For all the talk of crisis of England, boring Borthwick, and kicking, they have quietly found their feet. Borthwick’s side have won eight of their last nine matches, only Ireland can match that and no team can better it in the Six Nations. Every one of those nine matches has been treated like a potential banana skin but they’ve kept chugging away like a slightly underwhelming runaway train.

Except, I don’t see them like that. Yes, England aren’t the team you would show a friend if you wanted them to become a rugby fan. But, they just constantly stay in matches and even South Africa, a team who were predicted to beat England by 20pts plus, had to resort to late drama to win. England have been written off, but let’s take an objective look at what threat they actually pose and how Scotland can neutralise it.

Pressure Cooker

England’s entire game plan is built on the premise of pressure plus. The basic idea is that you have to always put pressure on your opponent. Some teams will maintain possession until it’s prised from their fingers. At the World Cup Scotland employed this approach, as did Italy. Keep hold of the ball and your opponents will naturally be under pressure. We know it doesn’t work like that though. Scotland fans perhaps better than anyone. They dominated possession during the World Cup but struggled to make it count for anything in the two key matches against South Africa and Ireland.

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Against Ireland, Scotland carried 49 times more than their opponents and won the possession battle 54/46. But, Ireland had 70% possession in Scotland’s half versus 66% for Scotland. All those extra carries counted for nought as Ireland were able to strike quickly with limited possession. England’s game plan under Borthwick has been to attack when it’s on but to kick possession away the moment they are under pressure. That means they don’t give their opponent’s turnover ball to attack with. So far in this Six Nations, England have conceded just 18 turnovers, the second lowest in the tournament.

The team who have conceded the fewest are Scotland and this will be their key to victory. They have conceded just 16 turnovers and that has starved both Wales and France of quality possession. England will struggle to build a sustained platform without that turnover ball but they will benefit from Scotland’s poor discipline. They have conceded 21 penalties, the second most in the tournament. The good news is that 15 of those 21 penalties came against Wales and they significantly cleaned up their act against France.

If Scotland are to win their fourth Calcutta Cup in a row they will need to lean further into their new game plan where they do kick more and don’t allow their opponents to play off turnover ball. Don’t expect England to fill the entertainment void, but that doesn’t mean Scotland need to do it for them and put themselves under huge pressure.

Staying In

In both opening games, England have trailed their opponents. However, there was never a sense that they were out of contention and sure enough, they eased their way back into the lead. This is a crucial factor in their success. They remain in the game and will pick-off their opposition as soon as they show any weakness in the final moments.

Scotland will be aware of that, after all, their opening matches have featured two opposition comebacks, one successful and one which fell short. In both matches, Scotland simply stopped playing and moved away from the game plan that got them there in the first place. Against France, Scotland kicked once every five carries when they were trailing or leading by four points or less. When they lead by more than four points they kicked more than they carried. In the period between their final try and Wales’ final try, Wales carried 69 times more than Scotland. What could have been two comfortable wins have instead turned into a narrow win and a loss.

England have grown through games where Scotland have shrunk and this has the potential to become a serious issue on Saturday. Scotland know what they need to do, they need to trust their game plan that has taken them to early successes. That doesn’t mean being reckless with possession but it does mean not completely vanishing into their shell once they take the lead.

Set Menu

Scotland and England have been the worst scrummagers in the competition so far, winning just 77% of their scrums. Neither have set the World alight in the lineout either, losing seven of their 37 combined lineouts. WP Nel’s return will help Scotland of course but there is a sense that injuries have left them on their uppers.

The challenge with a creaking set-piece is how it impacts so much of the rest of play. Against Wales, Ben White was able to ping his exit kicks long and to touch. That put enormous pressure on the Welsh lineout and the turnover possession Scotland won from those situations essentially handed them victory. Can you use the same approach against a team with a marginally better lineout than your own?

This will be a game of possession quality. Whoever generates the most quality possessions; turnovers, 22m entries, and clean set-pieces should win. Scotland have shown that they can create those opportunities for periods but not yet for 80 minutes. Meanwhile, England have shown a firm hand on the tiller approach with a ferocious defence. But, they’ve started slowly albeit against two sides unwilling to push home their advantage.

Who wins? I think Scotland will have just enough but this should be a tight battle. If you like tactical battles over brute strength, this should be the match of the tournament for you.