England v Scotland: The Key Battles

Ahead of the oldest fixture in international rugby, the Calcutta Cup, first played in 1871, we look at what the key areas will be when England host Scotland this afternoon at Twickenham.

Joe Marler v Euan Murray

Alex Corbisiero was a rock against New Zealand and will be sorely missed against Scotland. Marler is one of the best in the business in the loose but if there is a weakness to his game it is in the scrum.

Murray by contrast is all about the scrum, let’s not forget that he is a man who was widely tipped to start ahead of Phil Vickery and Adam Jones for the Lions in 2009, his scrummaging power is that good.

With Dan Cole and Ryan Grant both in fine form on the other side of the scrum, how Marler copes with Murray will be key. Scotland will be trying to keep this game as tight as possible so any penalties gained at the scrum will be vital.

Joe Launchbury v Richie Gray

Joe Launchbury announced himself on the international stage over the autumn much as Richie Gray did over the 2010 Six Nations. Both men possess incredibly dynamic games in the loose, carrying a huge amount of ball and covering ground in defence like back row forwards.

You can be fairly certain that whichever of these has the bigger and more noticeable game will be on the winning side. Each drives their team forward and galvanises those around them. That Launchbury has managed to do so in just 4 Tests is quite incredible.

This could turn out to be a key battle for Lions selection too.

The Back Row

Scotland have picked a back row that is designed to be workmanlike, to secure their own play safely and to slow down and disrupt England ball as much as possible.

England have the same back row that beat the All Blacks in December, where Tom Wood was so impressive. Whichever back row can win the battle of the breakdown will make the game so much easier for the rest of their team.

There are concerns about Ben Morgan for England, whilst undoubtedly a force in attack, he can be a weak link in defence and at the breakdown. With Scotland aiming to cause chaos here, how Morgan steps up will be key – not a day for Robshaw and Wood to have to take on even more work.

Scotland have issues of their own here though, with Ross Rennie and John Barclay both injured, Kelly Brown is in the 7 shirt which even he would say is not his natural position. Whilst it will not weaken their ability to disrupt, he will turn over less ball than a natural 7 which may be key.

Billy Twelvetrees v Sean Lamont

Twelvetrees and Lamont may not strictly be opposite numbers, with the Englishman at 12 and the Scotsman at 13, but Scotland have picked Lamont to run at the English defence and create holes, you can bet your life he wont be trying to do that by running at Brad Barritt.

Twelvetrees defence is very good now; against Leicester he probably produced the performance that led to his selection with a “monumental” defensive display according to Andy Farrell.

International rugby is a different game though and he will be targeted, how he copes will be key here today.

Twelvetrees brings plenty to the table, and his distribution from twelve will be very important, Lamont has a tendency to fly up and if Twelvetrees can use his undoubtedly brilliant distribution skills to put runners in around him, England could get a lot of joy. He wont be afraid to take it up himself either.

It is 30 years since Scotland last won at Twickenham and England are the firm favourites to extend that record. In an open and fast paced game it is hard to see anything other than a strong England win, however if Scotland can turn this into a tight, gnarly affair then this game will come down to discipline and to the kickers.

One thing is for sure, there will be plenty of bite to this – even without the words of Jim Telfer!

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