth Southgate needs to make that decision.

A Sky Sports report claimed the 30-year-old, who won the last of his nine caps in September 2018, is in contention for the Brazil and Belgium friendlies at Wembley in March ahead of the 2024 European Championships this summer.

Ahead of the cinch Premiership trip to Kilmarnock on Wednesday night – where Gers boss Clement revealed striker Kemar Roofe will not be considered because of the artificial surface – the Belgian said of the Butland report: “I would love that he would be there because he deserves, he is ready in that way.

“If he deserves enough, that is the decision of Southgate of course.

“He (Butland) has been really good for the team although he has had less to do in the last couple of weeks.

“But he keeps the same concentration, the same seriousness and he is important in the dressing room and in training, and he is going to be important in the next couple of weeks and months because we have a lot of games to go and a lot of important games where you need players with personality.”

Derek McInnes’ side have gone unbeaten in seven games in all competitions since losing 3-1 at Ibrox on January 2 and sit in fourth place.

Clement’s team are two points clear of Celtic at the top of the table but he is wary of the Ayrshire side’s form and their artificial surface providing a potential double-whammy to their title challenge.

He said: “It is a difficult challenge and we will approach the game with respect for the opponent but also respect for ourselves, to play our own game although you need to adapt to a totally different kind of football because of the pitch.

“I made the comparison with tennis. Playing at Wimbledon or on a clay court.

“It is a little bit like that, of course a different sport but the ball goes faster (on artificial turf) so you need to be a little bit more precise.

“On a grass pitch when you give a pass it slows down after a while. On artificial, it keeps its speed or goes even faster along the way.

“The ball bounces in a totally different way, also the way of turning, sprinting, stopping – a lot of things that are different but it is what it is.

“It is not easy but we did it before at Livingston and we need to do it again.

“The most important thing is getting three points but it will be a totally different game.

“We are going to go there with full focus but we know it is one of those dangerous moments, it can be a bump on the road.”

Brendon McCullum admitted it would be “slightly mad” if the progress Tom Hartley and Shoaib Bashir have made on England’s tour of India was stymied by a lack of opportunities at county level.

The spinning duo were uncapped at the start of the trip and held modest first-class records, albeit from small sample sizes, but Hartley is the series’ leading wicket-taker with 20 dismissals in four Tests and Bashir took a maiden professional five-for in Ranchi.

But Lancashire signing Australia star Nathan Lyon this summer places a question mark over how much game time Hartley will get and Bashir is second choice at Somerset to Jack Leach, who will have surgery on a knee injury which ended his tour early and allowed the rookies to shine on the international stage.

While McCullum acknowledged Lancashire and Somerset have their own interests to consider, England’s head coach hopes Hartley, 24, and Bashir, 20, will not fade away in the months ahead.

“We’ve got to keep trying to get cricket into them,” McCullum said. “Whatever opportunity we can we’ll try and give it to them because there’s two guys there more than good enough for international cricket.

“They’re tough characters. We’ve seen both of them have big hearts. It doesn’t get any harder than it is right now and they’ve both stood up and performed so we’ve just to keep giving both of them chances.

“It will be a slight frustration of ours if they weren’t given opportunities at county level. There’s a very real possibility that might be the case.

“But without wanting to dictate to counties because they have their own agendas, when you see performances like we have out of those two bowlers throughout the series, I think you’d be slightly mad if you didn’t give them more opportunities in county cricket.”

England losing by five wickets in Ranchi leaves them 3-1 down with just the final Test in Dharamshala, starting Thursday week, with McCullum suffering the first series defeat of his reign.

There have been just four wins in their last 11 Tests but McCullum is convinced England are a superior team than the one he inherited in May 2022, which had triumphed just once in their previous 17 matches.

“We weren’t quite good enough when it mattered – or India were better, to be honest, than us being not quite good enough,” McCullum said.

“We’ve lost this series and we didn’t win the Ashes (last year) but we’re a better cricket team than we were 18 months ago and we’ve got opportunity in the next 18 months to do some pretty special s***.

“Time on the tools, experience and just keep chiselling away at any of those rough edges which creep up every now and then, which is natural, and we’ll get there eventually.”

McCullum confirmed Jonny Bairstow will play in his 100th Test next week, despite not reaching 40 in the series, but there is scrutiny over seamer Ollie Robinson following a disappointing return to action.

Robinson registered an important fifty in his first competitive appearance since July last year but while pace has never been his biggest asset, he struggled to reach 80mph on the speed gun and sent down six no-balls – taking his career tally to 77, which is one more than his haul of wickets in 20 Tests.

His drop of Dhruv Jurel was a key moment, allowing India to move to within 46 of England’s total after the first innings, while Robinson was not called upon to bowl as the hosts chased 192 to win by five wickets on Monday.

McCullum explained Robinson, who has an impressive Test average of 22.92, felt a twinge in his back, which he has struggled with in the past.

“Everything he did leading into the Test match suggested we’d see not just the Ollie Robinson we’d seen previously but a better version of it,” McCullum added.

“He’s not just as disappointed as everyone else, he’s the most disappointed out of everyone. It’s just sport right? You have great expectations and sometimes you’re not quite able to deliver.”

England head coach Steve Borthwick hopes fly-half Marcus Smith could be fit to return to action in the Guinness Six Nations clash against Ireland at Twickenham.

Harlequins star Smith has sat out all three of England’s games so far with a calf problem suffered on a pre-tournament training camp.

Borthwick also feels Northampton scrum-half Alex Mitchell could be back in action before the end of the Six Nations, having missed the defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield with a knee issue.

“I am very hopeful that Marcus will be available for selection for this latter part of the tournament,” Borthwick said, quoted in several national newspapers.

“We have got positive news on Alex Mitchell’s injury, we are hopeful he will feature in the latter part of this tournament – whether that’s the next game, we are not sure, but we are hopeful he will be available as well.”

Following Saturday’s 30-21 Calcutta Cup loss in Edinburgh, the England squad are set to regroup in York for training.

Borthwick is expecting a response as the squad prepare to head back to Twickenham in the build-up to the showdown with Grand Slam contenders Ireland on March 9.

He said: “What’s going to be interesting to me and what I want when we debrief the players, is that after the first 20 minutes on Saturday – why did we go and play in a manner that was not the way we had played the first 20?

“What changed? What in the thought processes altered to try and do something different?

“I will only be able to understand that fully once we have talked to the players and listened to them about how it was on the grass.”

Jamie George conceded England were “not good enough” in their Calcutta Cup defeat to Scotland but the captain remained adamant they were heading in the right direction overall under Steve Borthwick.

The Red Rose lost 30-21 at Murrayfield on Saturday, bringing to an end their unbeaten start to this year’s Guinness Six Nations campaign after narrow wins away to Italy and at home to Wales.

England had arrived in Edinburgh having won eight of their previous nine matches, with their only setback in that run being the agonising World Cup semi-final defeat by eventual winners South Africa in October.

George understood the negative reaction to losing the Calcutta Cup match for a fourth year in succession – the first time that had happened since 1896. However, the 33-year-old rejected the suggestion that talk of English progress since last summer had been overblown.

“If you look at our run of form over the last nine/10 games, we’ve won a lot of them,” George pointed out.

“If you look at the more global picture of where we are as a team and how we are progressing as a team, if you take a step back and look at it as a whole, there are a lot of positive signs.

“Do we need to get better? Absolutely. Are we doing everything we can to do that? Yes.”

George felt England gave a snapshot of their potential in the opening quarter at Murrayfield, when George Furbank’s try helped them open up a 10-0 lead and knock the Scots out of their stride.

However, he knows they fell out of the game all too easily thereafter as Duhan Van Der Merwe scored a hat-trick to turn the game heavily in the hosts’ favour before a 67th minute score from England substitute Immanuel Feyi-Waboso reduced the deficit to nine points.

“The foundations are good but as players we need to execute the gameplan better,” said George. “We knew it would be difficult coming up here, with the history that goes into the game, but we weren’t good enough.

“One thing that hopefully the fans saw in the first 20 minutes of the game is a blueprint for how we want to play as a team. Now it’s about our ability to do it for 80 minutes.

“There will be things that we look back on and go, ‘that’s what English rugby needs to be about, that’s what this team needs to be about going forward’.

“I think we saw a lot of that in the first 20 minutes but I didn’t see it in the second 20 and the contrast will be pretty clear when we look back at it.

“It’s a huge learning for us. We’re a young team excited to learn and we need to learn fast going ahead to the Ireland game.”

George courageously led England into the Murrayfield showdown just over a week after losing his mother Jane following a short battle with lung cancer.

Asked if it was important for him to get a couple of days off to take stock before returning to camp to prepare for the home match against Ireland a week on Saturday, the hooker said: “Yes, I guess so.

“We’re assembling again on Wednesday. It’s important for everyone to get some time off in these breaks. Test rugby can be pretty cruel at times and we saw that today.

“I think it’s important for everyone to spend some time with their families.”

Despite Saturday’s setback, George was already looking forward to hosting Grand Slam-chasing Ireland.

“The fact we are back at Twickenham is very exciting to me,” he said. “We’ve spoken a lot about the record we want to create at Twickenham and how hard a place it needs to be for opposition to come to.

“That’s very much going to be our focus. Ireland are a great team, we know that, but we’re going to be a very tough team to beat at Twickenham.”

Joe Root believes he must keep “evolving” as a batter or risk being exposed after returning to form as England moved into the ascendancy against India in Ranchi.

Root’s sparkling 122 not out ushered England from 112 for five to 353 all out in the fourth Test as the Yorkshireman ended a lean patch which had seen him collect just 77 runs in six previous innings.

A couple of attack-orientated dismissals brought scrutiny on whether Root needed to tailor his approach – one that has brought more than 11,000 Test runs – to suit England’s current ‘Bazball’ model.

But when asked whether he has been stung by recent criticism, Root gave an impassioned defence of England’s style and insisted he must continue to develop to remain among the world’s top-tier batters.

“Certainly the execution of the shots has weighed on me,” the former England captain said. “Not necessarily the selection but the execution – I’m better than that.

“It’s not about being arrogant. Bazball is a word that’s used a lot but that’s your word, that’s not how we look at it. It’s about how can we get the best out of each other as a team. You’re not always going to get it right (but) we’ll continue to keep trying to improve.

“The reason I’ve played as many games as I have is that I’ve not wanted to stand still as a player, I have to try to keep evolving.

“If you keep on trying to play the same way over and over again, teams work you out and they find your weaknesses. If you don’t try to get better and find different ways of scoring runs, you’ll get found out.”

Root played a more traditional Test innings en route to his 31st hundred in the format before Shoaib Bashir exploited helpful conditions to finish with four for 84 as India closed on 219 for seven.

Root kept his reverse ramp out of sight and admitted a brief inkling of unfurling it to bring up three figures was quickly banished.

“It was a fleeting and selfish thought that left my mind very quickly,” Root said. “You don’t mess with the game, you just try and play what you honestly think is the best way to score runs.

“It was nice to finally get some runs in this series. It felt like it’s been a long time coming.

“It’s been disappointing but the fact I have got quite a lot of experience has been able to keep me calm. The way I’m preparing meant it was going to come at some point.”

Bashir bowled 31 overs at one end in just his eighth first-class match and second Test, with the 20-year-old offering control and a wicket-taking threat on a pitch producing spin and uneven bounce.

Bashir was solely responsible for India lurching from 86 for one to 161 for five, which included the wicket of the in-form Yashasvi Jaiswal, who made 73 before bottom-edging on to his stumps.

“The way he bowls is a great little insight into his character and personality: he is quite cheeky and great fun to be around,” Root said.

“To be able to continually put pressure on some very good players of spin, I know the wicket was helpful at times but he did an amazing job and it’s a great sign for English cricket.”

Bashir’s success left Root “itching to get on” after only being called upon to bowl a single over.

But he added: “It’s nice for Stokesy to be able to put so much trust in a young guy that’s played so little Test cricket.

“You can see he wants it, he’s desperate to do his part and and it was great to see him get rewards for that.”

Shoaib Bashir took top billing on his recall with a career-best four for 84 as England seized control of the fourth Test against India in Ranchi.

After England were all out for 353 on the second morning, as Joe Root finished unbeaten on 122, Bashir was entrusted at one end following a short burst from the seamers and the decision paid rich dividends.

In his eighth first-class match and second Test, Bashir was solely responsible for India lurching from 86 for one to 161 for five, which included the wicket of the in-form Yashasvi Jaiswal.

The India opener has been a constant thorn in England’s side and top-scored with 73, but he was not the only member of his side to fall victim to variable bounce as the hosts went to stumps on 219 for seven, trailing by 134 runs.

Tom Hartley, curiously held back until the 32nd over, chipped in with two for 47 but this was Bashir’s day, as the 20-year-old vindicated his selection after being omitted for England’s defeat in Rajkot.

He came into this series with a first-class bowling average of 67 but is making sure England are not feeling the absence of senior spinner Jack Leach, who announced on Saturday he will undergo surgery on a knee injury which cut short his tour.

Bashir, who took four wickets in the second Test in Visakhapatnam, bowled 31 consecutive overs from one end and exploited helpful conditions as England, trailing 2-1 in the five-match series, put India under the pump.

Days after Ben Stokes admitted he would like to see umpire’s call abolished, England had three on-field decisions upheld as Shubman Gill, Rajat Patidar and Ravichandran Ashwin reviewed their dismissals in vain.

There was no debating the breakthrough as James Anderson claimed Test wicket 697 after a flat-footed Rohit Sharma nicked through to Ben Foakes but Ollie Robinson was luckless, twice drawing the outside edge of Jaiswal either side of lunch.

The first dropped clearly short of Zak Crawley before disappearing for Jaiswal’s first four, but Foakes and England were convinced the second chance was taken cleanly and were momentarily stunned when third umpire Joel Wilson ruled against them, with Stokes cupping his hands to his mouth in shock.

Jaiswal earlier punished Anderson then Robinson for over-pitching with back-to-back fours and showed his range by shimmying down to Bashir and bludgeoning over long-on – his 23rd six of the series.

It was a rare misstep from Bashir, introduced as early as the ninth over just before lunch, as he settled into a mammoth spell, offering initial control and refusing to allow Jaiswal or Gill to dominate before ending an 82-run stand just as England looked to be running short of ideas.

Gill departed for 38 after being rapped on the front pad, beaten on the inside edge and playing down the wrong line, and a decent stride failed to save him on review as he was umpire’s call on impact.

It was just the second lbw of Bashir’s professional career and he did not have to wait long for his third as Patidar was out for 17, with a referral showing the ball would have clipped leg stump.

Ravindra Jadeja took successive sixes off fellow left-arm spinner Hartley, but these were his only scoring shots as he was deceived by extra bounce from Bashir’s top-spinner and plopped a simple bat-pad chance to Ollie Pope in the afternoon gloom.

Jaiswal launched a brief counteroffensive after tea with a late cut and inside-out drive over extra cover for fours off Bashir, who had his revenge and the wicket England prized most when one delivery stayed low and squirted off the toe-end of the opener’s bat before crashing into the stumps.

With the floodlights on, Hartley got into the act, drawing Sarfaraz Khan’s edge which was spectacularly caught by Root, diving to his left at slip, while Ashwin was lbw to a grubber and another India review went England’s way because of the on-field call.

Dhruv Jurel (30 not out) and Kuldeep Yadav (17no) put on an unbroken 42 but the momentum is firmly with the tourists on a tricky pitch.

England earlier added 49 to their overnight score, largely thanks to Robinson, who registered his maiden Test fifty and took his stand with Root to 102 before a reverse sweep brushed his glove en route to Jurel.

Robinson’s departure for 58 was the start of England losing their last three wickets for six runs in 17 balls, with Root left stranded having added just 16 to his day one total.

Shoaib Bashir claimed three top-order wickets but England were again met with resistance from in-form India opener Yashasvi Jaiswal in Ranchi.

Joe Root (122 not out) and Ollie Robinson (58) helped England add 51 to an overnight 302 for seven but they lost their last three wickets for six runs in 17 balls on the second morning of the fourth Test.

James Anderson snared Rohit Sharma to move to within three of 700 Test wickets before the recalled Bashir trapped Shubman Gill and Rajat Patidar lbw and had Ravindra Jadeja caught bat-pad as India went to tea on 131 for four.

Jaiswal (54 not out) was immovable on a pitch which, despite the odd delivery keeping low, was devoid of the gremlins that had given England’s top-order major problems 24 hours earlier.

Robinson, in his first competitive appearance since July, twice drew the edge of Jaiswal but the ball bounced short of Zak Crawley then Ben Stokes, the latter much to England’s obvious chagrin.

Anderson made the breakthrough in his second over, getting one to hold its line and kiss Rohit’s outside edge on the way through to Ben Foakes, but while Robinson did likewise to Jaiswal, the ball dropped in front of a diving Crawley at second slip before scurrying away for the opener’s first four.

Robinson was memorably chided during the Ashes for bowling “124kph (77mph) nude nuts” by former Australia opener Matthew Hayden and the seamer did not do much to shed the tag as he operated in the mid-70mph range.

But he engaged in a fascinating tussle with Jaiswal, who pushed at a wider delivery after lunch and Foakes dived forward to take the edge, only for third umpire Joel Wilson to rule the ball had bounced.

England celebrated before the ‘not out’ verdict was returned on the two big screens and England were momentarily stunned, with captain Ben Stokes cupping his hands to his mouth in shock.

At the other end, Bashir was probing away and while he was dumped back over his head for six by Jaiswal, the off-spinner, in just his second Test, extracted some turn to beat both Gill (38) and Patidar (12) on the inside edge and gain leg-before verdicts.

Tom Hartley was not introduced until the 32nd over and was thumped for back-to-back sixes by Ravindra Jadeja, who was the undone by extra bounce from Bashir and popped a catch to Ollie Pope at short leg.

Earlier, India took the new ball after two deliveries but the hosts could not capitalise as Robinson collected three fours in an eventful over off Akash Deep, who beat the lower-order batter’s outside edge twice.

Robinson brought up a first Test half-century by slog-sweeping Jadeja for a ninth four, to go with one six, and stretched his stand with Root into three figures – England’s first century stand for the eighth wicket since August 2017.

But an attempted reverse sweep off Jadeja brushed Robinson’s glove on the way through to Dhruv Jurel and England’s innings unravelled quickly.

Shoaib Bashir clothed a skier to backward point while Jadeja had his and India’s third wicket of the morning when Anderson made a hash of a sweep and was lbw. Jadeja was the pick of the bowlers with four for 67.

James Anderson snared India captain Rohit Sharma after Joe Root was left stranded on 122 not out as England were all out for 353 on the second morning of the fourth Test.

Anderson kissed the outside edge of Rohit’s bat as India went to lunch on 34 for one in Ranchi after Ollie Robinson registered his maiden Test fifty in a 102-run stand with Root, who added 16 runs to his overnight score.

Robinson’s dismissal for 58 was the start of England losing their final three wickets for six runs in 17 balls, with Jadeja taking three dismissals to finish with figures of four for 67, as Root ran out of partners.

Robinson, who got away with an lbw decision off Jadeja on Friday evening because India had used all their reviews, took the attack to India’s bowlers on a pitch with very few of the demons seen on the first morning, although the odd delivery still kept low.

India took the new ball after two deliveries as England resumed on 302 for seven, but the hosts could not capitalise as Robinson took three fours in an eventful over off Akash Deep, who beat the lower-order batter’s outside edge twice.

Robinson brought up a first Test half-century by slog sweeping Jadeja for a ninth four, to go with one six, and stretched his stand with Root into three figures – England’s first century stand for the eighth wicket since August 2017.

But an attempted reverse sweep off Jadeja brushed Robinson’s glove on the way through to Dhruv Jurel and England’s innings unravelled quickly.

Shoaib Bashir clothed a skier to backward point while Jadeja had his and India’s third wicket of the morning when Anderson made a hash of a sweep and was lbw.

Ben Stokes warmed up alongside the bowlers before India had to negotiate a 45-minute period before lunch but it was Anderson and Robinson, making his first competitive appearance since last July, entrusted with the new ball.

Anderson made the breakthrough in his second over, getting one to hold its line and kiss Rohit’s outside edge.

Robinson, whose bowling was famously described as “124kph (77mph) nude nuts” in the Ashes by former Australia opener Matthew Hayden, did not touch 80mph but drew the edge of Yashasvi Jaiswal only for the ball to bounce short of Zak Crawley and disappear for four.

Robinson beat the outside edge on a couple of occasions but was then driven by Jaiswal, who has made double hundreds in his last two Tests, for his fifth four in the over before lunch.

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.”

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